Professor Chris Neck stepped onto the Virginia Tech campus 15 years ago and immediately knew that he never wanted to leave. Today, he is making plans to relocate to Arizona State University after a conflict over the promotion that never happened.
Neck, an associate professor of management in Pamplin College of Business, started the procedure to apply for a full professorship in 2006, not knowing that the process would still be going on three years later.
The process to apply for full professorship is a "very extensive process," said Richard Sorensen, dean of the Pamplin College of Business.
"The decision is made for associate professor with tenure sometime within a faculty member's probationary period," Sorensen said. "In other words, during the first five years of their employment. It is the same type of committee process where there is very extensive documentation, which could be a couple hundred pages of information that is presented both on teaching, service and research."
Sorensen said full professorships are granted through a request for promotion, where the faculty member's "research, service and teaching are evaluated."
"First you reach associate, and you are there for so many years, and then you can apply for a full professorship," Sorensen said. "There is additional consideration given to a faculty member's service during the consideration for full professor, but the committee also continues to look at the strength of the faculty member's research program. Strong research programs vary by person and by discipline. Also, we use outside letters of reference to make a decision about full professorship. First of all the decisions are primarily made in the department, and then the other review is done to see that the quality of the faculty member is consistent, but we use those outside letters of reference in the process. We ask the people who write the outside letters of reference to talk about the impact that the person's research has had on their particular field of study."
Neck said he does not understand the reasoning as to why he did not receive full professor when he applied for promotion three years ago.
"What I feel, and people will say differently, is that if you talk to them they will say, 'Oh, his work was not scholarly enough,' even though I am in a top journal in my field," Neck said. "I am not trying to get by on my teaching, even though I have a teaching record. When you go out for full professor, the committee seeks letters from people around the world to write about you, and usually that is what prevents someone from getting full professor, but in my case, that never came up as a reason for why I didn't get full professor, because I know my letters were good."
Neck said he teaches in an "unconventional manner that other faculty do not approve of."
"Basically, I teach a big class that gets a lot of attention, and I always do my own thing," Neck said. "I am not the professor who shows up at 8, sits around, drinks coffee, goes to lunch, chats about the world and then leaves at 5. No. I travel around the world, I consult, and I study organizations. I am always there for my students; I am not there for these other faculty members. I am not there to have lunch with those faculty members. That is not my job."
Although Neck said he does not place priority on pleasing other faculty members, Kerry Redican, professor of education and the 2008 Faculty Senate president, said it is vital for faculty members to have a solid connection with faculty when going up for full professor.
"It is extremely important to have a strong relationship with faculty members," Redican said. "A department faculty functions like a family, and they depend upon one another; they work together for common goals. It is very important that you relate and work well with your colleagues. If there is a situation where a faculty member is not helping in a department, such as not serving on curriculum committees or things like that which are labor intensive, that means the other members have to. You function like a family; there has to be give and take."
However, he said not working as closely with other faculty members "may not be the reason someone would not get promoted," Redican said.
"I think the merits of the case are the merits of the case," Redican said. "The closeness of faculty does not have that significant of an influence on a person's case."
Neck said he feels as though all criteria for his position were met.
"Look at the people in the last five years in Pamplin that got full professor, and I ask you to compare my record to theirs," Neck said. "If you can say that their record is better than mine, then I will walk away today."
France Belanger, an accounting and information systems professor, was one of the most recent faculty members to be promoted to full professor in Pamplin in 2008.
"The process itself happens within about eight months, where you have to prepare files, get them approved at multiple levels, get your evaluations together, and send them off," Belanger said. "You have to do research to be qualified for full professor, but there are several other criteria as well, including teaching."
Belanger added that faculty applying for full professor have to receive international recognition for research in their field of expertise.
"I am the editor of a very major journal in my field, and I was also a distinguished chair on the Fulbright in 2006 in Portugal," Belanger said.
