Faculty Scholarship Expectations for Computer Science Faculty

Through 2004, the computer science and mathematics faculty within a combined Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Grinnell College developed a statement of expectations for contract renewal, promotion, and tenure. Since a single policy was meant to apply to computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians, the statement was quite broad. Examples were used to illustrate how general statements might apply within the several disciplines.

When the combined department was restructured in 2006 to yield a Department of Computer Science and a Department of Mathematics and Statistics, the opportunity arose for a statement of scholarship expectations focused on computer science. As a result, the computer science faculty began informal discussions after the departmental restructuring. Then, between 2009 and 2011, the computer science faculty collaborated more formally to develop a revised document.

The resulting statement of scholarship expectations represents the collective thinking of the 2011 computer science faculty. The statement has been forwarded to the administration and Executive Council at Grinnell College, but feedback has not been received. In particular, this statement of scholarship expectations has not been endorsed as policy by Grinnell College.

The departmental document is attached to this page and made public, in case faculty and administrators at other institutions might find this statement helpful in developing similar policies elsewhere.

Faculty scholarship expectations

endorsed by the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science on October 11, 2004

Note (July 13, 2006): The following document was developed jointly by the computer science faculty and the mathematics faculty when both were part of a single Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. With the restructuring into two departments on July 1, 2006, the administrative structure has changed, but the principles regarding scholarly expectations continue for both departments.

The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science believes its faculty should be interested and involved scholars. Since the Department celebrates the diversity of scholarship by its faculty, the Department believes it must not be overly prescriptive in stating just what might or might not be adequate and appropriate regarding professional involvement. Rather, the Department identifies three general principles for the scholarly activity of its faculty.

  1. Faculty should be able to provide evidence that they are working in their field(s) as engaged scholars.

  2. The Department endorses a wide range of scholarly activities as being appropriate and worthwhile.

  3. Faculty efforts should include activities of scholarship that are peer reviewed.

Engaged Scholars: In mathematics, statistics, and computer science, important new questions are always arising for scholars to address. Also, important old questions may gain new relevance and be amenable to new insights and methods. Further, engaged faculty provide important role models to students regarding the intellectual excitement and challenge of their fields. We believe that, to be effective over the long term, faculty must continually be engaged in their changing and expanding disciplines.

Scholarly Activities: The Department strongly endorses the breadth of scholarship identified in E. L. Boyer's report [1]. That is, we believe that appropriate scholarly activity includes the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching.

Peer Review: Faculty should have the products of their scholarship tested and refined through interactions. While some activities might not be peer reviewed, the Department uses peer review as a measure to ensure scholarly endeavors meet high standards of rigor and quality.

Discussion and Examples

Although these three principles provide some guidance regarding appropriate scholarly activity, abstract statements sometimes can be difficult to interpret and apply. Thus, the Department offers several examples to help clarify appropriate endeavors. We emphasize, however, that these examples are not comprehensive or complete. Rather, they are meant only to suggest the type of activities that the Department believes fit well within the principles stated.

Faculty as Engaged Scholars

Scholarly engagement normally involves such qualities as focus, intellectual development, and creativity. A scholar expands her or his background in a subject, develops new perspectives, integrates new ideas with past understandings, organizes, and synthesizes. The form in which this engagement is manifested has several models:

  • A traditional approach to scholarly engagement involves focus on a research project. Intellectual development comes from learning new developments in the field, and creativity yields insights for expanding the field's body of knowledge.

  • Scholarly engagement may emphasize integration, organization, and synthesis -- perhaps leading to a textbook, lab manual, survey article or edited anthology. In this context, focus involves putting pieces together; intellectual development includes the restructuring and synthesis of ideas; and creativity yields new perspectives and structures.

  • Scholarly engagement may involve the creation of software, multimedia, or other materials to support research or in the development of learning materials. Such activity draws heavily on multiple disciplines, focusing on new ideas, viewpoints, techniques, and relationships.

