Merit and Promotions: Expanding Our Mindset to Meet Today's Opportunities

collage of UCSF faculty in clinical, education, and research settings

June 2024

Dear Colleagues,

UCSF is able to pursue the ambitious work of advancing health worldwide because of the excellence of our faculty. That excellence can be found in basic scientists engaged in the discovery mission; educators teaching and innovating to train the next generation of UCSF health professionals and researchers; clinicians caring for our patients at UCSF Health and UCSF Fresno, as well as our partners ZSFG and the VA; and social scientists advancing our understanding of and strategies to combat structural racism in health care and higher education.

One way faculty excellence is recognized is through the merit and promotion system, which is codified by University policy and implemented through internal and external peer review. Many faculty worry that the system is not designed for the type of contributions they make to the University and to the broader disciplines in which they work.

Faculty ask, “Will my work be valued for. . .”

  • Innovating in education despite the lack of federal funding for educational research?
  • Prioritizing team science without regard to first or last author status?
  • Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion at UCSF and beyond?
  • Providing outstanding care to patients with scholarly contributions outside of publishing?
  • Continuing my scholarly work despite severe personal hardship?

The short answer is yes.

Over the past decade, UCSF has modernized our approach to promotion to recognize and reward the importance of contributions in all mission areas. Additionally, changes have been made to consider individual context (such as personal hardship or unconventional scholarship) when evaluating people for promotion.

Brian Alldredge, vice provost for academic affairs, offers reassurance: “You have the job you have because you’re brilliant and you work hard,” he says. “UCSF is already invested in you and wants you to succeed. The likelihood of success for almost all faculty is incredibly high, so you should have nothing to worry about.”

I am delighted to take this opportunity to share with you the tremendous advances our institution has made in recognizing the range of contributions of our faculty during this extraordinary time. Read further to find out what’s been done to help faculty feel confident that their work matters to UCSF.

I am grateful to the deans, the Office of Faculty and Academic Affairs (FAA), the Office of Diversity and Outreach, and the Academic Senate Committee on Academic Personnel (CAP) for their collaboration and hard work to improve this aspect of faculty life.


Catherine R. Lucey MD, MACP
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

Expanding What We Value and How We Measure Excellence

Whether you’re an educator, basic scientist, clinician, or social scientist, we want you to feel supported in highlighting the value you bring to UCSF.

For example, changes to the Advance system have allowed faculty whose primary creative endeavor is teaching to detail their wide-ranging contributions through an educator portfolio (EP). This component was developed by the Haile T. Debas Academy of Medical Educators (AME), which became an interprofessional organization in 2015. The portfolio provides the opportunity for educators to explain the impact of their teaching, mentoring and advising, curriculum development and instructional design, educational leadership, and learner assessment (view EP examples).

Because diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are part of the UCSF PRIDE Values and are vital goals for the institution, DEI statements are required for all faculty Advance packets in the schools of nursing and pharmacy, highly encouraged in the schools of dentistry and medicine, and are “recognized, valued, and rewarded in the academic review process,” says Brian. These statements “detail a faculty member’s past, present, and planned contributions to furthering DEI in our academic community.” We observe that they help “shape and improve the learning and work environment and enable good intentions to be turned into action.”

For researchers, the Advance system allows you to highlight elements of your research that align with the changes we see and value in research. Emerald Light, assistant vice provost for academic affairs, says, “We want to see all flavors of research, particularly around team science and community engagement. This is not about changing who you are or your interests, but rather about the University actually expanding what is valued.”

Emerald adds, “This is a cultural shift that is in the zeitgeist of academia all over the country. It comes from wanting to have more voices be heard and it dovetails with our inclusion efforts of anti-racism and equity-focused work.” Renée Navarro, vice chancellor of diversity and outreach, emphasizes that “people who are doing community-based participatory research, for example, may not get to results as quickly because they have to do a lot of relationship building.” She says, “That is a part of the process. It’s valuable and essential to their ultimately being able to do that kind of research.”

Looking Beyond Numbers

Decades ago, faculty may have been evaluated by the number of papers published, the frequency of first or last author status on publications, or the amount of grant money brought into the University. While publications and grants are important, there are no magic numbers, and this approach does not fit the wide range of faculty appointments. UCSF continues to improve upon our processes to have a more expansive approach.

Guided by advocacy from the Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI), UCSF now places a greater value on team science. “We recognize that science, in most contexts, is fundamentally a team effort,” says Robin Corelli, vice dean for academic affairs in the School of Pharmacy. “In today’s world, working alone is largely outdated. Collaboration is essential, and we place a high value on it. You can be one of many authors of a paper and as long as you can specify your contributions, it will help with your academic advancement, regardless of your position on the author list.”

Robin notes that impact can be measured in non-traditional ways: “We recently had a faculty member who had developed a wellness curriculum addressing stress and burnout, which although not yet officially accepted for publication, was being utilized by external institutions. That is the ultimate in dissemination, where your scholarship is acknowledged as valuable, and others not only read it, but also apply your work in practice.”

