What kind of position I have at UBC

Recently a colleague at another institution asked me some details about the particular kind of position I have at UBC: a tenurable, teaching position. This is not terribly common in N. America (though I am hearing rumours of some more universities and colleges in Canada looking into it), and so I thought I’d share some of these details also on my blog; others may be interested as well.

Two types of faculty tenure streams

I don’t know when this started, but UBC has two kinds of tenure lines, one research-focused and the other teaching-focused. Sometimes the first is called the “research” stream and the second the “teaching stream,” but these are rather misleading because it’s not as if each group doesn’t do the other thing too (teaching and research). I’ve noticed that the most recent nomenclature (as represented on UBC’s human resources site) is the “Professor” vs the “Professor of Teaching” path.

Which brings up another interesting point about names: the third, top rung of both paths have similar names: Professor and Professor of Teaching. The lower rungs are different.

  • Professor path: (1) Assistant Professor; (2) Associate Professor; (3) Professor
  • Professor of Teaching path: (1) Instructor I; (2) Sr. Instructor; (3) Professor of Teaching

There has been talk of changing the “instructor” titles because they are simply odd (made worse by the fact that there is a role called “Instructor II” but it is not in the Professor of Teaching path at all), but nothing has been set in stone yet.

Different criteria for tenure and promotion

1. Professor path

There is a one-page chart on this HR site, under “criteria,” that gives the basic criteria for tenure and promotion in that path (and you can see on that chart that “instructor II” is actually in that path…very confusing…I think this is going to be changed soon, as noted on our faculty union blog).

There are three criteria; the two that differ the most between the two paths are teaching and scholarly activity, so I’ll focus on those.

  • teaching–for appt. at Assistant professor, one just needs to demonstrate evidence of or potential for successful teaching; for associate,  successful teaching should be above that expected for an Assistant prof.; for Professor, excellence and high quality in teaching
  • scholarly activity–often this is research, but could also be creative and professional work with dissemination
    • The Senior Appointments Committee’s guide to promotion and tenure (linked to on the HR page noted above) notes on p. 12 that Scholarship of Teaching and Learning can be counted for faculty in this stream as part of their “scholarly activity”
  • service


2. Professor of teaching path

I can link directly to the chart for this one on the HR site: click here.

Three criteria here two, but one is different than the above:

  • teaching–for tenure at Sr. Instructor, one must demonstrate excellence in teaching; for Professor of teaching, one must have “outstanding” teaching, be “distinctive” in the field of teaching and learning
  • educational leadership
    • for tenure at Sr. Instructor
      • “Requires evidence of… demonstrated educational leadership”
      • “Requires evidence of… involvement in curriculum development and innovation, and other teaching and learning initiatives”
    • “Keep abreast of current development in their respective discipline and in the field of teaching and learning”
  • for Professor of Teaching
    • “Requires evidence of outstanding achievement in…educational leadership”
    • “Requires evidence of… sustained and innovative contributions to curriculum development, course design and other initiatives that advance the University’s ability to excel in its teaching and learning mandate”
  • Service

Note that “scholarly activity” is replaced with “educational leadership” here. Indeed, the Professor of Teaching chart says at the bottom that “Scholarly Activity is not a criterion or an expectation for tenure or promotion through the Professor of Teaching ranks.”

The current Collective Agreement also describes what is needed for promotion to Sr. Instructor and to Professor of Teaching:

  • 3.04 “Appointment at or promotion to the rank of Senior Instructor requires evidence of excellence in teaching, demonstrated educational leadership, involvement in curriculum development and innovation, and other teaching and learning initiatives.  It is expected that Senior Instructors will keep abreast of current developments in their respective disciplines, and in the field of teaching and learning.  A Senior Instructor may be promoted to the rank of Professor of Teaching in the fifth or subsequent years in rank.”
  • 3.05 “Appointment at or promotion to the rank of Professor of Teaching requires evidence of outstanding achievement in teaching and educational leadership, distinction in the field of teaching and learning, sustained and innovative contributions to curriculum development, course design and other initiatives that advance the University’s ability to excel in its teaching and learning mandate.  Initial appointments at this rank are normally tenured appointments.”

