Does a 3M Teaching Fellowship Make a Difference? A Personal Account

Does a 3M Teaching Fellowship Make a Difference? A Personal Account

Clarke W. Thomson
1989 3M Teaching Fellow

or me, 1989 had to be the most rewarding year in a long career of university teaching. In the spring of that year I received the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching which, at that time, was the only award for teaching at Brock University. In the fall of rg8g, I was awarded one of the prized national 3M Teaching Fellowships. The stress of all the long hours of preparation and marking, and the effort over many years that I had put into trying to become a better teacher and to promote teaching at Brock, were almost wiped away by the euphoria and warm feelings that filled my mind.

I say “almost” because I had gone through the process of applying for promotion to the rank ofProfessor several years earlier and was painfully aware that, when push came to shove, teaching counted for little. Despite what I thought was a very solid dossier of success as a university teacher, backed by publication of a three-year research project, the reviewing committee concluded that my teaching credentials were not good enough to offset what they considered to be “weaknesses in scholarly activity.”

So, after the announcement of my 3M award, when several colleagues suggested I reapply for promotion, I declined. But in November of that year I was approached by the chair of the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA) who informed me that the association wanted me to apply for promotion. At first I refused, but he persisted and added two arguments that caused me to reconsider. The first was that if I did not apply on the basis of earning a nationally recognized award, I would be doing a disservice to any faculty member who might, in the future, want to use one or more teaching awards as criteria for promotion and/or tenure. And, second, this time I would have the full support of BUFA, not only in preparing my submission but also to the extent that if the promotion was rejected by the university, the association would file a grievance and provide the necessary resources to argue an appeal. Almost reluctantly, I agreed to try one more time.

Using arguments similar to those used in my earlier hearing, the committee in charge of promotions turned down my application. However, this time the matter did not end at that stage. True to their word, BUFA filed a formal grievance and obtained agreement from the university administration for an appeal before a committee of peers, where the results would be binding on all parties. Thanks to their efforts, including providing a brilliant advocate to argue my case, the appeal received majority consent and I was promoted to the rank of Professor.

Now the point of this story is not to describe my “great victory,” but the background is important in answering the question of how significant the 3M Teaching Fellowship can be.

I received numerous phone calls and notes from faculty who stated that my promotion gave them an added impetus to continue their own efforts to improve their teaching skills and to think seriously, rather than simply dream about using teaching as the important criterion for promotion. More telling, I think, was the fact that within a month of the formal announcement of my promotion, I was approached by the dean of another faculty to enquire how he could get an outstanding teacher from that faculty promoted to Professor. It is also fair to say that the whole process helped raise the status of teaching within the university.

What began in 1988 as the Office of Teaching and Learning staffed by one part-time executive assistant and one faculty member who served as director in his spare time, has evolved into the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Educational Technologies, staffed by four full-time employees, a part-time assistant, plus a full-time faculty Director. Representatives of the Centre now sit on the Senate Committee for Teaching and Research which is responsible for making recommendations to the administration on matters affecting teaching throughout the university.

I rest my case.