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Discipline Expectations for Spencer Museum of Art Academic Staff


Outlines criteria used to evaluate candidates for promotion in the areas of professional performance, teaching, scholarship, and service

Applies to: 

Unclassified academic staff of SMA

Policy Statement: 

The focus of promotion review is on professional growth and achievement. The award of promotion in rank represents a prediction that the individual will continue to make substantive contributions to the University and the profession. The University of Kansas, along with most other research universities in the United States, evaluates museums primarily on the quality of their performance as curators or specialists in their professional assignments. In addition to the traditional role of an art museum (to acquire, conserve, exhibit, research, and educate about works of art), a university art museum has the added expectation of successfully integrating the museum’s collection in curricula across many disciplines, of playing a leading role in university cultural life, and providing a forum for the exploration of scholarly questions of the day. Members of the curatorial and specialist staff must maintain the standards by which the museum achieves these purposes.  Museum professionalism, scholarship and research are central to all the functions by which the museum’s purpose is defined, and thus upon which the evaluation of the academic staff’s annual efforts are made.  A combination of six different categories may constitute the professional, scholarship and research criteria: acquisitions, conservation, exhibitions, scholarly publications/creative works, education/teaching, and interdisciplinary programming/audience development.

Professional Performance

Unclassified academic staff are not required to allocate effort in all three primary faculty responsibilities (professional performance, research, and service). Thus, professional performance will be defined contingent on the individual assignment. The SMA bases its evaluation of an individual's professional performance on the annual reports submitted by that individual detailing the person's activities from year to year, the promotion packet submitted by the candidate, and extramural evaluations provided by peers.

Curators and Specialists hold 12‐month appointments. It is expected that Curators/Specialists will fulfill their professional duties at a high level of effectiveness resulting in significant accomplishments. Curators/Specialists’ duties can be varied, and can change frequently, due to the changing nature of the environment in which they work. While no single definition or standard of excellence can adequately address all aspects of curatorial or specialist professionalism, effective Curators/Specialists will need to demonstrate competence, currency in one’s area, creativity, and initiative. The quality of professional performance and competence in carrying out one’s assigned responsibilities, coupled with the candidate’s strengths, are the focal points for evaluation of professional performance.

Categories of professional performance include, but are not limited to the following, and required percentage of effort will vary according to individual position descriptions:

Mentorship and Supervision

Administrative and/or supervisory duties are an expectation for curators/specialists. Curators/specialists are generally assisted by half-time graduate assistant interns drawn from the pool of KU students that meet relevant criteria. These are highly competitive positions that are generally filled by very motivated and advanced students, many of whom plan on future employment in museums in the U.S. and elsewhere. The key role played by the curators/specialists in mentoring these young professionals is a critical factor in the long-term success and effectiveness of the museum and is taken very seriously. Curators/specialists are expected to give their interns an appropriate variety of hands-on experiences so that the internship serves not only a support role but a meaningful training role as well. In addition, curators/specialist may be responsible for directing a department within the museum. Administrative duties associated with either supervision and/or department leadership can include the following: budgetary oversight, supervision of permanent and student staff, staff professional development, and grant writing

Artist Residencies/Commissions

A key component of the SMA mission is fostering and supporting relationships with contemporary artists.  As such, Curators/Specialists may conceptualize, organize, and host local, regional, national, and/or international artists to commission a new work of art with or without a formal on-site, artist residency.


Teaching is a central element in every activity at the museum and the University. Although not formally a part of the Curator/Specialist’s museum duties, opportunities do arise for curators/specialists to teach courses and give guest lectures in other KU University departments and units. It is expected that curators/specialist give gallery talks, class-lead discussions, and study center presentations for students, faculty and the public.  This type of teaching can be a significant portion of a curator/specialist’s workload during the semester. 

Examples of museum teaching could include the following:

  • Gallery talks
  • Study Center presentations
  • Museum tours
  • KU course guest lecturer
  • University instructor of record for other university department
  • Adult education classes
  • Lead [or conduct or teach] museum class visit sessions in collaboration with course instructor

Acquisitions and Collection Research

Acquisitions, both purchases and gifts, form a significant part of curatorial duties.  The museum exists to activate, make relevant and protect its permanent collection, and the development of the collection is important to the museum’s continued vitality.  Curators/Specialists are expected to be cognizant of the market in their areas of responsibility and to propose acquisitions when they are relevant to the mission of the museum.  The recommendation of an acquisition at the Spencer Museum of Art can represent a significant responsibility. 

Acquisition recommendations are made through a combination of connoisseurship, scholarship, and educational possibility; none of which is adequate in itself and both represent some of the most sophisticated research techniques in the world of art history.  Curators/Specialists must be able to locate works of art appropriate for acquisition, determine their authenticity and condition, and locate them within a cultural context as well as the context of existing museum collections.  Gifts are also important to the museum’s continued vitality; Curators/Specialists are expected to participate in solicitations of gifts with the Director, when requested.


