October, 2021
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Dustin De Felice, PhD, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Unfair, illogical, opaque, & onerous. Not the words that should come to mind with annual evaluations. Our center found ourselves with faculty uttering those words two years ago. After several changes over the years, the annual evaluation process had grown to include multiple submissions, a review committee, and a final letter that left many unsatisfied with the time spent each year. I worked with the faculty in hopes of creating a process that would satisfy the various university, college, and unit requirements while allowing for some creativity in the overall process. Of course, I was fully aware that making changes to something like the annual review process meant that not everyone would agree with the changes.

The Search for Required Pieces

Knowing there was fatigue with making more changes to the annual process, we went ahead anyway and spent a semester reviewing unit, college, and university documentation to find a baseline for what was expected and/or mandatory. This search yielded the following requirements:

  1. Establishing goals for the next year
  2. Identifying professional development needs
  3. Meeting to discuss yearly progress with a direct supervisor

Using these three mandatory items as a guideline, we built procedures that asked faculty to write a narrative that summarized and/or highlighted their last calendar year or the year under review. With this reflective narrative complete, we asked faculty to set their goals based on their ideal and/or possible workload for the upcoming calendar year. While we asked for this ideal workload, we were all aware of the constant changes in our positions and our field, though none of us expected the changes we found ourselves dealing with in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic set in. Much of the narratives during the pandemic focused on the uncertainty, which did make the next step much more difficult to undertake.

Once those goals were set, faculty included a short narrative on what professional development they would be interested in pursuing to meet their goals. In many cases, faculty also found that some of their professional development ideas could lead them to establishing new goals as they learned more about a new technology or a new pedagogical innovation, for example. The last item, a yearly meeting with a direct supervisor, involved more direct time with faculty and supervisors and, while only one meeting a year was required, we planned for two meetings a year. Given how much can change within a language center over the course of a year, we found the additional meeting was often helpful for faculty and supervisors to learn about ideas for new courses or how new initiatives were progressing.

These meetings have also served as mini-brainstorming sessions where faculty have brought up new ideas or thoughts. In many cases, the time spent together served as a time to discuss important matters on curriculum, courses, or even university or college initiatives or bring up personnel concerns. Having two meetings a year seemed like good practice, but I have worried that these meetings might be too onerous. Fortunately, the information exchange was so important to me that I still advocate for conducting two a year. Of course with the challenges last year, the faculty have asked for the meetings to be flexible in terms of modality. They wanted virtual meetings versus meeting in person. They also asked if we could fulfill the meeting objectives through email or a phone call instead of a synchronous meeting. Lastly, many faculty just needed a break and asked if the meeting could be optional in the event that there was just not a good time for everyone to meet. I mention this modality request because we learned that flexibility was an important element in making these evaluation changes as we were experiencing the uncertainty of the pandemic.

The Final Requirement: Peer Review and the CPIL Framework

In addition to the three requirements listed above, we found one final requirement at the university level: peer review. Our provost required some form of peer review. This requirement was originally from procedures for tenure track faculty. Of course, this concept makes sense for faculty in public facing tenure line roles but one that presents unique challenges for more student-focused teaching roles. This form of peer review is even more challenging for many faculty who hold positions that require mostly behind the scenes, yet crucial daily operations work. These faculty members have often struggled with how to best explain their invisible labor to the faculty at large and with various units across the university. While there were multiple models to draw from in departments and other units on campus, most of these models also closely mirrored those for tenure-track faculty. Since we had some autonomy in how our center ran a peer review, we found some inspiration from within our college, the College of Arts & Letters.

