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FPR day

  An annual event where I work: yes, it's FPR day! Each year, we submit an account for our Faculty Performance Review. It's a dour day, long faces all around, as we realize how little we got done in the year that went by (which we were otherwise enjoying quite nicely). Even so, it has to be done.

Our "performance" is measured in three areas, research (publications, grants, talks, recognition), teaching, and service. Each is assessed and given a numerical value, for some bizarre reason out of 2. Research is worth 40% of the total, teaching another 40%, and service (which means sitting on committees or serving in administrative positions) is 20%. If we are untenured, then the whole adds up to a prognostication: tea leaves in the bottom of the cup, spelling out, one hopes, a tenured future. For both tenured and non-tenured faculty, the results are also used to calculate what is called "merit pay," which is possibly a raise, on top of whatever the scale rate (say 2.5%) that has been negotiated by the Faculty Association in conjunction with the University's administration. How could this be such an emotional experience? 

Well, even if one has had a good year, there's still stuff to deal with: incredible delays in publication (I have one paper that I really like that's been "in press" for three years, and may never see the light of day; another that was accepted for a volume that was later abandoned; a review-essay that's been hung up in a journal's out-box for two years, and so on); changes to titles or venues; rejections and revisions (see previous post on this chilling topic); the thousand tiny shocks that hope is heir to.

Then there are the teaching evaluations which, barring an extraordinary event like an award for teaching, are the only measure that really counts in that category. We don't get them returned to us from the previous term until just about the day before our FPR is due, so there is some suspense. I should thank my extraordinarily generous students from last term, who apparently succumbed to the hypnosis I administered, and offered resoundingly upbeat assessments of my teaching. (This was all the more astonishing to me as I had a very busy term with other matters, and devoted less time than I usually do to teaching. Sobering thought. The less I do, the better it is. I have been reflecting on this. I think that I definitely could be a better teacher in general if I would give up more control to the students and let them guide me, instead of me directing them. And it's less work, as long as you know your stuff, which I might by now.)

For me one of the most difficult things about the FPR is organizing and copying all the little bits of paper that are needed to document the peaks and valleys of the year. As soon as one FPR day passes, I make a resolution to be very tidy about the bits of paper I will need for next year's. But my resolve weakens as soon as I get a piece of paper in my hand, and it always ends up in a pile on my desk.

Anyway, it's done now; the chaff is thrown in the wind, and we'll see how it comes down. The funny thing is it's always almost the same, whatever happens -- not because real distinctions aren't made, but because of the calibration and scale. The numbers are out of 2. Anything under 1.25/2 is stinky, and no one would go there without a fight; and fighting is not something we do well or often: we prefer muttering under our breaths and talking to ourselves in long and eloquent sentences. But above 1.25, the scale is chunky. You can't get 1.6 on scholarship; the scale leaps from 1.5 to 1.75. 1.5 is ho-hum, and 1.75 is great. If I get ho-hum, I feel a little rotten; if I get 1.75, it goes to my head and I'm insufferable, at least for a few days. There's a reason which no one knows that the scale doesn't slide, but rather steps up and down in large blocks. It's one of those secrets that's made permanent by the fact that the inventor has passed on, in one way or another, and his rationale passed with him, into the crypt.

The person who suffers the most from FPR day is the Chair, who must digest all this information, sift and sort, and present it all to the Dean in a light that is both rosy and honest. Our Chair is new this year, so it's his first time doing this. Good luck Fraser.