Recognition of Distinction: arrangements for 2003-4

Supplement (1) to Gazette No. 4664

Wednesday, 25 June 2003


  • 1. Timetable and general outline of the scheme
  • 2. Previous applicants
  • 3. Criteria
  • 4. Detailed procedure
  • 5. Composition of the Distinctions Committee
  • 6. Title of visiting professor

Recognition of Distinction: Communication from the Personnel Committee

This paper details the 2003–4 round of the recognition of distinction exercise; the next round will be held in 2005–6.

Please note the following changes to the procedures for the exercise since the 2001–2 round:

(a) the closing date has been brought forward to 1 October 2003 to allow more time for applications to be considered at the divisional board stage;

(b) applications may now be accepted from individuals on fixed-term contracts of two years or less;

(c) the requirements for applicants' own nominated referees have been amended and applicants are now asked to give their head of house (where applicable), their head of department or faculty board chairman, and one further referee of their choice, preferably external to Oxford.


1. Timetable and general outline of the scheme

Individuals are now invited to submit themselves for consideration in this exercise. Applications should be made by 1 October 2003 to Mrs Kinahan at the University Offices, in the form set out in section 4 (1) below. All applications will then be sent forward for consideration on behalf of the relevant divisional board whose comments should be sent to Mrs Kinahan by 31 March 2004. The Personnel Committee's Recognition of Distinction Committee will then consider all the material and make decisions by the end of July 2004 or as soon as possible thereafter. Titles will take effect from 1 October following the announcement of the decision. Individuals will not, therefore, be eligible to apply for a title to be awarded in the year they retire. Individuals in the first year of appointment at Oxford who have announced their intention to leave before the end of their second year of appointment will not be eligible to apply for a title. The duties and stipends of those on whom a new title is conferred do not change.

It is essential for exercises such as this to be conducted as openly as possible and divisional boards are asked to send this circular to all eligible academic staff on their establishment, together with covering information about the composition of the divisional board committee which will comment on the applications. If such covering information is not yet available, this circular should be sent on now with a covering note to that effect, and a further circulation about the actual composition of the committee should be sent as soon as that information is available, and well before the deadline for applications.

Separate circulars are being sent to heads of departments and to colleges, since all employees of the University (i.e. not merely academic staff), and also persons not employed by the University but who are making a significant and sustained contribution to it in an academic capacity, are eligible to apply. Divisional boards also asked themselves to ensure that such persons in their subject area who are not members of the academic staff are aware of the exercise. Such persons must apply according to the same timescale and under the same procedures as for academic staff and their applications will be considered according to the same criteria.

Those who have retired from their substantive appointments are not eligible to apply.


2. Previous applicants

Applicants who were unsuccessful in previous rounds may of course apply again, although they should note that reconsideration by the Recognition of Distinction Committee of the same material (i.e. an identical application and identical comments) would result in the same outcome: there is no sense in which the committee will in any year take a more lenient line than in previous years, since there was and remains no `quota' of successful candidates. Unsuccessful applicants who wish to apply again will wish to reflect on the extent to which circumstances have changed since they prepared their previous application. They will also wish to take account of any feedback which they obtained after a previous round. Applicants from previous rounds who wish to apply again must submit new applications within twelve sides of A4 (see section 4). It will not be possible for applicants to reuse material already submitted in previous rounds.


3. Criteria

Title of reader

(a) The primary criterion is a research record of a high order, the quality of which has gained external recognition, and which is comparable in distinction with that expected of readers appointed on the grounds of research achievement at other major research universities.

(b) (i) Where an applicant is a member of the academic staff of the University, he or she must have undertaken undergraduate and/or graduate teaching for the University, and for colleges, concomitant with the duties of the university post and of the college fellowship (where one is held), and such teaching must have been performed well. Particular flair in teaching or in contributions to teaching would strengthen the case for the title. An outstanding contribution to teaching could compensate for a lesser contribution to high-level research. Applicants must also have demonstrated a regular willingness to contribute to the academic community by involvement in University and college administration and to have demonstrated competence in such administration. A notable contribution to college administration could compensate for a lesser contribution to university administration and vice versa, provided that contributions on both sides have been satisfactory.

The definition of `research' to be followed is that used in research assessment exercises, i.e.: `research' is to be understood as original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry, as well as to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, and artefacts, including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products, and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and analysis of materials, components, and processes, e.g. for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques.

(ii) Where an applicant is not a member of the University's academic staff, he or she must have demonstrated a regular and sustained commitment to the University (e.g. in teaching or administration) beyond the prosecution of high quality research.

