Writing his own faculty-centered QEP
As the Clemson administration works on a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), part of the reaffirmation of the University’s accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), new Faculty Senate President Jeremy King has come up with his own faculty-centered quality enhancement plan.
King, associate professor of physics and astronomy, came to Clemson in 2003, on what he describes as “a circuitous path, as it is for all academics.” The Maine native earned his bachelor’s degree in astronomy and physics from Boston University and his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii. After completing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas and the Space Telescope Science Institute, he taught at the University of Nevada Las Vegas for three years before joining the Clemson faculty.
“I knew the research here in astrophysics was closely aligned with my own research, and it gave my family the opportunity to get back to the East Coast,” King said. “It just all came together.”
While King teaches both physics and astronomy classes, his research lies in astronomy, primarily focusing on the properties of stars.
“We’re working to decipher not only stellar physics but also to decipher cosmic history,” King said. “It’s fair to say that a lot of the history of the universe is truly written in the stars, so we’re trying to work backwards and uncover that history.”
King said his work is a culmination of a lifelong interest in the cosmos.
“I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fascinated by the night sky and celestial objects,” he said. “I can’t even tell you when that interest began.”
King, now in his fifth year on Faculty Senate, said he joined the senate at the suggestion of a colleague.
“I thought it would be a good way to meet other people from across campus as well as fulfill a personal calling to give something back to my colleagues in some small way,” he said.
He didn’t immediately jump into a leadership role, however. King says the decision to run for president was something he thought about for two years.
“At the end of that, I thought I had a good sense of the concerns of faculty and the challenges that we face, and I thought I could pursue those and make a difference,” said King.
King has laid out what he calls a faculty-centered QEP — four areas that he would like to see addressed during his term as president:
- An incentive and salary performance pool for teaching, distinct from the research performance pool or some other combined pool: “We need to divide up the performance pool into research, teaching, service and student engagement. We should align incentives to enhance quality,” said King.
- Continue to work with Provost Dori Helms to improve the teaching evaluation process. King said he would like to see Helms approve the changes to the Faculty Manual that the Faculty Senate approved this past spring, which place more emphasis on the evidence of learning and less on student evaluations of teaching. He is passionate about this issue. “Recent academic studies of student evaluations and subsequent performance should be of grave concern to faculty. They provide strong empirical evidence that our current de facto evaluation process is not better than nothing, it’s worse than nothing,” said King. “The first step is rethinking the use of student evaluations. We’re not going to solve challenges that continue to vex most every other institution by continuing to do what most every other institution is doing.”
- Rethink and reengineer the “four block system” for reporting faculty activity. King worries that this system does not accurately capture and express physical units of time and effort. “No matter how much additional work I do as a result of expanding enrollments or a spirit of citizenship, my work is the same … four blocks. President Barker has publicly stated that we should reward those who are doing more. That becomes difficult to do in a systemic fashion for faculty because our efforts are defined as a constant four blocks. More importantly, I believe the four-block system also skews incentives that can misalign faculty efforts with university mission.”
- Further integrate the authority of faculty throughout the decision-making process at the University. “Faculty should be more involved in decision-making so that we can reach the best decisions possible, not second- or third-best decisions. This is not a Madisonian vision of distributed power, which is quite different from authority, to ensure good governance. Rather, this is a vision to ensure Hamilton’s ‘necessary spirit of accommodation,’ not compromises, of various party’s interests,” said King.
“I do want to publicly praise President Barker,” said King. “He has been generous with his time and very receptive thus far to the concerns I’ve expressed related to involving faculty in decision-making. I think we’ve already seen an enhancement in that area and will continue to see improvement.”
A more personal goal for King is to see the University take a closer look at the health and safety of student-athletes, particularly focusing on head trauma.
“It’s time for the campus to engage in a thoughtful discussion about the health effects of repeated sub-concussive level trauma to some of our athletes and the long-term health effects of that,” said King. “My sense is that there’s a rapidly growing concern in the academic health community that repeated sub-concussive trauma does have an impact on long-term health. This is not about questioning the benefits of athletics to the academic mission that I believe are significant and myriad, and it’s not about the financing of athletics. I think it’s an important moral issue that all universities will have to face. The Clemson faculty should face it now. After all, we are a high seminary of learning. We do moral issues. That’s how we roll.”
King said his favorite aspect of working at Clemson is the people he encounters every day — faculty, staff, administrators and students.
“The people you come into contact with here are great,” King said. “They are so nurturing and challenging, and that has helped me grow, both intellectually and personally.”
He also likes just walking around on campus and admiring the landscape.
“I have to give a shout out to the landscaping staff. They do a great job,” he said. “I like to think of Clemson as my personal garden that I can walk through every day. If I could just enable the planting of a conifer garden on campus, I’d be in a state of nirvana.”
King said he enjoys gardening at home, as well as spending time with his five children, ranging in ages from 9 to 20 and including a rising sophomore Clemson mathematics major, and his 20-month-old granddaughter.
King says none of his work at Clemson would be possible without the support of his wife, Susan.
“She supports everything I do 100 percent, though she has always let me know when she disagrees with me on the issues I can bring home,” he said. “I know this personal support holds for a lot of faculty. Usually there’s a spouse or someone special we don’t see who makes what we each do possible.”