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July 6, 1999



The Faculty Assembly meeting on Tuesday, July 6, featured a forum on faculty annual review processes and their link to faculty compensation. In addition to members of the Faculty Assembly, a number of other individuals, including some faculty, attended. For well over an hour, an orderly discussion of issues concerned with evaluation of faculty and, to a limited extent, faculty compensation, held the interest of those present.

I am usually pleased by coverage of Faculty Assembly meetings by the media. This meeting was mentioned in the local print media, including the University Times. However, the coverage did not give adequate attention to what I consider to be the three most important points made by the participants. First, was the expressed faculty concern that the evaluative process not be so burdensome and time-consuming — because of unduly complicated forms to complete and requests for information not clearly relevant to evaluation — that faculty would be discouraged from conscientious fulfillment of the demands of the evaluation process. The second point was that it was necessary for faculty, not just those faculty who hold administrative positions, to participate actively in the design of the faculty evaluation process within the school or other unit in which the evaluation was conducted. Faculty stressed that participation during the development phase would mitigate against complaints about process content and forms. The third point made by faculty was that a review authority, above the level of the particular unit, was necessary; one that could be called upon if there were problems, as the faculty saw it, with the evaluation process, or with its implementation methodology. Such a review authority would be different from the appeal opportunity made available to an individual faculty member who believes that he or she was not evaluated fairly. The latter situation is fairly easy to deal with procedurally; the other requires some administrative intervention by, for example, the provost, or some special committee, with faculty representation, assigned such responsibility by the administration.

Several faculty members used the term "peer review" in their remarks.

* One of the difficulties with peer review, such as by a committee of faculty of equivalent or higher rank, with regard to assessing the quality of teaching or publications of a faculty member, is the reluctance of peers to express any negative or adverse comments. Some faculty may not be candid because they believe that critical views about the performance of individuals they are evaluating will become known, and that this will lead to hostility. Some faculty may also believe that the time and effort necessary for peer review –reviewing student evaluations, publications, etc. — may divert them from what they deem to be more important activity. If faculty believe in peer review they need to commit themselves to participation in it, recognizing it requires the exercise of judgment and discretion, which may be considered partly subjective. Were faculty evaluation to be strictly a matter of adding up numbers for various kinds of effort — i.e., points for each publication, points for each credit of courses taught, and the like — there would be no need for evaluation by a faculty peer review committee or a department chairperson. Anyone who could add integers would be capable of carrying out the task. Frankly, if faculty are not willing to engage in peer review, the administration will have review done by others.

During my activity as an attorney in the health field, I have noted the unwillingness of many physicians to participate in review of their professional colleagues, for reasons similar to those of faculty. Recently, from what I've seen, physicians have tended to be more cooperative with regard to participation in peer review. Perhaps their experience with decisions made by managed care organizations has had an influence.

The reason I have devoted space and time to this subject again, having written about it in the June 24 issue of the University Times, is that maintaining and improving performance go to the heart of the academic mission. If we expect students to strive to do better, and we use a grading system to assess performance, we need something similar to recognize, and to encourage, faculty with respect to performance of their duties. People appreciate knowing how they are doing. That is why, for example, many recreational runners time their runs. A local CEO acquaintance said to me recently that by telling people how they are doing, one lays the basis for empowering them. Properly conducted, evaluation tells people what they are doing is important, even when one outcome of the process is to encourage them to do better, or more, in the future. It should be superfluous to mention that one way of telling people their performance was excellent is to provide financial rewards; the amount of increased compensation an individual is given is an important, and clear, indicator of how performance is valued.

* In the late 1980s I conducted a study of peer review that resulted in five articles published between November 1989 and early 1992; I have no illusions about peer review.

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