U mends peer review process

Peer reviews are used when considering professors for promotion, tenure or merit increases.

In order to achieve successful research and quality instruction, a revised set of guidelines was put in place to hold faculty accountable through the peer review process at the University of Minnesota. Official University policy states that peer evaluation of teaching is required at the University, but there are no specific guidelines as to what is to be evaluated or how often these reviews must occur. In an attempt to clarify and improve the peer review process, a committee of faculty members worked for 18 months to create a set of nonbinding guidelines for faculty across the University. Under the new guidelines, throughout their first five years, professors would have their syllabuses, assignments, tests, classroom teaching and student performances evaluated. Peer reviews are used when considering professors for promotion and tenure, as well as determining salary merit increases. Under the current policy, faculty within individual colleges conduct peer reviews internally “to varying degrees of success,” said Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Arlene Carney. Under the new guidelines, this wouldn’t change. As part of the renewed emphasis on peer evaluation, the College of Liberal Arts is planning to develop a more specific set of guidelines for the process within the college, Carney said, and she hopes other colleges will do the same. “We want to stimulate good discussion about teaching and evaluation,” she said. “This really emphasizes how important we think excellent teaching is at the U.” The new guidelines were posted on the provost’s Web site at the end of February. Although the guidelines are not official University policy, members of the committee hope faculty will follow them. “Peer review needs to be taken seriously,” said Rick Asher, an art history professor and member of the committee. “It can be time-consuming but is nevertheless critical in the evaluation of faculty and an important tool for faculty members.” The Educational Planning and Policy Committee of the Board of Regents has also been looking into the quality of teaching at the University and ways to measure it, including peer and student review, said Patricia Simmons, a Board of Regents member and chairwoman of the committee. Peer review has been getting more attention not only because it is a requirement listed in University policy but because it is also used in many different aspects of a professor’s career, Carney said. “Throughout their careers, faculty have opportunities to have their research and articles reviewed and revised before anything is published,” Carney said. “When it comes to teaching, peer review is really the only opportunity to do that.” Along with student reviews, peer reviews are also a key means of determining how successful teaching is at the University, Simmons said. “We’ve greatly improved the student rating questions recently,” Carney said. “And we want to give faculty better feedback from their peers.”