Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6266

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Vol cxlii No 31

pp. 602–610


Report of the General Board on the Senior Academic Promotions (SAP) procedure

The General Board beg leave to report to the University as follows:

1. A criterion-based scheme for promotion to personal Professorships and Readerships was introduced in 1998, following the approval of the Report of the General Board on the procedure for the consideration of applications for the establishment of personal Professorships and Readerships in 1999 and subsequent years (Reporter, 1998–99, p. 106). The Board’s subsequent Report on the introduction of a University Senior Lectureship into the Cambridge structure of academic offices, and associated matters (Reporter, 1998–99, p. 782) brought forward proposals for the implementation of a scheme for the consideration of applications for promotion to that office. The scheme, as described in the Report, was, with certain modifications, subsequently approved by the Regent House and implemented with effect from 1 October 2000. In 2002, the University approved proposals for the amalgamation of the previously separate procedures for the consideration of applications for promotion to personal Professorships, Readerships, and University Senior Lectureships into a single unified scheme (Reporter, 2002–03, p. 98). The unified scheme has operated annually, in accordance with the detailed arrangements in the procedural booklets which are reviewed each year and revised in the light of experience.

2. In the Easter Term 2009, the General Board agreed to appoint a Working Group to conduct a review of the arrangements for Senior Academic Promotions. The Working Group comprised, initially, Professor A. D. Cliff (Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Human Resources) as Chairman), Professor M. J. Daunton, Professor J. K. M. Sanders, and Professor Dame Jean Thomas, with the Academic Secretary and Director and Assistant Director of the Human Resources Division. Professor I. H. White replaced Professor Cliff on his retirement as Pro-Vice-Chancellor on 31 December 2009 and Professor Sanders became Chair of the group when Professor White stood down as Pro-Vice-Chancellor on 30 September 2011. The Working Group’s preliminary proposals were the subject of extensive consultation with the Councils of the Schools, the Gender Equality Group, and others with experience of the procedure, and the feedback was taken into account before final recommendations were received by the General Board. The consultations indicated that broadly speaking the procedure was working well and there was not support for radical change to the procedure.

3. In the Easter Term 2011, the General Board agreed that the following minor changes should be incorporated into the annual procedure for the Senior Academic Promotions exercise for promotions to take effect from 1 October 2012:

• in order to encourage applicants to seek advice about the appropriate timing of applications, applicants to be permitted to make a maximum of two applications in a three-year period;

• references to be carried forward for one further year only;

• the criteria for promotion to University Senior Lecturer to be adjusted to limit the evaluation for research/scholarship to S (Satisfactory) so as to ensure adequate recognition of teaching and general contribution;

• the Chairs of Faculty Promotions Committees (FPCs) to be invited to attend part of the relevant School-level Sub-Committee meeting to aid communication and clarify any uncertainties in their Committees’ rankings.

This Report seeks approval for two further changes to the procedure.

4. At present, candidates for Senior Academic Promotion are evaluated by FPCs against the criteria1 on a three-point alphabetic scale: C (Clear evidence), S (Satisfactory evidence), D (Doubt). Candidates are then ranked and lists are banded as follows:

1. outstanding cases for promotion

2. good cases for consideration for promotion

3. cases below the threshold for promotion as evidenced by the evaluation recorded in the documentation.

Respondents to the consultation indicated some dissatisfaction with this approach for two principal reasons: (a) it does not allow sufficient scope for distinguishing between candidates, and (b) it is of limited help in providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates, particularly those evaluated CCC but insufficiently highly ranked to be promoted. Accordingly and on the advice of the Senior Academic Promotions Review Group, the General Board gave its support to the design of a numerical scoring model to evaluate candidate applications. The proposed scoring model would require a candidate to be awarded a score of 1 to 10 for each criterion for promotion according to the following scheme:

