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Is an Arts CAP Necessary?

In a major research university, with its great variety of ever-evolving disciplines, all academic departments and research units should periodically revisit, update and communicate their mandates, goals and self-evaluating criteria for the understanding of the wider campus community. Never is this clarification more necessary than when explanations of a particular faculty member’s expertise, as summarized in a departmental dossier, come before CAP for assessments of promotion. It should not be the job of a CAP case specialist to supply such clarifications and translations.

Rather, it is the combined responsibility of a) the candidate in her/his personal statement, b) the chair in her/his cover letter, c) the Ad Hoc or standing committee assigned to evaluate the case, - all of which can be augmented by d) comments from the Dean as well as e) from the external reference letters that the chair and the candidate have solicited from experts knowledgeable in the relevant field. If additional advisories need to be attached to the invitations to those contributors who can clarify the sorts of evaluations and criteria we require to fully appreciate a given candidate’s contributions, then by all means we should re-write and amplify these requests. But it is CAP’s experience that these multiple channels should be sufficient for it to make an informed and fair assessment of the case.

CAP fully understands that the Arts may find it a little more challenging than other academic units to clarify and document these standards. Arts dossiers include a greater range of documentation than most. Their files of press releases, performance advertisements, exhibition lists, group show gallery hand outs, museum catalogs, privately-printed monographs and other formats can be dizzying to sort out and evaluate. To make matters more difficult, too often dossiers from the arts provide only minimal guidance through this assortment of supporting documents. Too often it is next to impossible to determine whether anything equivalent to peer review has taken place, what kinds of juries or judges have given this or that award, prize or commission, and what stature or reputation such achievements and their venues may have in the relevant artistic sphere. Including such explanatory, comparative and contextual information is the duty of the department. No intervening assessment by some special arts CAP can substitute for this translational explanation.

With a little effort at providing the clarifications and translations, what might constitute “peer review” can be understood by non-specialists, and a fair assessment can be rendered. But too often the back-up documentation for a dossier comes without this necessary context, which alone could allow CAP to understand the difference between a press release and a peer review, a gallery’s paid advertisement from a juried choice of a presentation, commission, or selection. Whatever the discipline, CAP expects that the submitting unit will have vetted the dossier for such clarifications. In the case of the arts, how has an individual performance or a group show been subject to peer evaluation? What kinds of juries or professionals have participated? What is the candidate’s specific contribution to a group effort that has been subject to collective evaluation? Has CAP been provided with supplemental information to offset any concern that the documents in the box file have not been subject to such “outside” assessments? What process has any performance, exhibition or presentation undergone that points to it as the candidate’s singular achievement? What forms of reception and evaluation has it received that attest to its accepted stature or recognized importance in the field?

So long as a dossier fully and generously characterizes a) the nature of the candidate’s specific contributions, b) their relative place vis a vis related, recognized works in its genre, and c) contextualizes the back-up documentation of peer reactions to the work, CAP will normally be satisfied that it has enough material to make the same sort of informed judgments based on all the aforementioned sources that it makes for evaluating acceptable progress in any discipline.

After some discussion CAP therefore sees no need for an additional panel of arts specialists. If additional expertise is required, CAP can recommend a review committee (RC). In its collective judgment all it is asking for is the same translational and contextualizing information that is being asked of any department – and which it reiterates is the department’s, the chair’s, the candidate’s and the ad hoc committee’s responsibility to deliver, augmented by the external letters from knowledgeable experts and explainers in the field.

Last Revised: June 2017