Belanger added that not having enough research or proof of good teaching can inhibit someone from becoming full professor.
"I think the faculty input is part of everything," Belanger said. " ... Really what you have to look at is the whole package, and ask if this person is someone who adds to the mission of the university and that involves the teaching, research and service."
Neck's accomplishments outside of teaching include writing eight books and more than 80 research journal articles.
Belanger said that if a faculty member is passionate about what they do, they should eventually reach full professor.
"I love what I do so much that my work does not stop there," Belanger said. "It is not like you have reached something and then it stops; it is another level and a nice recognition, but it will not change my job, which is to continue to be passionate about my research and my teaching."
The university handbook outlines the requirements of a full professor, Redican said.
"From the faculty handbook, it says that an associate professor has 'demonstrated by substantial professional achievements by evidence of appropriate combination of outstanding teaching, creative scholarship and recognized performance in extension, outreach, library, or related academic professional service,'" Redican said. "For full professor it says, 'in addition to the requirements for associate professor, appointment to the rank of professor is contingent upon national recognition as an outstanding scholar and educator,' so you have a combination of things."
Redican added that an associate professor seeking promotion must go through many levels of faculty and department heads for review.
"The process involves being evaluated by a committee at the department level. They evaluate through the dossier, which is a document concerning the person up for full professorship, then they make a recommendation to the department head, who will evaluate the dossier, make a recommendation to a college committee - who is elected - they will evaluate the dossier, make a recommendation to the dean, the dean will evaluate the dossier and then eventually make a recommendation to the university," Redican said.
In addition, Redican said, "there are outside reviewers that will receive the dossier, evaluate it and write a letter."
"What you've got is a process that is faculty driven, and you are being evaluated by your colleagues," Redican said. "Everyone has seen the same dossier, so you do have safety nets in that process. It is unfortunate when the outcome is not what one wants, but there is enough safety nets built into the system that, while it is not a perfect system, it is not a flawed system."
Neck said he believes the "process was flawed," adding that the decision really stays within the department, which was a disadvantage in his case.
"At the department level, the very first decision, the people who voted on me were biased," Neck said. "The fact that no one ever stepped in when the Board of Visitors said it was wrong, that makes the whole process flawed in my mind, even though the faculty at Pamplin will say that it was not flawed."
Neck added that when he went up for full professor, the members on his board "had a bias against me, and that is not fair."
"The true story is that two of the three full professors that voted on my full professorship did not like me," Neck said. "One had accused me of plagiarism years ago when I was going up for sabbatical, and that is the worst accusation in academia that you could be accused of. It didn't go anywhere, but the board members were trying to harm me and they won't confirm anything. They felt that no one could publish as much as I did. Early on I had a run-in with the other professor that voted on my full professorship. I decided not to work on a paper with him, so since I did not do that, he did not like me. He was on the jury voting on my full professorship, and when you have a jury you are supposed to have an unbiased jury, which was not the case in my situation."
Sorensen said the university requires there to be a "peer review of teaching" as a chance for other faculty members who work with the member up for promotion have the "opportunity to visit and conduct a formalized peer review."
"Sometimes we also receive feedback from alumni where they talk about the impact that someone has had on them, and sometimes we receive letters from students who are currently here," Sorensen said. "So we look at the evaluations that are done by students and we use quantitative data, but also the comments from students, and we use the faculty peer review and the alumni comments."
Jim Knight, animal and poultry science professor and close friend of Neck's, said Neck should have been granted a full professorship.
"I can say, as one who has served on a number of promotion and tenure committees, what tends to be Chris's strength in terms of teaching, tends to get under appreciated, especially for promotion to full professor," Knight said. "Teaching excellence tends to be undervalued in the promotion and tenure deliberation at Tech, and there tends to be a far greater emphasis on research productivity, grants received, those types of things, much more so than strictly on teaching."
Sorensen said that Neck was provided feedback and reasoning behind his rejection.