‘Outstanding Evidence’ = Score of 8, 9, or 10

‘Strong Evidence’ = Score of 5, 6, or 7

‘Clear Evidence’ = Score of 3 or 4

‘Insufficient Evidence’ = Score of 2

‘Clearly Unsatisfactory’ = Score of 1

Each applicant is then placed in rank order with all the applications for promotion to that office according to her or his total score. For promotion to Reader or Professor the research/scholarship criterion would be given a 3x weighting. The score available for the research/scholarship criterion for applicants seeking promotion to University Senior Lecturer would be capped at 4. The primary purpose of the numerical scoring model is to assist the FPCs and Sub-Committees in the task of creating a numerical rank order of the applicants for each of the offices. It is not an absolute number and would have no significance in future promotions rounds, since each year’s round starts afresh. Annex A to this Report entitled ‘Senior Academic Promotions Scoring Model – Detailed Design’ contains a more detailed description of the numerical scoring model.

5. The Board consider that it is also appropriate to make some modifications to the arrangements for FPCs. At present the initial consideration of applications is undertaken by the Promotions Committee for the Faculty, Department, or institution concerned. In the 2012 exercise there are twenty-four separate such committees. A consequence of the current structure is that the number of applications considered by a FPC varies widely and, in the case of the smaller committees, there may be no, or a very small number of, applications for the more senior offices in a given round. The main SAP Committee have regularly drawn attention to the variability of assessments by FPCs and the consequent need for adjustment to evaluations and bands by higher committees. Although there is provision under section 8.10 of the procedure for the amalgamation of the FPCs for small institutions, in practice little use is made of this provision. Not only is the present system resource intensive and inefficient, the small number of applications considered by some committees makes benchmarking difficult and may lead to difficulties when, at the next stage, the School-level Sub-Committees form an overview of the respective strength of applications and may ‘downgrade’ the banding or scoring of applications. This is not desirable either for applicants or the integrity of the process.

6. The Board have therefore agreed, that it would be appropriate to have a revised structure whereby certain institutions would be grouped together and applications considered by a single FPC; the aim being to reduce the number of Faculty Promotions Committees by about half. The new groupings would review a larger number of applications across a broader disciplinary range. The Board will consult further with the Councils of the Schools about the configuration of the new groupings. The Board would of course monitor the operation of the new Committees structure and if appropriate make further adjustments in the light of experience. The proposals in this Report when approved will be incorporated in the ‘Blue Book’ procedural guidance for the exercise at the next opportunity.

7. The General Board recommend that approval be given to the modifications to the procedure for Senior Academic Promotions described in this Report.

9 May 2012

L. K. Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor

Simon Franklin

Rachael Padman

N. Bampos

Andrew Gamble

J. Rallison

William Brown

C. A. Gilligan

Patrick Sissons

H. A. Chase

David Good

Morgan Wild

Sarah Coakley

R. Kennicutt


  • 1Research/scholarship; teaching; and general contribution. For promotion to Professor/Reader the research/scholarship criterion is divided into three components.


Senior Academic Promotions Scoring Model – Detailed Design

The scoring model was devised by the Working Group, in consultation with the following:

• Chairs of Sub Committees

• Chairs of Faculty Promotions Committees

• Secretaries of Sub Committees

• Secretaries of Faculty Promotions Committees

• Departmental Administrators

• HR Staff

The elements of the proposed model are as follows:

(1) Scoring and performance descriptors

There is a numerical range of 1 to 10 for each of the criteria relevant to the office, covering the following five performance descriptors with possible scores grouped as follows:

▪ ‘Outstanding Evidence’ = Score of 8, 9, or 10

▪ ‘Strong Evidence’ = Score of 5, 6, or 7

▪ ‘Clear Evidence’ = Score of 3 or 4

▪ ‘Insufficient Evidence’ = Score of 2

▪ ‘Clearly Unsatisfactory’ = Score of 1

• This allows for finer discrimination between applicants demonstrating strong and outstanding evidence.

