Swimming with teddy bears and sharks: Changes to a tenure, promotion, and merit award system within resistant institutional structures and interests.


  • Dan Laitsch Simon Fraser University
  • Michelle Pidgeon Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University
  • Nathalie Sinclair Simon Fraser University
  • Lynn Fels Simon Fraser University




tenure and promotion, merit, policy analysis, equity and inclusion, autonomy , metrics


In 2017 the Faculty of Education (FoE) at Simon Fraser University engaged in a research-based review of its Faculty Tenure and Promotion (FTP) guidelines in an effort to better understand the scope of scholarship, teaching, and service within the faculty; to provide recommendations for how the quality of scholarship, teaching, and service might best be evaluated; and to better define the evidence that faculty members might provide the Faculty Tenure and Promotion Committee (FTPC) for assessing each of these components of academic work. This paper offers an account of the changes made—which were specific to our faculty but involved elements common in other faculties and at other universities—and the various personal and institutional constraints at play throughout the process. We highlight three different scales at which we worked that relate to issues of equity and inclusion, personal autonomy and self-motivation, and the fantasy of the objectivity of numbers. Since we have come to see the institution as the resistant milieu and therefore our work as challenging institutional structures and norms, we frame our process in terms of multiple acts of refusal. We show how these acts relate to an integrated model of policy analysis and explore our continuing efforts to implement these changes to advance principles of equity, inclusion, and diversity in our faculty and in our work. While the story is told by the four authors of this paper, we are representing the important work done by a broader team of seven who engaged in this work.[1]


[1] While the four authors of this paper took responsibility for telling this story as we feel we lived it, the credit for the work accomplished over the course of this journey goes to all members of the committee, who have also had a chance to review and contribute to this article (listed alphabetically): Pooja Dharamshi, Lynn Fels, Huamei Han, Dan Laitsch, Michael Ling, Michelle Pidgeon, and Nathalie Sinclair.

Author Biographies

Dan Laitsch, Simon Fraser University

Dr Dan Laitsch is and associate professor with the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, and a Director on the SFU Faculty Association Executive. He is currently Chair of the Institute for Public Education, British Columbia (IPE/BC) and Past President of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations, British Columbia (CUFA-BC). A researcher with the SFU Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy, his primary teaching area is Educational Leadership. He co-edits the open access peer reviewed International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership (www.ijepl.org) and is active in the American Educational Research Association SIG on Research Use. Dr. Laitsch’s research examines the use and misuse of research in policy and practice; the impact of neoliberal policies on educational systems; and the role of motivation within organizational and policy change efforts.

Michelle Pidgeon, Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University

Dr. Michelle Pidgeon, (Mi’kmaq ancestry) is the inaugural Associate Dean, Indigeneity ʔək̓ʷstənəq ts'up'new̓ásentas and an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Pidgeon is passionate about higher education, student services, and Indigeneity. Theoretically and methodologically, her work is guided by an Indigenous wholistic framework with the intentional goals of: 1) transforming the educational system for Indigenous peoples and 2) empowering their cultural integrity. One of her ongoing projects is Understanding Indigenous ethics and wholism within academic and Aboriginal community research (SSHRC Insight Grant), which a comparative study exploring Indigenous scholars in the social sciences in Canadian and New Zealand universities navigation of their Indigenous ethics and research ethics boards.

Nathalie Sinclair, Simon Fraser University

Dr. Nathalie Sinclair is Distinguished University Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, as well as Associate Dean, Research and International. Her research focuses on the role of aesthetics and the body in mathematics teaching and learning; she also leads the Tangible Mathematics Project, which has designed several digital technologies and teaching resources to support mathematics learning.

Lynn Fels, Simon Fraser University

Dr. Lynn Fels is Professor, Arts Education, Simon Fraser University, and former Academic Editor of Educational Insights (www.educationalinsights.ca). Lynn’s research engages performative inquiry, arts for social change, and performing mentorship. She is co-editor of Arresting Hope (2015) and Releasing Hope (2019), exploring women’s experiences inside and beyond prison gates.




How to Cite

Laitsch, D., Pidgeon, M., Sinclair, N., & Fels, L. (2022). Swimming with teddy bears and sharks: Changes to a tenure, promotion, and merit award system within resistant institutional structures and interests . International Journal for Leadership in Learning, 22(2), 68–103. https://doi.org/10.29173/ijll21