  • Often a faculty member provides her or his own direction and scholarly focus, but other models are possible and appropriate. Here are two examples.

    • A faculty member with broad experience may be asked by others to consult regularly. In these circumstances, the outsiders provide an on-going series of scholarly problems. Sometimes the faculty member might draw largely upon past experience, with only marginal scholarly engagement. In other cases, however, the consultant may need to learn new areas, integrate ideas, and play a leading role in part of the research. This may lead to considerable intellectual development and creative problem solving.

    • A faculty member may develop extensive professional contacts over time, and discussions with these colleagues may yield an on-going stream of scholarly activity. The focus of work may depend in part on the interests of the other colleagues, but the collaborative investigations may yield significant scholarly development for all involved, and the interactions may spark considerable creativity.

In any form, scholarly engagement requires active involvement, not just passive observation. Although faculty are encouraged to attend conferences for exposure to new ideas, simple attendance does not guarantee active involvement. To demonstrate full engagement, faculty attendance at conferences should include active participation -- at least periodically.

Whatever the nature of the scholarly activity, the scholarship should show evidence of clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, significant results, effective presentation, and reflective critique. Altogether, a faculty member should be active within the discipline, using appropriate methodology, creativity, and focused intellect.

The Range of Appropriate Scholarly Activities

With the breadth of scholarship identified by Boyer, this department wishes to be particularly cautious in listing what scholarly activities might be appropriate. We have chosen here simply to list, with annotations, some relevant contributions made in the past by department members. These examples are meant to illustrate, not limit, the range of appropriate activities. The length of the list is not intended to suggest that each individual ought to engage in more than a few such activities, and the ordering of the list is not intended to indicate any inherent preference or value for one type of scholarship over another.

  • article in a research journal: This represents the most traditional mechanism for organizing and presenting new work in a subject area. Publication may be in paper or electronic journals.

  • article in a teaching journal: Although some educational articles may be descriptive and informal, opportunities abound for innovative experimentation, careful methodology, and formal analysis.

  • article in a conference proceedings: In some disciplines, the preferred mechanism for publishing scholarship is through a conference proceedings. This allows for quick dissemination of written results within the focused community of a conference.

  • conference and colloquium talks: The practice of presenting one's scholarship to an audience allows for a sharing of ideas in an environment of intellectual energy and immediate feedback. Examples span the range from informal, relaxed discussions to reviewed, formal presentations. Invited presentations are particularly noteworthy.

  • panel talks: When presentations involve several participants, the level of scholarship for the participant may be difficult to judge. The effort of the session organizer, for example, may be much greater than that of the panelists. Involvement with invited sessions may suggest heightened effort and scholarship.

  • workshops: Many conferences hold extended sessions that provide conference attendees new insights in emerging research and technology. Session leaders must synthesize much new material and present it within a highly-constrained framework.

  • consultations: Some faculty work regularly with those in other departments. This provides an interdisciplinary perspective on scholarly endeavors.

  • student-faculty research, perhaps leading to a published paper or presentation: Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) and guided independent projects involve mentoring of students while moving research along. Progress often is slow, as faculty expend considerable energy and time in bringing students up to speed.

  • professional boards: Programs and policies only make sense if they fit with perspectives and understandings in the discipline. Thus, involvement in national committees and policy boards requires participants to draw upon a broad understanding of their disciplines.

  • posters provide a fine mechanism for getting feedback on interim results. These can be particularly relevant to projects involving student-faculty research.

  • books: Published books may have a research focus or may synthesize material yielding a textbook or laboratory manual. Either emphasis is appropriate in this department.

  • software development: The development of large software packages and applications draws upon a deep knowledge of the application field, extensive problem solving, thoughtful design, integration of algorithms and data structures, and the innovative integration of ideas.

  • development of teaching materials: Considerable scholarly activity can be involved in the development of an extensive package of audio, video, and/or paper-based teaching materials. (We do not regard the routine preparation of class handouts as a significant scholarly activity.)