• The lowest two performance bands (‘Clearly Unsatisfactory’ and ‘Insufficient Evidence’) are deemed to be below the threshold for promotion. Any applicant receiving a score of ‘1’ or ‘2’ in any of the criteria for promotion (research/scholarship, teaching, general contribution) will be deemed not to have met the minimum level for promotion.

• There is a 3x weighting for the research/scholarship criteria for those seeking promotion to Readership or Professorship.

• The score available for the research/scholarship criteria for those applicants seeking promotion to University Senior Lecturer would be capped at 4.

• Therefore the maximum scores would be as follows:

▪ 50 for applications to promotion to Reader and Professor (weighting of 3 x a maximum score of 10 in research/scholarship, a maximum score of 10 in teaching, and a maximum score of 10 in general contribution)

▪ 24 for applications to promotion to University Senior Lecturer (a maximum score of 4 in research/scholarship, a maximum score of 10 in teaching, and a maximum score of 10 in general contribution).

The General Board would have the discretion to make changes to the weighting, thresholds, score range, or any other change to the scoring methodology that it deems necessary, in the light of experience, for the effective running of future Senior Academic Promotions rounds.

(2) The scoring process

• The role of the Faculty Promotions Committee is to translate the evidence provided in the form of references, Curriculum Vitae, personal statement, and Head of Institution statement into scores for research/scholarship, teaching, and general contribution, as appropriate against each of the criteria. References provide a qualitative assessment of the applicant. Referees will not be asked to assess the applicant against the scoring scheme.

• Sub-Committees will receive the ranked scores of applicants for each office from the relevant Faculty Promotions Committee. They should satisfy themselves that the scoring has been consistently applied by the Faculty Promotions Committees, making changes to scores as the Sub-Committee deems necessary to ensure a consistent application of the scoring methodology. The Sub-Committee will minute the reasons for any change that they make to the scoring provided by a Faculty Promotions Committee.

• The Sub-Committee will create a single list in numerical rank order for those applicants for promotion to each of the offices. Where there is more than one applicant receiving the same overall score, the Sub-Committee will determine the rank order of the applicants, noting the reasons for its decision. Tied rankings are not permitted.

• Each Sub-Committee will also indicate where it considers the ‘line’ for promotion should be in the rank order of its applications for University Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor bearing in mind the indicative budget. A small number of ‘borderline’ applicants should also be marked in bold for the particular attention of the Main Committee. A proposal may be to mark the two applicants below and the two applicants above the line.

• The rank orders of applicants provided by the Faculty Promotion Committees and the Sub-Committees will flag those applicants who have not met the minimum criteria for promotion (i.e. those applicants who have scored ‘1’ or ‘2’ in any of the performance criteria).

• The Main Committee will receive the rank orders from each of the Sub-Committees with the indicated ‘line’ for promotion and a small number of applicants marked in bold to assist the Main Committee in understanding the quality of applications between which each Sub-Committee is recommending the line for promotion be drawn. The role of the Main Committee in part is to moderate between the Sub-Committees to ensure that a consistent standard has been applied.

(3) General comments

Any score received, whether against a particular performance criterion (research/scholarship, teaching, general administration) or as a total score, only applies to that promotion round in that particular year: the score is to assist the FPC/Sub-Committee for that year’s round in creating a rank-ordered list, rather than an absolute number. It follows that an applicant’s scores will not carry forward from one application to the next and Committees will not be made aware of scores from any previous promotion applications. Each year is a new competition and it is the responsibility of each Committee to make its own decision on the basis of a further evaluation of the evidence provided.

• The individual’s score should be communicated to them as part of a wider feedback conversation, and the applicant should be reminded that each promotion round and associated score is an in-year process only.

• Briefings will be provided to Committee members on the changes in advance of their implementation. The Blue Book, supporting guidance, processes, and forms will also be updated.