Or perhaps your heavy clinical workload doesn’t afford the opportunity to write. The UC Academic Personnel Manual (APM) specifies that for faculty in the Health Sciences Clinical series, scholarly and creative activities are broadly defined and include contributions to educational curricula, clinical guidelines, and oversight of a lecture/seminar series, among others.

CAP is an important step in the advancement process and helps to ensure all aspects of your academic career are recognized and valued. CAP is an advocate for the faculty. Catherine Waters, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Nursing, emphasizes, “CAP is not a hurdle that faculty need to overcome. I think faculty are always stunned to hear, ‘Oh, they’re advocates for me.’ They’re not there to derail you. They do their best to see things that maybe your department or school did not see.”

Torsten Wittmann, assistant dean for academic affairs in the School of Dentistry, who served three years on CAP, says the question of promotion is rarely a “yes or no” decision. The committee might be evaluating a candidate who “maybe doesn’t check all the boxes as much as they should,” he says. “But you can work with the person, the department, and the school to try to figure out how to move forward to help them try again in a year, or in two years, and give them opportunities and options.”

Recognizing the Circumstances of Each Faculty Member

The concept of achievement relative to opportunity (ARO), introduced to student admissions approximately a decade ago, became prominent in faculty advancement in the early years of the pandemic. In an effort jointly spearheaded with FAA and the four deans’ offices, CAP adopted this more holistic approach to help assess advancement portfolios in a fair and equitable way.

Of ARO, Catherine Waters says, “It supports more of a calibrated assessment of performance. It also recognizes that the traditional norm of full-time work and an uninterrupted linear career trajectory really no longer match the profile of our faculty. This is a positive acknowledgement of what a faculty member has achieved, given the opportunities available to them.”

Last month, the UC Office of the President shared the final report of the ARO Principles Working Group, which included 16 Senate-Administration members representing all ten campuses. The great news is that since UCSF was at the forefront of this approach, we have a foundation to build upon.

In support of this direction, UCSF allows faculty to include personal statements in their review packet. Since the pandemic, faculty have felt increasingly comfortable explaining the mitigating circumstances in their lives. Christina Mangurian, vice dean for faculty and academic affairs in the School of Medicine, explains that “academic leadership understands that various serious life experiences can impact a faculty’s scholarship.”

We recognize the accomplishments of faculty who continue their scholarly work despite severe personal hardship. Addressing work-life balance, Christina notes another way things have changed at UCSF: We now have more family-friendly policies to help faculty accommodate the dual commitments of home and career, including paid family leave (up to 12 weeks), flexible scheduling options, and most relevant to the topic of promotions, tenure-clock extension.

Addressing Bias in the Process

Brian has received comments about inequities in the advancement process. UCSF is dedicated to eliminating inequity, whether it affects people of certain protected categories or those doing certain types of work. To support unbiased assessment, Renée adds that the ODO has conducted unconscious bias training for CAP “so that its members understand the potential biases that they may have as they start to look at the various portfolios coming through.”

Renée says surveys from the early 2000s show that male faculty were more aware of opportunities for accelerated advancement than female faculty. UCSF has worked to bring greater transparency and better access to the accelerated advancement criteria and encourages divisions and departments to proactively assess faculty achievement to identify those who might qualify.

To monitor the impact of our changes, FAA, the four deans’ offices, and ODO analyze salaries and promotions in the Faculty Salary Equity Report. “We look at the percentages of accelerated functions by gender, race, and ethnicity,” Renée says. “This is an accountability measure to make sure that all of our campaigns—for transparency, for education and training, for equal access to opportunities—are paying out equitably with the actual distribution of accelerated actions.”

Providing Ongoing Support

As part of onboarding, every new faculty member is paired with a mentor who understands their work. Renée says, “Whatever your academic series is, whatever your specific interests are, be they education, research, or clinical services, your mentor can help you understand how those various contributions fit into your overall merit and promotions review.”

Many mentors have been trained in cultural humility and mentoring across differences. Brian notes that there may be a need for additional training and communication so that mentors are aware of how the merit and promotions process has evolved, as well as how criteria can vary across series. Resources on mentoring are provided by FAA.

Sharing Your Voice

Whether you’ve gone through the academic review process or are a new junior faculty member at UCSF, we want to hear from you. Watch for an opportunity in fall 2024 from FAA to provide your feedback on the UCSF Policy on Faculty Advancement.


Thank you to Vice Provost Brian Alldredge, Vice Dean Robin Corelli, Assistant Vice Provost Emerald Light, Vice Dean Christina Mangurian, Associate Dean Sunita Mutha, Vice Chancellor Renée Navarro, Associate Dean Catherine Waters, and Assistant Dean Torsten Wittmann for helping make this article possible.