  • posing or solving published problems: Much of mathematics, statistics, and computer science relates to the on-going identification and solution of interesting problems. Often this work may occur informally, such as the work of the faculty to find solutions to problems posed in the annual Putnam Mathematical Examination. Sometimes, however, this activity may become rather formal and systematic. For example, the American Mathematical Monthly solicits statements of interesting problems, identifies those who have submitted correct solutions, and publishes the best results.

  • refereeing papers and proposals: Many journals, conferences, and granting agencies invite faculty to review submitted materials -- either individually or in groups. A serious referee's report requires thoughtful consideration of new material.

Peer Reviewed Activities

Peer review offers the broadest accepted mechanism for ensuring the approval by an intellectual community of a faculty member's scholarship. While some of a faculty member's scholarly output may not be peer-reviewed, having one's work reviewed by one's peers provides a convincing means of assessing the scholarship's value. Several examples of types of peer review follow.

  • Many fields within pure mathematics follow a traditional process, in which refereed journals provide the primary forum for scholarly materials. This format is consistent with practice in many other academic disciplines.

  • Within computer science, peer-reviewed presentations provide the preferred mechanism to disseminate scholarly results. The best conferences, for example, are extremely selective, often accepting only 25%-35% of the papers submitted. Unlike many disciplines, the field of computer science changes so quickly that conferences provide the primary forum for the communication of many results; books and other monographs simply take too long to appear. This is described more fully in ``Best Practices Memo. Evaluating Computer Scientists and Engineers For Promotion and Tenure'' [2], which describes practices for both theorists and experimentalists:

    For theorists, ``conference publication is highly regarded in the theoretical community'', although results are often rewritten for other journals (following other disciplines to some extent). The CRA Memo continues, ``For experimentalists conference publication is preferred to journal publication, and the premier conferences are generally more selective than the premier journals [...]. In these and other ways experimental research is at variance with conventional academic publication traditions.''
  • Within statistics, the review of statistical consulting may occur in several ways. The American Statistical Association explains possible review and assessment with the following statement (see [3]):

    Mathematical sciences departments should also recognize the value of statistical consulting as a legitimate and important form of scholarship and professional development. This can involve:

    • consulting on projects that may lead to joint authorship on peer-reviewed publications
    • consulting on scholarly projects even if joint authorship is not attained
    • consulting on student research projects
    • consulting on commercial projects that may involve proprietary information that precludes peer-reviewed publication

    The first of these can be evaluated by the usual peer-reviewed means, although the department should recognize that the journal may be in the applied discipline rather than in statistics. Such consulting would not likely result in sole- or first-authorship but can nevertheless be very valuable. The second and third of these can be assessed through testimony of the scholars and faculty members for whom the statistician performed the consulting. The fourth of these can be evaluated through testimony of the client.

  • Rather than publishing shorter peer-reviewed pieces, some faculty members will work on large-scale projects which yield books put out by established publishers. Any reputable press will pass a book through an imposing review process before a contract is agreed upon, followed by extensive editorial work. Such practice rises to the level of peer-review.

  • In several disciplinary areas, granting bodies, such as the National Science Foundation, utilize an extensive and rigorous peer review process, with acceptance rates of approximately 25%.

Practices differ in various sub-disciplines of mathematics, statistics, and computer science regarding preferred venues for the dissemination and publication of scholarly materials. No faculty member, however, is necessarily tied to a specific form of peer review. While peer-reviewed work is certainly expected, an holistic view which incorporates all of one's scholarly activities, including those which overlap with teaching and service, is employed. Consultation with the department chair and the Dean is recommended to address individual questions as to whether the quantity and quality of one's scholarly activity are sufficient for personnel decisions.

Select Bibliography

  1. E. L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, a report for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990.
  2. D. Patterson, L. Snyder, and J. Ullman, "Best Practices Memo. Evaluating Computer Scientists and Engineers For Promotion and Tenure", Computing Research Association, 1999.
  3. American Statistical Association endorsement of the Mathematical Association of America "Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences." (undated web page)
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