Objects curators are responsible for maintaining the collection in good condition.  They must identify condition and environmental problems and take measures to correct them, and they must do whatever they can to provide an environment in which the objects are secure.  They must know how to handle, store and display objects properly and must be sure their colleagues do the same.

For promotion to the rank of Associate Curator/Specialist:

The candidate’s record shall demonstrate effective museum practice as reflected in such factors as command of responsibilities, the ability to communicate effectively, and a demonstrated commitment to the mission of the Spencer Museum of Art, the University, and the profession or area of specialization in a related field.

For promotion to the rank of Full Curator/Specialist:

The candidate’s record shall demonstrate achievement in and document evidence of distinguished professional performance in a successfully developing career, with evidence of sustained productivity. The candidate shall have demonstrated continued effectiveness and growth as a professional. Such effectiveness and growth will be reflected in such factors as mastery of museum practice and professional and technological skills, and a demonstrated and ongoing commitment to the mission of the SMA, the University and a measure of national recognition.

Creative Research and Scholarship

Art museums are expected to engage in research and scholarly activity. The wide range of Curators/Specialists’ assignments at KU and the demands of 12‐month appointments lead to variation in the type and amount of scholarly or creative activities in which they engage. It is expected that the outcomes of these activities will be disseminated and subject to critical peer evaluation. While productivity is expected, quantity per se is not a singular measure. In this way, museum academic staff will contribute to enhancing the profession of museums in society or a related area, or a specialized subject area, in which they conduct research.

The concept of “scholarship” encompasses not only traditional academic research and publication, but also the creation of artistic works or performances and any other products or activities accepted by the academic discipline as reflecting scholarly effort, artistic rigor, and achievement for purposes of promotion.

Curators/Specialists are encouraged to develop a research program sustained and strengthened over time; however, the rapidly changing nature of museums may lead to new areas of research that may be reflected in the Curator/Specialist’s research program. The research program should contribute, at least initially, to the field of museums or a related area, and be consistent with the mission of the Spencer Art Museum. However, because curatorial/specialist work does not exist in isolation from the community it serves, but rather co‐exists with and contributes to all disciplines, scholarly endeavors of curators/specialist may reflect this symbiosis and cross disciplinary boundaries.

Much of the advancement of museums depends on formal collaborative efforts. In museums, participation in collaborative scholarship is acknowledged as requiring application of knowledge and expertise equivalent to that demonstrated in individual research and publication. Museum work is often collaborative in nature. Since the processes and rewards of promotion pertain to the accomplishments of the individual, not the group, clarification will be extended indicating the individual candidate’s role in collaborative research endeavors

Curators/Specialists should begin their research program early and establish a sustained program of scholarly activity. Documented activities should demonstrate that the candidate’s experience has led to a broad understanding of the field, that the candidate has mastered a part of it, and that there has been intellectual development and contributions beyond those called forth by routine daily assignments.

Categories of Creative Research and Scholarship include, but are not limited to the following and required percentages of effort vary according to individual position descriptions:


Exhibitions are the primary means within the museum context by which academic staff carry out and publish original research.  Besides significant scholarly ability, exhibitions require substantial organizational skills and training and experience in the handling of works of art with significant aesthetic, cultural and historical value. Decisions involving the choice of objects appropriate to the exhibition require scholarship that is not necessarily evident in publications, since research that results in eliminating works from an exhibition due to inferior quality, inappropriate subject matter, or questionable authenticity or provenance may not be published.  The same is true of research aimed towards locating unknown or unpublished works.

Major scholarly exhibitions take three to five years to organize, contain significant numbers of works of art, and are accompanied by scholarly catalogues or the equivalent.  Exhibition projects and catalogues are reviewed not only by a critical internal curatorial committee, but also by the agencies responsible for supporting them through grants.  Thus, exhibitions and their related publications are considered at least the equivalent of scholarly books. Curators are expected to organize at least one significant exhibition during the first five years of employment.

Scholarly Output and Publications

Criteria for evaluation will include originality and creativity, breadth of dissemination, and impact on scholarship and/or practice in the candidate’s field. One type of work or merit is peer-reviewed publications. It should be emphasized that quality of scholarship is not measured in numbers; however, quantity of contributions is useful in demonstrating the candidate's growth as a scholar, ongoing dissemination of research findings, and continuing commitment to scholarship.

During the promotion process, curators/specialists submit research for consideration as major or minor works based on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the reputation of the venue of publication/presentation, the depth and rigor of the research, and the impact of the research on the discipline and society. Determination of which category to use is made by the individual curator/specialist.

