Outgoing CAP Chair Message

  • June 12, 2017

Dear Colleagues,

I realize that the Council on Academic Personnel is one of those mysterious committees about which we can tell you very little.  Because of confidentiality, privacy and fairness concerns, we cannot disclose anything about our deliberations or procedures regarding individual files.  However, I want to assure you that CAP does have discussions about substantive issues regarding academic life more generally.  These we can share with you. These arise out of observations of trends and repeated features that we see when reviewing dossiers.  And some of them signal shifts in the profession more generally.  CAP cannot “solve” these issues, but I wanted you all to know that we are aware of them.  I thought I’d mention a few of them here.

To provide a South Campus example, for the past few years securing NIH and NSF grants has become more difficult.  There are fewer grants and less funding available.  The scores one must receive in order to be funded have moved up the scale.  Good research that might have been funded easily several years ago is now being very favorably evaluated but not making the funding cutoffs.  The trend is also that researchers secure these grants a bit later in their careers.  All this means that using RO1 grants from the NIH or a major grant from the NSF as an indicator for tenure cases becomes more complicated. 

A similar trend has occurred among North Campus departments.  It used to be that university presses could depend on university libraries nationally to subscribe to series of monographs and book publications.  As library funding has dried up and materials have become more expensive, sales of academic monographs have been limited to experts in the field.  As a consequence, many university presses have shut down their literature and humanities series.  This leaves younger professors in the humanities and arts who are seeking to publish their first books in much the same position as younger scientists seeking their first grants. This fact complicates the ways in which we need to think about evaluating dossiers.

We have also had discussions about how research materials are conveyed.  While some areas of campus have used electronic publication formats for some time, others are just venturing into this area.  Issues of how to evaluate such publications (particularly given the recent rise of for-profit electronic publications that charge hefty fees to include articles) and how to tell important venues from lesser ones can be difficult.  A similar issue arises when CAP is attempting to understand venues in which creative work might appear (musical performances or art exhibitions, for example). 
The more information the department and candidate can provide in this regard, the better CAP will be able to come to an informed judgment. If CAP asks your department for additional information, it is a sign that the committee members are genuinely trying to understand some point in the dossier and are seeking help in doing so.  This is generally a good thing; we want to be able to make an informed decision.  And we want to help candidates and departments make the clearest case they can for each dossier.

Interdisciplinary and cooperative research has become the norm in many parts of campus.  We need one another’s expertise to carry out complex modern research that can involve many kinds of technology and many approaches to a single research problem.  Trying to make clear what a given faculty member’s contribution is to this important work can be difficult.   CAP needs all the help it can get from candidates and departments in this regard.  And new kinds of research possibilities have arisen with innovative technologies.  Electronic projects in the humanities and arts often need engineering input in collaborations that are new to our research agendas. 

CAP also tries to understand and take into account differences across fields and departments in terms of expectations about research, teaching and service.  Research can come at varying rates of speed and appear in differing formats.  In some very fast-moving fields, presentations at prestigious conferences can outweigh journal publications.  In others, the average time to publication can seem painfully slow.  All of these differences are important and come into CAP’s considerations.

I would like to say in departing CAP that I have never served on a more interesting university committee.  You learn what wonderful research, teaching and service is being accomplished by our faculty.  And it makes you proud to be at UCLA.  In addition, you learn a good deal from your CAP colleagues about research topics outside of your usual activities.  At times, it felt like having my own private NOVA program in a small group where I could ask questions.  I have never worked harder on a committee—and I have never felt that it was more worthwhile.  You get to know the campus community; you get to know your colleagues across campus; and you get to make a contribution to their careers.  It is crucial that faculty members be central to the evaluation of faculty performance. 

So, my parting message is: if you are ever asked to serve on CAP, do it.  You will not regret the experience!

It was a privilege to serve.

Kathleen L. Komar,
Professor of Comparative Literature
Outgoing Chair of CAP