Why having written departmental policies matters

  • Well-structured and successful programs and departments depend on a shared sense of purpose, which requires a commitment to the creation and documentation of a set of carefully considered, intelligent, and well-written departmental regulations and procedures, openly available to scrutiny by all and whenever possible the product jointly of all staff and faculty.
  • “We are currently developing formal policies and procedures. Once we decide to develop a policy someone (usually me) drafts the policy, and then we flesh it out through discussion at faculty meetings. The final document requires a 2/3 majority of the faculty for implementation.”
    Hayden Griffin, Engineering Education, VT
  • Department heads are responsible for many important decisions, such as hiring and promoting faculty and staff, determining salary increases, making tenure recommendations, defining job responsibilities, etc. They should document carefully all such decisions in order to maintain administrative processes that are fair and equitable and avoid abuses and conflicts that might lead to legal actions.

 What our survey data tell us about departmental policies and practices

  • Long-standing but unwritten departmental policies and practices may seem clear or well known to some segments of the faculty, but they can be unknown or frustrating to new or non-majority faculty members. Women and minority faculty are especially likely to feel as if “others” know things they do not, and that they have been left out of critical information networks. For example, women were significantly more likely than men to agree that “Other faculty in my department seem to know about policies or opportunities of which I am unaware” (41% compared to 28%); non-white faculty members were also significantly more likely to feel that they did not have as much information as others (about 50% compared to 29%). (Faculty Work/Life Survey 2005)
  • On 10 out of 12 questions on the COACHE Survey concerning the clarity and reasonableness of expectations for tenure and promotion, our pre-tenure faculty members scored significantly lower than respondents at similar research universities. Several departments have tackled the challenge of describing their expectations for P&T in writing so that both candidates and committee members operate from a shared and consistent understanding of those expectations. See the Supplemental Materials for examples.

Points to consider about
departmental policies

  • Programmatic requirements and departmental policies should be aligned with specific departmental and institutional goals, created collectively with input from the staff and faculty. They should remain transparent and fully accessible to staff and faculty.
  • Transparency simply means keeping expectations and the decision-making process mutually clear and comprehensible to all, which requires continuous interactions with staff and faculty and involvement of staff and faculty in the decision making process.
  • Policies, whether new or existing, should not come as a surprise to the people who are affected by them. Secrecy in decision making, as well as “silent” policy modifications, seldom bring about positive results and almost always create tension.
  • Decisions and policy implementations, particularly difficult ones, have a better chance of being received in a positive manner by staff and faculty who are part of the decision-making process.
  • To avoid potential lawsuits filed by staff and faculty against institutions of higher education, workplace rules and regulations should be made well-known to everyone concerned.
  • When communicating policy modifications and important decisions, department heads and other departmental officials should practice civility and respect for the feelings and self-esteem of staff and faculty, which is always appreciated, ultimately saves time and effort, and, in the case of difficult situations, minimizes stress as the situation unfolds.
* compendium_component_four_supplement.pdf
This document contains information relevant to effective policies, such as: reappointment, tenure, and promotion productivity indicators from a university department and sample tenure and promotion policies and procedures.
* department_climate_compendium.pdf
Download the entire compendium as a pdf file.