"The university has higher expectations for any research and service, but that is more from a theoretical viewpoint," Sorensen said. "But for Chris Neck, the material and feedback was provided to him, and if he would like to discuss it, that is his option."
Knight said from a numerical standpoint, the number of publications and books that Neck has produced are more than adequate for a promotion to full professor.
"My understanding is that some of the people in his department and college thought that he should not be doing some of the things that were a bit more abstract and academic as opposed to practical," Knight said. "Based on what I have observed, his external reviews tended to be very favorable, and typically what we would consider appropriate teaching standards."
Neck said he felt not receiving full professor was a way to "put me in my place" from a university standpoint.
"To sum it up, I did not get full professor. I feel it was to say, 'You know what, you are not doing things the way we want you to do them, or the way that you are supposed to do them, you need to be doing them differently,'" Neck said. "If I leave here, people may think I just left here because I wanted to go out of work, and that is not right. I would rather people to know that I was pushed out, it was not that I chose to go."
Neck said a "good old boy system in Pamplin," kept him from achieving full professor status.
"I almost burst into tears thinking about it because this has been such a wonderful place, but for the administration to say that they value teaching is a bald-faced lie," Neck said. "Usually they let teachers go because they haven't done any research, and that is their excuse. But they are letting me go, and I have done research for numerous journals in my field, but they were trying to find some excuse saying that my research was not scientific enough, and I guess they did. Business is my discipline, and it is an applied discipline, so they are basically saying that my research is too applied, too practical."
Knight said Neck has devoted his life to teaching and is very concerned about making contact with students and having enthusiasm in the classroom.
"I think that it is inspirational to see what Chris can do in terms of making direct person contact and impact on students despite teaching sections of several hundred students at a time," Knight said. "That is a very rare gift."
Stephen Skripak, associate dean for graduate programs, said he had no knowledge as to why Neck did not receive promotion to full professor.
Skripak said Neck was the first person he sought out when he came to Tech.
"My understanding is that Chris Neck is a fabulous professor who has been extremely well liked by the students," Skripak said. "He has won teaching award after teaching award, has been a very helpful colleague to me. He values his colleagues very much."
The fact that Neck was never promoted to full professor may show that some faculty members do not feel the same.
Skripak said he does not know what all of the factors are that go into the decision of a full professor.
"I am not a tenure track faculty person myself, so I do not know what the process is," Skripak said. "I don't know what the standards are. Certainly from my point of view, I would have endorsed his promotion. Again, it is a not a process I am fully familiar with."
Sorensen said the "university does require a peer review of teaching" when considering an applicant for full professorship.
"It is required that other faculty members have the opportunity to visit and conduct a formalized peer review, according to the university promotion and tenure handbook," Sorensen said.
Neck said he has been a "whistle blower in the system." He pointed that out as a reason for not receiving a full professorship.
"I went up for associate professor two years early and got it," Neck said. "I have over 80 published articles in scholarly journals, I have over five books, I have been voted professor of the year over 10 times, and I received the Wine award for excellence in teaching. What the professors at Pamplin will also tell you is that my research is not scholarly enough, even though I am in all of the scholarly journals; they will give you a lot of excuses. If you look at the faculty handbook it will say that a full professor is someone who has a national record in both scholarship and teaching, and I've got that."
Neck added "Virginia Tech basically ratted me out" because when Pamplin rejected Neck's promotion, Arizona State University contacted him right away.
"Arizona State heard about it, and they have a very large class there that was not going very well, so they contacted me and asked me what would it take to get me to come there," Neck said. "I said nothing, I told them that I wanted to stay at Tech, so I turned them down, and they called back, and this was when more and more of this stuff was going on, and Arizona State basically said that they would offer what Virginia Tech would not give me."
Neck said his case "went all the way up the chain" to a panel consisting of representatives from each college.
