A new electronic workflow system for tenure-track faculty merit reviews is modernizing and eventually replacing a tedious, time-consuming and paper-heavy process at UC Merced.
After a two-year pilot, the campus has adopted the Academic Case Review System (ACRS) — an online system that creates a centralized location to upload, route and review documents for merit cases. The new system also standardizes the process across the three schools on campus and creates efficiencies by eliminating emails and duplication of effort.
“It’s a continuous improvement system that is geared toward sustainability,” said Mubeena Salaam, business systems analyst in the Academic Personnel Office at UC Merced.
A recent survey soliciting feedback from faculty members on their experiences using ACRS yielded an overall positive response. In part, faculty members praised the system’s convenience and transparency.
“This is a clean process with all the docs in one place,” one respondent said. “No more emails!”
A department chair reported, “I liked that you could see the status of a case,” and another said, “In the old system, after it left my desk, you had less of an idea where it was.”
Vice Provost for the Faculty Teenie Matlock commented on the importance of the survey.
“It allowed us to determine that overall satisfaction among faculty was high and that the university had made a good investment in ACRS,” she said.
The pilot project began in 2017, with 18 cases, and expanded last year. Academic chairs from all three schools — Natural Sciences, Engineering and Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts — have been involved, along with staff in the personnel office.
Based on faculty input during the pilot phase of using ACRS, additional software is now being added to make it even easier to navigate, Salaam said.
The online, cloud-based system replaces a review process that relied largely on paper files. That paperwork continued to collect even though some portions of the process transitioned to electronic files a few years ago.
“Our office used to get stacks of paper for each case,” Salaam said, easily numbering 100 or more pages.
The online process provides for a paperless flow of documents through faculty, staff and committee hands. It also guides candidates and chairs through the review layers once they log into the system.
In addition, the system ensures that each school follows the same procedures in reviewing faculty. It reduces both faculty and staff time and effort by decreasing the number of meetings, emails, paperwork and file hand-offs that were common within the old system, Salaam said.
For example, compliance reviews often had to be completed by both school staff and the personnel office, she said. That task can now be managed by the Academic Personnel Office alone.
The system also makes it possible for APO to balance workload, as each analyst is using a consistent process and system to review cases.
Finally, the more streamlined process positions the campus to deal with upcoming expansions envisioned in the Merced 2020 Project.
“This new system gets us ready for that,” Salaam said. “It’s setting a very good foundation for our growth.”