There has been a great deal of discussion in the past few years as to what “educational leadership” means. The Senior Appointments Committee’s guide to promotion and tenure lists the following as possible sources of evidence of educational leadership (p. 18):

  • “Leadership taken at UBC and elsewhere to advance innovation and excellence in teaching
  • Contributions to curriculum development and renewal (curriculum design/re-design) within the unit/Faculty
  • Pedagogical innovation
  • Scholarly teaching with impact within and outside the unit
  • Applications of and contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning
  • Innovative use of learning technology
  • Leadership and contribution to teaching and learning initiatives and programs
  • Advancement of interdisciplinary/inter-professional collaboration
  • Leadership through mentoring
  • TLEF grants and other funding obtained for educational improvement/advising
  • Other activities that support evidence-based educational excellence, leadership and impact within and beyond the University.”

For example, I have taken on a leadership role of late in “open education,” talking with others about the value of making at least some of one’s teaching and learning work open to be used, revised, reused by others. I have given several presentations on this at conferences and workshops, and was chosen to be “Faculty Fellow” with BCcampus’ Open Textbook program this year–I’m engaging in outreach and advocacy about open textbooks and other open educational resources, as well as participating in research about these topics. I think that counts as “educational leadership.”


 Different criteria for merit

I have discovered, over the years since I’ve been in the “Professor of Teaching” path (I’m currently in the second level, a tenured Sr. Instructor), that if I do any research in my discipline, it neither counts for promotion nor for merit pay. The reason is because of this clause in the Collective Agreement:

  • 2.04 “Judgments [for merit awards] shall be based on the duties expected of a member in the period in question and shall not be based on activities in which the member had not the opportunity to engage.  For example, a faculty member who is not expected to teach but is expected to carry out research and contribute service should be considered on the latter two criteria.  A member whose assigned duties consist of teaching and service (e.g. Instructor I) should be considered only on those two criteria.”

This language is outdated; it has been the same for many years, and yet in the meantime the requirement of “educational leadership” has come into existence for those who are in the Professor of Teaching stream–so an Instructor I would not have duties only in teaching and service, but also educational leadership.

However, even if we included educational leadership as part of the basis for judgments of merit, it wouldn’t include research into one’s disciplinary area, only research on teaching and learning–see the above examples of “educational leadership,” which include only research in SoTL and not research in one’s (other) discipline.


The good and the, well, questionable

There are many things I like about the kind of job I have. It is, for me, a perfect fit between having far too many courses to be able to do anything but teach, and being in a research-heavy position that makes me feel like I should not be spending too much time on teaching or I won’t be able to fulfill the other aspects of my job. Those of us in the Professor of Teaching stream teach more than our colleagues in the Professor stream–some of us more than others, depending on the department and the faculty (Faculty of Arts, of Science, of Education, etc.). But since our jobs include teaching, service and educational leadership, we can at least make the case that we need to have enough time to do the latter two, and can’t be too overloaded with teaching duties to be able to fulfill what is expected.

There are still some concerns, though.

1. That disciplinary research is pretty much discouraged for those in the Professor of Teaching path is one area of contention. Part of the concern is that those in the Professor of Teaching path are also supposed to, as noted in section 3.04 of the Collective Agreement, as quoted above, “keep abreast of current developments in their respective disciplines.” It has been (persuasively, to my mind) argued that one way to do so is to not only read the disciplinary literature in one’s area but also add to it oneself. The answer I keep hearing, over and over, is that it is certainly fine if one wants to do research in one’s disciplinary area, but it won’t count for educational leadership. Perhaps it could count for the “teaching” part of one’s job description. But the message I’ve gotten over the past few years is that it is not to be taken into considerations in judgments about merit. If I publish SoTL work yes, but not if I publish an article on Foucault.