Title of professor

(a) The primary criterion is that research must be of outstanding quality, have led to a significant international reputation, and be comparable in distinction with that expected of a professor in other major research universities.

(b) (i) Where an applicant is a member of the academic staff of the University, he or she must have undertaken undergraduate and/or graduate teaching for the University, and for colleges, concomitant with the duties of the university post and of the college fellowship (where one is held), and such teaching must have been performed well. Particular flair in teaching or in contributions to teaching would strengthen the case for the title. An outstanding contribution to teaching could compensate for a lesser contribution to high-level research. Applicants must also have demonstrated a regular willingness to contribute to the academic community by involvement in University and college administration and to have demonstrated competence in such administration. A notable contribution to college administration could compensate for a lesser contribution to university administration and vice-versa, provided that contributions on both sides have been satisfactory.

(ii) Where an applicant is not a member of the University's academic staff, he or she must have demonstrated a regular and sustained commitment to the University (e.g. in teaching or administration) beyond the prosecution of high quality research.

In all cases, in accordance with the University's equal opportunities aims, account will be taken of factors which might have affected an individual's performance during the time under review, thus making the contribution to research, in particular, smaller in quantity (but not in quality) than would otherwise have been expected.

All of the information supplied by applicants under section 4(1) below, including any statements about factors which may have led to academic achievements appearing less in quantity than they would otherwise have been, are to be assessed against these criteria.


4. Detailed procedure

(1) Information required from applicants

Applications from individuals holding neither title should be for `distinction', leaving it to the judgement of the committee, after due consideration of all relevant material, to determine whether the title of professor or reader should be awarded. Such applicants should indicate clearly in their application whether they would accept either title if offered it.

Applicants are asked to present their case by the submission of a curriculum vitae arranged under the following headings and within twelve sides of A4 (single-sided please to make copying easier).

(1) Title applied for (if you hold neither the title of reader nor of professor, please indicate whether either the title would be acceptable)

(2) Any relevant information such as might normally appear in a curriculum vitae, including date of birth, employment history, and current post

(3) University lectures and classes given (over the last three years or such period as may be required to demonstrate fulfilment of the criteria outlined in section 3)

(4) Graduate supervision and other graduate teaching undertaken (over the last three years or such period as may be required to demonstrate fulfilment of the criteria outlined in section 3)

(5) University examining (over the last three years or such period as may be required to demonstrate fulfilment of the criteria outlined in section 3)

(6) University administration (over the last three years or such period as may be required to demonstrate fulfilment of the criteria outlined in section 3)

(7) Undergraduate teaching for college(s) (over the last three years or such period as may be required to demonstrate fulfilment of the criteria outlined in section 3)

(8) College administration (over the last three years or such period as may be required to demonstrate fulfilment of the criteria outlined in section 3)

(9) Advanced study and research, including publications, grants, etc.

(10) Future plans for research

All data supplied by applicants will be used only for the purposes of assessing their application for a title of distinction and will be held in accordance with the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the University's Data Protection Policy.

Applicants are asked to asterisk on their publication lists the six publications which they regard as their most significant. Copies of complete applications will be sent to the non-college referees, as well to faculty referees and assessors.

Applicants whose academic interests are interdisciplinary should make this clear, and should indicate whether they would like their applications to be considered by more than one divisional board.

Applicants are requested not to include copies of books or articles with their applications, as it is not practicable to make them systematically available to all who need to consider the applications.

Referees

Applicants must supply the names of referees and addresses (including fax numbers and e-mail addresses) as follows:

1. Head of house (who may however delegate the writing of the reference) in all cases where applicants have a college attachment.

2. Head of department or chairman of faculty board (who may however delegate the writing of the reference). Applicants who are not university employees should give the head of the department/chairman of the faculty board with which they are most closely associated.

These referees will be asked to comment primarily on the extent to which the applicant meets criterion (b).

3. One further referee, preferably external to Oxford. This referee will be asked to comment primarily on the extent to which the applicant meets criterion (a), and should be chosen accordingly.

Applications must reach Mrs Kinahan, University Offices, Wellington Square, by 1 October 2003.

It is not open to divisional board committees to invite individuals who have not put themselves forward to consider doing so.

All of those who put themselves forward should feel free to mention any factors (domestic or otherwise) which may have led, for instance, to academic achievements appearing less in quantity than they would otherwise have been.


