UW Radiology

Overview of Promotions Committee – Drs. Jarvik and Reddy

Thank you to Kalpana for pestering me to write something for this blog. I have never written a blog before, so I ask for your patience as I figure out how to do this. For this first post, I’d like to start with a broad, brief overview of what we do as a committee and then pivot to a specific topic that is at the front of my mind, and probably everyone else’s this week.

It’s the beginning of June 2020 and as a committee, we have just finished our “promotions season.” This season is nothing like the holiday season. We don’t exchange presents, there are no fun parties. It’s more like the baseball season- a long, hard slog to get to the playoffs, which in the case of promotions is moving the candidates to the next level, evaluation by the School of Medicine’s (SOM) Council on Appointments and Promotions. Our season begins in the late winter when Trixie sends out the first Doodle Polls to start planning our committee meetings. Gautham and I go through the ePARs and see which faculty the section chiefs have recommended for promotion. Gautham and I then assign primary and secondary reviewers to present candidates to the committee and Trixie confirms that the section chief of the candidate can attend the meeting to answer questions, if necessary.

We then review the faculty being considered for promotion. We start with the faculty up for mandatory promotion- those in their 5th year as an Assistant Professor being considered for Associate Professor. This can be a stressful time for the faculty member, since UW has an up or out policy: if you’re not promoted to Associate Professor, you need to leave the institution. This sounds harsh, probably because it is. But promotion to Associate Professor is a big deal. Even though only a small minority of faculty in the SOM have tenure, once an Associate Professor, it’s hard to get fired. So the Department, the SOM and the University are all saying, “You are a valuable member of our community and we want to be with you forever.” It’s like getting married, without the cake (hmmm- something to thing about). So I guess that being an Assistant Professor is like being engaged. It’s a commitment, but one from which your partner can still walk away. So that makes being up for mandatory promotion and not getting promoted like getting jilted at the altar. It’s painful and embarrassing for all involved and should never have gotten to that point in the first place. Let me say that this is thankfully RARE. If a faculty member has been productive, collegial, and hard-working, they will almost certainly get promoted. Conversely, if someone has been unproductive, obstreperous and lazy, they wouldn’t have been given an engagement ring in the first place. The message that I’m trying to get across is, if you’re an Assistant Professor in our Department, you belong, we want you, we’re engaged and we want this to be a long term relationship.

And now the pivot. This past week has been rough. Not only are we in the midst of a pandemic, but we’ve been made hyper-aware of the systemic racism and extreme police brutality and injustice directed especially towards black Americans. We have all seen or heard about the video of George Floyd. It was gut wrenching because it was so unambiguous, but also because it was a story that has become routine- a black man killed by police. The difference in this case seems to be the graphic video, or I should say videos, since several have surfaced since the original. It has spawned widespread outrage leading to mass demonstrations, including one led by UW healthcare workers, and calls for substantial and meaningful reforms to our policing and justice systems.

What does all of this have to do with the promotions committee? Injustice and racism is not limited to the police. It permeates all of our institutions, including our institutions of higher education. How many black faculty did our promotions committee recommend for promotion last year? Or the year before that? Or in the five years before that? Would it shock you to hear that the answer is “none.” Of course, we can’t promote faculty who don’t exist, and sadly, we have no black faculty in our Department. Why? Not to sound like a stereotypical radiologist and hedge, but it’s complex. But ultimately the responsibility falls at the feet of our faculty and having been faculty for over 25 years, I look back over the years and know that I am responsible- I could have done more. Mentoring, outreach, and providing research opportunities to blacks and other people of color are all action items that we can accomplish as individuals. But real, sustainable change will take more than actions of individuals. It will take system change, including new approaches to recruiting and hiring, and making our Departmental culture so attractive to people of color, that they will seek us out. What does this have to do with our promotion’s committee? Gautham and I see our job not starting with the beginning of “promotion season” but rather when a faculty member is first hired. We want to be part of that initial engagement and develop a close relationship with all faculty, but especially those who may have felt marginalized or discriminated against. We want to be sure that we communicate clearly and offer help and advice all along the path to the wedding day of promotion to Associate Professor so that nobody is left alone at the altar. What does racism have to do with the Promotions Committee? Everything.​