Evaluation of academic leaders

A. Members of an academic unit (e.g., a College) should look for a senior academic leader (e.g., a Dean) who makes multi-yearly evaluations hardly necessary.  A genuine leader makes explicit their own objectives with respect to operations of the Unit , takes stock continuously of what is working well and what needs improvement, and reports regularly to the Unit on progress on each of these objectives.

“Operations” does not mean here the high-profile issues such as grants received by the Unit or new partnerships.  It means the range of everyday and recurrent practices that support members of the Unit to do the best work they can under the always-constrained circumstances, allowing faculty members in particular to preserve a balance between research & writing, service & institutional development, and teaching & mentoring.  (E.g., what email etiquette does the leader aspire to and model for the Unit members?)

Whether the current leader continues after the review or a new leader is found, we should not be unsure of what his/her objectives are after three months, let alone by the time the multi-year evaluation takes place.

B. We should also look for a leader who ensures that staff support the faculty well, especially the work of faculty to serve students.  This requires a leader to:

1. evaluate staff that the leader supervises at regular intervals in a way that supports the staff members’ improvement and follows the necessary procedures if any staff member is not able to fulfill their duties and needs to be dismissed;

1a. ensure that faculty members know that #1 has taken place, preferably with consultation of faculty members;

2. establish supervision of staff at the level as close as possible to the faculty members served and a systematic means of feedback to the supervisor from those served. (E.g., staff serving a departmental program might formally report to the Department chair, but the chair could delegate supervision to the director of a program housed within the Department); and

2a. Explain to faculty the rationale for any staff re-organization, evaluate its effects, and make adjustments accordingly.

C. #A&B correspond to a model of evaluation in general, in which there are four different uses of evaluations, which in this situation play out as below, and in which #2, 3 & 4 are not neglected in favor of #1:

1.  To inform decisions by superiors about whether to continue the leader’s appointment and, if so, what guidance or expectations to attach to the re-appointment;

2. For the evaluated person to identify ways to improve;

3. For the evaluators to clarify what they have learned from interacting with the evaluated leader about the ways that they want to interact with academic leaders, whether that refers not only to the current Unit leader, but to a leader of a unit at any level.

4. To inform institutional learning about how faculty and the leader’s superiors can get the most from interacting with the current Unit leaders or any other leader and from evaluating leaders.

D. Because what actually happens in academic institutions departs from #A, B, and C, it is necessary to:

1. Develop an approach to moving from where we find ourselves towards #A, B, and C, which might start with

2. Explain the rationale for the points made under #A, B, C. (That is, don’t assume they are self-evident.) — this may be the subject of a future post.  For now, consider Taking stock as an ethical imperative.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

One Response to Evaluation of academic leaders

  1. Justin Buck says:

    I like the fact that your focus is largely on front-facing issues– for example, leaders should serve faculty, especially those faculty who, in turn, serve students. Especially in the midst of rising tuition cost, arguably decreasing value, and rapidly-expanding competition, brick-and-mortar universities must focus on personal student service interactions that build value.

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