Changing Practices in Faculty Evaluation

By Miller, J. Elizabeth; Seldin, Peter | Academe, May/June 2014 | Go to article overview

Changing Practices in Faculty Evaluation


Miller, J. Elizabeth, Seldin, Peter, Academe


Years ago, the process of faculty evaluation carried few or none of the sudden-death implications that characterize contemporary evaluation practices. But now, as the few to be chosen for promotion and tenure become fewer and faculty mobility decreases, the decision to promote or grant tenure can have an enormous impact on a professor's career. At the same time, academic administrators are under growing pressure to render sound decisions in the face of higher operating costs, funding short- falls, and the mounting threat posed by giant corporations that have moved into higher education. Worsening economic condi- tions have focused sharper attention on evaluation of faculty performance, with the result that faculty members are assessed through formalized, systematic methods.

This study was undertaken to determine whether contemporary methods of evaluation differ signifi- cantly from those previously used. For comparative purposes, base data were derived from our 2000 study, which concluded that meaningful evaluation of faculty performance was rare and that judgments frequently were based on information gathered in haphazard, even chaotic, fashion.

To ensure wide coverage, we sent questionnaires to the academic deans of a random sample of accredited four-year liberal arts colleges. Of 538 academic deans surveyed, 410 (76 percent) responded, an unusually high response rate. many of the deans added their comments and attached committee reports. We read these materials carefully, and we include our impres- sions here.

evAluATInG oveRAll FACulTy PeRFoRmAnCe

in considering a professor for promotion in rank, ten- ure, or retention, academic deans today weigh a wide range of factors. Our questionnaire offered thirteen criteria for consideration, and table 1 summarizes the relative importance given by the deans to "major fac- tors" in 2000 and 2010.

Deans continue to regard classroom teaching as the most important index of overall faculty per- formance. But significant changes have occurred in other areas. The traditional measures of academic repute-research, publication, and professional society activity-have assumed new importance. The number of deans citing research as a major factor in overall faculty evaluation rose between 2000 and 2010 from 40.5 to 51.8 percent with an emphasis on publication increasing from 30.6 percent in 2000 to 39.6 percent in 2010.

Deans prize the visibility of published research and papers presented at professional meetings partly as a result of the economic stress being experienced by many institutions. A North Carolina dean wrote: "most of our budget comes directly from the state legislature. They want faculty to publish, and present papers at professional meetings so our college stays visible." A New york dean said, "High visibility is the name of the game today. it's important to stay in the public eye."

These remarks lend credence to the oft-heard observation that faculty members are paid to teach but are rewarded for their research and publication.

The importance of "staying in the public eye" is probably also reflected in the consideration some deans give to faculty members' public service. Approximately one-quarter of the deans (about the same percentage as ten years earlier) view public service as a major factor in evaluating faculty performance. Colleges and universi- ties appear to be encouraging faculty members to get involved in community and civic affairs.

Colleges also expect faculty members to get involved in on-campus activities. The percentage of deans citing campus committee work as a major factor in faculty evaluation rose from 58.5 to 70.5 between 2000 and 2010. This increase may reflect a trend toward decentralization and a broader sharing of the institution's nonteaching load. in the same way, student advising rose from 64.2 to 69.1 percent dur- ing the ten-year period. Deans recognize the value of student advising as an outreach effort to keep students content and in school. …

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