Around the same time we were reviewing and changing our unit procedures, our college leadership was introducing a new framework that involved a focus on intellectual leadership (Fritzsche, et al, 2017, Cilano, et al, 2020) in hopes of changing some aspects of unit culture across the college. This framework, currently known as Cultivating the Path to Intellectual Leadership (CPIL), included a diagram that captures what should be measured and rewarded. These include mentorship or stewardship, expanding opportunities, and sharing knowledge (The College of Arts & Letters, n.d.). These ideas resonated with the direction we were taking to revise our annual review procedures, so while use of this framework was not mandatory, we found a way to incorporate it into our unit procedures to satisfy the peer review requirement. Using this framework gave faculty the opportunity to present their intellectual leadership, mentorship, and stewardship in ways that made sense to them. I believe this addition allowed many of the faculty whose roles involve work that is not easily made visible to others to finally bring those very important, yet hidden aspects of their daily work to the forefront.

In incorporating this framework into the procedures, I asked faculty to compose one final narrative that spoke to the ways they were cultivating or charting paths to intellectual leadership (Long, 2017). This narrative was the only part of the review process that they shared with each other. At the same time, I asked faculty to participate in a peer review of those submissions and leave comments or feedback as needed. I specifically asked for help in identifying the ways in which they saw their colleagues contributing to intellectual leadership. For me, I am often unable to see many aspects of the faculty’s daily interactions with each other. I found this peer review process yielded many important observations, substantial feedback, and constructive criticism that I would not be privy to otherwise. In evaluating the calendar year, I was able to use this information to help me understand the ways in which each faculty member contributed to the center mission and vision.

Initial Results from the New Procedures and Incorporating CPIL

We have used this format for the last two calendar years, and I can report that the annual review procedures no longer make it into the yearly surveys that ask faculty to discuss policies and procedures not working in the center. I am also able to report a higher level of satisfaction with the workload for completing the annual review. Faculty have specifically mentioned how much they appreciate the comments, feedback, and constructive criticism that they receive as part of the peer review step. We are now focusing on tweaking various aspects of the process that include possibly changing the word count for the various narratives as well as the way in which faculty submit those same narratives.

We did find two unintended challenges that resulted from the pandemic. First, the university’s financial situation meant many faculty would not receive raises no matter how well their year went. I think this difficult situation made these new changes even more important since the annual review process needed to provide faculty with some other type of reward. Second, the same financial situation meant funds for travel and other types of professional development opportunities were not available. As a result, the narrative for professional development morphed into an interesting and fruitful area of exploration as faculty searched for creative ways of meeting their needs. In many cases, faculty found or rediscovered workshops, faculty learning communities, or other resources on campus that help satisfy their professional needs. In other cases, faculty developed their own network of growth that often included their colleagues, their university library, and their own initiative in searching out materials or other online resources. In both cases, these unintended consequences have helped faculty in their own growth in spite of the challenges present with the pandemic. Many of those challenges may continue with us for at least a few more years; however, we now have flexible and creative procedures and an open dialog established to help us in the future.


Cilano, C., Fritzsche, S., Hart-Davidson, W., & Long, C.P. (2020, April 23). Staying with trouble: Designing a values-enacted academy. LSE Impact Blog. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2020/04/23/staying-with-the-trouble-designing-a-values-enacted-academy/

Fritzsche, S., Hart-Davidson, W., & Long, C.P. (2017). Values, outcomes, & activities of intellectual leadership [Infographic]. http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/y9cb-6b22

Long, C.P. (2017, March 17). Charting a path to intellectual leadership, then following it. Long View Blog. https://cal.msu.edu/news/charting-a-path-to-intellectual-leadership-then-following-it/

The College of Arts & Letters (n.d.). Fall planning letter. https://cal.msu.edu/about/values-priorities/2019-fall-planning-letter/toward-a-culture-of-care-creating-the-conditions-for-intellectual-leadership/

Dr. Dustin De Felice is the Director of the English Language Center at Michigan State University. As an Associate Professor with two decades on the job, Dustin has a passion for working with teachers, learners, and organizations in creating an environment of success. His teaching has taken him around the US and Mexico, and he regularly advocates for language learning at Michigan State University and beyond. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: defelic5@msu.edu.
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