Faculty Evaluation as Development

The evaluation of faculty members is an important process at colleges and universities.  Faculty play the major role in the functioning of colleges and universities and the performance of the faculty is a significant factor in determining the quality of institutions of higher education.  National institutional accrediting organizations (e.g., Middle States, WASC, etc.) require that colleges and universities present evidence on the method that is used to evaluate faculty members and the way that information is used.  Specialized program accreditors (e.g., AMA, ARC-PA, ACOTE, etc.) also require that the programs they accredit have a carefully constructed plan to evaluate faculty and a plan for the use of that information.  

Faculty members have three major responsibilities: teaching, scholarship, and service.  Colleges and universities, and the schools and programs therein, place different weights on each of these factors depending on the goals and objectives of that college, university and program.  Teaching is usually evaluated using student course evaluations and some institutions use peer reviews.  Student course evaluations can be helpful, but they should be considered as just one piece of evidence. It is important to view these course evaluations for purposes of promotion considerations and future employment as longitudinal data points. For example, the faculty member may be a rigorous grader or attendance taker and students may react negatively to this. There may also be occasional conflicts between faculty and student expectations that can lead to harsh evaluations. On the other hand, there may very well be merit to constructive student feedback. Chairs and deans are in the best position to assess these situations.

Peer evaluations can be useful if they are done with a careful plan and evaluation instrument that focuses on observed behaviors rather than factors that require inferences.

Scholarship has been defined in various ways.  Most consider publications in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at conferences, scholarly books, and other related things as evidence of scholarship.  While many institutions broaden the scholarship definition to follow Ernest Boyer’s approach, traditional rank promotion typically looks to peer reviewed research and scholarship that advances knowledge in the particular field.

Service to the Department and school in which a faculty member serves as well as service to the college and or university, and service to profession and the community, are often considered important.  The exact balance is typically something agreed to between the faculty member and their chair or dean.

Many faculty evaluation procedures require the faculty member to write an annual self-assessment in which the faculty member reviews their student course evaluations, peer reviews, scholarship activities, as well as service rendered during the academic year.  It is critical that faculty members analyze all this material with the goal of highlighting strengths and areas that need improvement for each area.  The faculty member’s supervisor should independently review the faculty member’s self-assessment and do a separate evaluation.  Critical to this review is a meeting in which the faculty member and the supervisor meet to review the reports together.  This meeting should result in a development plan in which the supervisor works with the faculty member in order to decide on what steps need to be taken to address the areas that need improvement.  It is also important that the supervisor acknowledges those activities that the faculty member has done well.  It is essential that the supervisor be able to provide the resources to address the areas that need improvement.  Some of these resources may be available at the college or university such as IT support, programs provided the teacher center.  Some other resources may require funding such as attending workshops and presentations.  It is also essential that the meeting produce a list of agreed upon goals which can be used as part of the evaluation for the following academic year.  The faculty member can addresses each of these goals and in her or his self-assessment and note whether each goal has been achieved and provide a plan for addressing those goals which were not achieved.

Mentoring programs in which senior faculty help junior faculty are often very effective in helping newer faculty develop ways for dealing with areas that need improvement as well as recognizing areas of strength.  Senior faculty can also benefit from working with other senior faculty or maybe even a junior faculty member who excels in an area where the faculty member needs improvement.

Research and scholarship has played a growing important place at colleges and universities that previously did not require scholarship for personal decisions such as reappointment, tenure, and promotion.  In doing an evaluation, one must be mindful of the fact that many senior faculty may have been hired, tenured, and/or promoted without having to show evidence of scholarship.  It is not likely that these faculty members will now start to engage in meaningful scholarship.  However, where specialized accreditors require this type of faculty productivity, chairs and deans must find ways to motivate and support faculty to strive to do this work. 

In summary, faculty evaluation is important and productive only if the process leads to faculty development.   If faculty fear evaluation, the consequences will be detrimental to the college or university.   

Written by

Louis H. Primavera, Ph.D. , Associate Provost for Special Projects
Touro University

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