There appears to be a real push to keep the two faculty streams separate in this way. Not only do you not have to do disciplinary research if you go into the teaching stream, you’re actually encouraged not to (because it takes away time from the other things you should be doing), and you won’t get much credit for it professionally. However, I suppose we could look at the parallel in the Professor path: if someone in that stream became an outstanding teacher, earned teaching awards, became an educational leader in various ways, that would be great; but they probably wouldn’t make full professor on the basis of that. So even if I published a lot of great stuff on Foucault (which I haven’t had time to do, but you know…just imagine it’s true) it would be great but I wouldn’t become Professor of Teaching on the basis of that. I guess I can kind of see the point there. It does, however, feel strange that it’s possible for me to publish more in my discipline than a colleague in the research stream and not get merit while that person does. I can see why it’s the case, and I would get merit if I got a teaching award, maybe; would that person get merit as a research prof for a teaching award? I don’t know.

2. Another concern I’ve run across lately is that while there are a number of research grants available for disciplinary research, there is much less available for research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. For awhile it was the case that most of the research grant money available at UBC was not available for those in the Professor of Teaching stream to apply for. That is slowly changing, at least in the Faculty of Arts, where now, finally we can apply for grants to hire undergraduate research assistants, which used to be off limits for those in the Professor of Teaching path (which made no sense to me). And fortunately, we can apply for grants in the Social Sciences and Humanities from the federal government (haven’t checked for other areas of study outside social sciences and humanities).

The problem is that it’s very hard to compete for grant funding when you’re going up against people who have much more time than you do to devote to research. What I’d like to see is more funding dedicated to research work on teaching and learning. We have a fund here at UBC called the “Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund,” which has quite a bit of money for improving teaching and learning, but it’s quite clearly focused on things that are directly applied to teaching and learning, not so much on research needed previous to application (as I’ve recently discovered! Which is fine…it’s just that I’d like to have a place to apply for money for the research). I have recently put in a grant application to the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on a SoTL project; we’ll see how that goes in the national competition amongst many people who have more time for research than I do.

UBC has an Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and I was happy to be able to apply for and receive funding from them for a project this year. But it’s now time for me to seek sources of more funds than they have, and time for others to have a chance to get funds from them. Plus, next year they are offering grants 1/5 the size of what I was able to get (though I’m not actually using that much, so some of mine will go back to the kitty for others!).

3. Finally, there is a bit of disagreement around campus as regards the degree to which these two “streams” should be considered as equal–in the sense of whether or not Instructor I’s should have the same privileges and rights as Assistant Professors, same with Sr. Instructors and Associate Professors, etc. A lot of that is still being worked out. One issue of contention is voting rights within departments: can Sr. Instructors, who are tenured members of a department, vote on the appointment or tenure of Assistant Professors? Associate professors can vote on tenure for Instructor I to Sr. Instructor, but so far, Sr. Instructors (tenured) can’t vote on tenure from Assistant to Associate professor. And same with the third level. It looks like some of this is changing, according to our faculty union’s blog: starting with the next collective agreement, it looks like, “in the case of initial appointments the committee will now comprise all tenured and tenure-track members of the department.” So all tenure-track members of the department can have a say on initial hiring. But I don’t see any changes on the horizon for tenure and promotion.

It does seem a little odd that a Professor of Teaching, the top rung of one of the streams, can have no say in the tenure and promotion of someone moving from Assistant to Associate Professor. Surely, just as those focused on research can be counted on to make intelligent decisions regarding quality teaching for those of us going through tenure and promotion in the Professor of Teaching path, those of us in the latter path can be counted on to make intelligent decisions regarding quality research. It seems questionable to me to have this disparity.



I have to say I’m really happy with my position at UBC. I am thrilled that I can focus on teaching, which is what I love, and also have the job security of tenure and the chance to move up to a higher level of recognition of my work and become a Professor of Teaching. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to get a job like this! Which doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement in some areas (as there is, I expect, with most jobs).