(2) Consideration of applications at the divisional board level

(a) Each divisional board should delegate the consideration of the applications to a single committee, chaired by the head of the division (i.e. separate committees should not be set up to consider the possible conferment of the title of reader on the one hand and professor on the other). Divisional board committees should be broadly based, covering as far as possible the major disciplines or broad areas of study under the aegis of the particular board. Boards may, if they wish, arrange for departmental/faculty board scrutiny of applications before consideration by the divisional board committee; in such cases the divisional board should provide any necessary guidance to the department/faculty board.

(b) Divisional board committees (including any local departmental/faculty committees) should not contain anyone who is a member of the Recognition of Distinction Committee of the Personnel Committee (for present membership of this, see section 5 below). It is open to divisional boards to include on their committees those who do not hold the title of professor or are not substantive professors, on the obvious understanding that they would not be eligible to apply in that year's exercise. Provided suitably qualified individuals exist, each committee must contain at least one member of each sex. It is normally expected that divisional board committees will contain an appropriate mixture of internal and external members (although external members are not compulsory) and an appropriate number of professors and/or readers.

(c) Divisional boards are asked to obtain two further references, additional to those identified by the applicant. These references should normally be external and should be passed on to the Recognition of Distinction Committee with the other material forwarded by the divisional board committee. As previously, divisional boards or their committees should also appoint external assessors to review and comment on groups of applications arranged according to broad similarity of subject area. As previously, the requirement to appoint an assessor may be waived in cases where it is impossible to group candidates according to subject area. In such cases, a separate comment on each applicant from an external member of the committee should be submitted.

(d) The assessors' comments should be used to help the divisional board formulate its comments and should also be sent in full to the Recognition of Distinction Committee. No assessor should be asked to comment on an applicant for whom he or she has already acted as a referee.

(e) References chosen by the applicant will be taken up by Mrs Kinahan in a standard format. Divisional boards should approach the referees whom they choose but they must use the same format, subject to modification of the first sentence. Pro-forma letters are available on request from Mrs Kinahan. References received by Mrs Kinahan will be passed on immediately to the divisional board secretary for consideration by the divisional board committee. That committee must assess all of the applicants in the light of the material they have submitted and all of the references received, including the external ones, and strictly by reference to the criteria in section 3 above. The committee must seek whatever supplementary information it may need, beyond the external referees' and the assessors' comments, in order to address fully and fairly the question whether the applicant meets these criteria. The committee should then submit its comments (plus the additional reference and assessors' comments) to Mrs Kinahan for consideration by the Recognition of Distinction Committee. Whether through the references obtained, or through its own comments, or both, the divisional board's committee is expected to provide a reasoned statement which addresses explicitly in each case the question whether in its opinion the individual meets the key elements of the relevant criteria, namely

(i) quality of research achievement and its comparability with that expected of professors/readers in other major research universities;

(ii) extent and quality of contribution to teaching and administration for University and college.

The attention of divisional boards is drawn particularly to the definition of the research criterion at the reader level. The Recognition of Distinction Committee is clear that what might be regarded as the criteria for the award of the title of `senior lecturer' in other institutions (i.e. long and loyal service, with extremely conscientious performance of duties) is not sufficient to meet the research criterion for the conferment of the title of reader.

(f) Divisional board committees are in particular asked to explain specifically why in their opinion an applicant for distinction (as distinct from the title of professor on its own) meets the criteria for whichever title the committee believes is appropriate.

(g) Divisional board committees are asked to recommend suitable fields for the titles of their applicants, should they be successful e.g. Professor of English Language and Literature, Reader in Inorganic Chemistry.

Divisional board committees must consult between themselves in cases where an individual has asked for consideration by more than one board.

In making their comments to the Recognition of Distinction Committee, chairmen or secretaries of committees should state expressly that these bodies have observed the following elements of the above procedure: composition of selection committees, circulation of all information to all eligible academic staff, consideration of factors affecting academic performance, and consideration of all information against the criteria, in particular whether it interpreted the criteria in any specific way.

The comments made on behalf of each divisional board must be forwarded to Mrs Kinahan by 31 March 2004.


5. Composition of the Distinctions Committee

The composition of the Distinctions Committee is as follows.

(1) the Vice-Chancellor;

(2) the Chairman of the Personnel Committee;

(3)–(14) twelve persons not necessarily being members of the Personnel Committee, at least two of whom shall be external to Oxford; and comprising at least one member of each sex.

The names of those appointed by the Personnel Committee under (3)–(14) will be published in the Gazette as soon as possible.


6. Title of visiting professor

Please note that the committee may wish to confer the title of visiting professor if it considers that an applicant who is not a university employee more appropriately fits that category.