The assessment and evaluation of faculty performance has not kept pace with the evolution of faculty work in the academy. The student population has changed over the years and the demands on faculty time have shifted accordingly, but the ways in which faculty are evaluated have remained remarkably consistent. The two principal areas of assessment are scholarship and teaching, often in that order of importance. These are major areas of faculty work to be sure, but increasingly faculty are spending more time on college and community service, mentoring junior faculty, grant writing, and supporting students in an advisory capacity. All of these tasks are important aspects of the overall productivity of an academic community and are legitimate areas of faculty work, but there is often no systematic assessment and evaluation of these activities, on which many faculty spend much of their time. The evaluation system does not match the full range of functions and professors are often caught between competing obligations. (Hobson & Talbot, 2001). Boyer (1990) related this restricted set of evaluation points to the narrow way in which academic prestige is judged in higher education, even as the mission of the colleges and universities expands.
For each area of faculty work, assessment and evaluation pose different challenges. Assessment requires the use of valid measures of the abilities or accomplishments of faculty, while evaluation involves interpreting these valid assessments in the context of institutional needs and goals. In short, effective assessment and evaluation of faculty performance is the proper use of appropriate measures of each area of faculty work. There are many pre-requisites of this desired state. Some important ones are clarity of the constructs to be measured, knowledgeable users of assessment data, and effective communication between the assessed and the assessors.
With respect to construct clarity, what is good teaching? The assessment of teaching should be based on multiple pieces of evidence of effectiveness, at least some of which should be directly linked to student learning. The goal of teaching is to facilitate learning. If learning does not result from teaching, then the teaching, however organized and well presented, has been ineffective. Assessment of teaching must be linked to student learning. It is just that simple.
Student satisfaction ratings are an important part of the assessment of teaching, and some studies have indicated that they are related to student learning in complex ways. They are not a direct measure of student learning however, and they should not be the only assessment measure of teaching effectiveness. If student ratings of faculty are used as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness, then the institution is redefining teaching from a construct that approximates in meaning to “the effective facilitation of learning” to one that means something akin to “performance that pleases students.” To make the job of evaluation easier, faculty should take responsibility for collecting, organizing, and interpreting measures of student learning in their courses, and programs should collect and interpret evidence of the attainment of important program outcomes. This responsibility, of course, adds one more task to the list of faculty duties.
The assessment of scholarship has, at least theoretically, been informed by the work of Boyer (1990), and many colleges and universities are now embracing his expanded view of the scholarly work of faculty. Specifically, many institutions now recognize scholarship of teaching, discovery, integration, and application (Boyer, 1990) as appropriate and valuable scholarly contributions. The move away from the old school practice of counting publications in scholarly journals as evidence of faculty scholarship is a positive and adaptive one.
There is much work to be done in the assessment of the other areas of faculty work. Many institutions have no reliable way to assess community and college service, nor do they have processes in place to measure the contributions of faculty in the areas of advising, mentoring, providing leadership and writing grants. If assessment in each performance area followed clearly defined guidelines, faculty would be clear about how these activities are viewed as part of their professional responsibility and would be better informed as to the advisability of spending their time doing college service.
The evaluation of assessment data from the many areas of faculty performance falls to the administrators or committees responsible for personnel decisions in the institution. The judgments that they make must be in the context of the type and goals of the institution, the student profile, support for faculty development, and the individual faculty member’s work in the context of the big picture of the institutional needs. The evaluators of faculty performance should recognize the diversity of faculty talents and see how the variety of abilities fit together to support the community. The institutional evaluation plan should be sufficiently flexible to allow faculty to develop to greater or lesser extents in different areas of their professional responsibility.
Good communication between faculty and the people who evaluate them is important. There should be no mystery in the evaluative process. Imagine a classroom teacher giving an important assignment but being reticent about the content, passing grade, and the requirements. This would not be deemed good practice. It should be clear to faculty what role each aspect of their work will play in the evaluation of their overall contribution to the institution, and what standards are used to guide the judgments. The complex work of faculty demands adaptive measures and responsive evaluation. Simplicity and reductionism are bought at a high cost. If evidence shows that publications and teaching effectiveness scores are the primary means by which faculty performance is evaluated, then faculty will work accordingly, and the rich diversity of faculty strengths will not be encouraged. The measures will influence the behavior of faculty and the quality of the educational experience of the students with whom they work.
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Hobson, S. M., and Talbot, D. M., (2001) Understanding Student Evaluations. College Teaching, Vol. 49, Issue 1