Any variation of acceptable publications include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • New scholarship in books, articles, exhibition catalogues, or electronic media, all of which are subject to outside peer review.  This category includes exhibitions and their catalogues at the Spencer that are supported by grants from such federal entities as the National Endowment of the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as scholarly articles and other publications.  These projects are evaluated by committees of the curator’s peers with rigor comparable to that of reviewers of a journal or university press.
  • Publications not supported by government grants and articles for Spencer Museum publications, such as the Register, the SMA’s journal.  These are subjected to internal review by the museum staff and relevant faculty, as well as occasional outside review.  They may present new research on objects in the museum’s collections or new ways of understanding groups of works in the collections and are final, not preliminary publications.
  • Edited volumes of articles by colleagues or other peers. This can be either within the Spencer Museum of outside of it.
  • Essays and articles for various museum publications, such as newsletters, publicity, and gallery guides. While they also often present original material, they are subject to limited internal review and the publications are ephemeral.
  • Scholarly presentations. This includes sharing active research at professional conferences, colloquia, and other academic settings through formal presentations.
  • Scholarly digital projects. This category includes digital scholarship that either disseminates new research and/or promote new research, including online exhibitions, publications and academic resources.

For the award of promotion to the rank of Associate Curator/Specialist:

The evaluation of creative and scholarly research at the SMA requires the broad judgment of professionals and peers, which reflects the diversity of our practices. Under the University standards for the award of promotion to the rank of Associate Curator/Specialist, the record must demonstrate a successfully developing scholarly career, as reflected in such factors as the quality and quantity of scholarly/creative research activities and publications, external reviews of the candidate’s work by respected scholars or practitioners in the field, the candidate’s regional, national, or international reputation, and other evidence of an active, focused, developing and productive scholarly agenda.

For the award of promotion to the rank of Full Curator/Specialist:

Under the University standards for promotion to the rank of Full Curator/Specialist, the record must demonstrate an established scholarly career, as reflected in such factors as a substantial and ongoing pattern of scholarly/creative research activity and publications, external reviews of the candidate’s work by eminent scholars or practitioners in the field, the candidate’s national or international reputation, and other evidence of an substantial, ongoing, active and productive scholarly career.


Service expectations for Unclassified Academic Staff are contingent on the individual assignment and generally should be consistent with the equivalent expectations listed below. A strong service profile is highly valued by the museum. Curators/Specialists are expected to demonstrate a consistent record of service beyond their assigned museum responsibilities, with contributions to the Spencer, the University, and to professional organizations.

Service is evaluated on the basis of quality, the candidate’s demonstrated level of contributions, and significance or impact of the service for the general local, regional, national, and international communities. Contributions that require a substantial effort, and that produce significant results, will be rated more highly. The Curator/Specialist’s dossier should reflect continued growth and leadership in service over time. Evidence of service may include, but is not limited to:

  • Organizing and conducting public programs
  • Participating on committees at the University and nationally
  • Event planning and participation
  • Locating and soliciting donors of works of art and monetary support
  • Initiating and responding to conversations with colleagues and the public about the scholarly and artistic perspectives of the museum
  • Informally providing tours, training docents, giving gallery talks and lectures, and hosting dialogues for the general public
  • Responding to general public enquiries related to either works in the SMA collection or their own privately-held objects
  • Providing expertise on works of art and artists

For promotion to Associate Curator/Specialist:

Under the University standards for the award of promotion to Associate Curator/Specialist, the record must demonstrate a pattern of service to the University at one or more levels, to the discipline or profession, and/or to the local, state, national, or international communities.

For promotion to Full Curator/Specialist:

Under the University standards for promotion to the rank of Full Curator/Specialist, the record must demonstrate an ongoing pattern of service reflecting substantial contributions to the University at one or more levels, to the discipline or profession, and/or to the local, state, national, or international communities.

Rating for Performance

Using the criteria described above, the candidate’s performance in the areas of professional performance, teaching, scholarship, and service (as applicable to each position) will be rated using the terms “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “marginal,” or “poor,” defined as follows:

  1. “Excellent” means that the candidate substantially exceeds expectations for promotion to this rank.
  2. “Very Good” means the candidate exceeds expectations for promotion to this rank.
  3. “Good” means the candidate meets expectations for promotion to this rank.
  4. “Marginal” means the candidate falls below expectations for promotion to this rank.

“Poor” means the candidate falls significantly below expectations for promotion to this rank.


Jennifer Talbott
Director of Internal Operations
Spencer Museum of Art
(785) 864-0135

Approved by: 
Committee on Standards and Procedures for Promotion and Tenure and the Spencer Museum of Art Committee
Approved on: 
Monday, August 31, 2015
Effective on: 
Monday, August 31, 2015
Review Cycle: 
Annual (As Needed)
Promotion, Spencer Museum, Art Committee, Promotion Committee
Change History: 

08/31/2015 Approved by Committee on Standards and Procedures for Promotion and Tenure and the Spencer Museum of Art Committee

Academic Categories: 
Promotion & Tenure

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