"The only decision that really matters is at the department level," Neck said. "Very rarely will anyone overturn what the department says. In other words, if the department voted for me, no one would ever overturn it, but if they don't vote for me, the chances of it being overturned, which normally takes a provost to do, and I have seen it before, but not here, is rare."
Titles and salaries do not matter, Neck said. He works at Tech because he loves to teach.
"This is what I do, this is what I want to do with my life, teach," Neck said. "I could have easily seen myself spending my entire career here, but I was forced out. I could have stayed here, but I was mistreated and I was not supported, and even from a big class standpoint, it was never appreciated what I did when I was teaching the number of students that I did."
Neck added that if he had to trade all of the titles in the world, he would trade it for "the best reviews from my students."
"Tech did nothing to prevent me from leaving, and if I am such an asset to the students, that is an issue," Neck said. "They never brought up anything about my teaching, because they couldn't. They argued that I was not on enough committees."
Neck also said the he was "not under the radar" as a professor, so that posed a problem when it came to his promotion of full professor.
"I viewed my job as teaching this class as doing the best that I can," Neck said. "I did my research to bring exposure to Virginia Tech, and other people didn't see it that way. I think they would have preferred that I was in more meetings doing nothing, wasting time and teaching a small class and getting the attention is the status quo. I am controversial because I am different, but that is who I am, and I am going to speak my mind."
Neck said he is not present at all faculty meetings but he meets with thousands of students per year.
"Those are the type of things that faculty members don't see; they go under the radar," Neck said. "The type of service I did was different; it was the type of thing that typical faculty members don't do. I spoke on behalf of Tech for a lot of events; I worked for free at basketball games. I did a lot of things that faculty members were not used to."
Neck said the definition of a full professor is "someone who has research, who has a name, and who does excellent work in the classroom."
"You never hear of someone who didn't get full professor because of service. That is unheard of," Neck said. "If they give me that reason, I can argue that it is bogus. Someone first said my service was lacking, and then my dean last year said that my research was not academic enough. I think those are just excuses."
In an attempt to make his case heard, Neck turned to the faculty senate.
"I filed a grievance with them, and they came back saying that the process was biased, so they told the provost that I needed a fresh set of eyes to view my record again, and all that the provost did was add some more people onto the board along with the old members who were biased against me the first time," Neck said.
Neck believes widespread university issues are being displayed in his case.
"There is more than just my case," Neck said. "It is a bigger issue, and it is about the credibility of Tech. This issue has really exposed the hypocrisy."
Redican said that Neck did "experience some difficulties" and came to the faculty review committee of the faculty senate to discuss his case.
"The faculty review committee doesn't do anything except make a recommendation," Redican said. "If there is a procedural problem, the faculty review committee is not going to make any judgments about the merit of the case. The only time that the faculty review committee will get involved is if there is a procedural error. In that process, if there is a procedural error, only then will the senate take a recommendation. In Neck's case, there was no procedural error found."
Redican added that he has no knowledge of any bias going on in relation to Neck's case.
"If the assertion is made about that is going on, and if the faculty committee got involved, it would reach some type of a closure," Redican said.
Redican said that all teachers must show themselves to be effective through the information they provide in their dossier.
"Teaching is certainly important, and this university does value teaching, and we want all of our teachers to be effective," Redican said.
Stuart Mease, special projects coordinator in the city of Roanoke, was a graduate student under Neck during his time in the MBA program at Tech.
Mease said Neck has an unbelievable gift for connecting college students with very important issues that affect their lives.
"At the end of the day, the students are the customers, and the students have spoken out in such positive ways about him, and that says it all," Mease said.
Mease added that Neck teaches several of the largest lecture classes offered in Pamplin, which has made his influence on Tech students even greater.
"I can even say that when I was an undergraduate student at Tech," Mease said, "any class I took under Neck's teaching was one of the best and most influential classes that I took at Tech."
Neck will begin his new position as a "master teacher" at Arizona State in the fall of 2009.