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Sep 11, 2009

Evaluation Anxieties

For some reason, whenever we talk about the annual evaluation process, some people get anxious. I am not exactly sure why; for me this is just another project of constant improving processes and procedures. Perhaps the anxiety is there because of some history before me, maybe because in general, people do not like to be judged and evaluated. Maybe I failed to explain my intentions.

A simple efficiency is the only agenda I have. The level of rigor we have is just fine, which last year's results have shown. We have a well functioning system already, and I'd be happy to keep it as is. But last year, several faculty came to me with questions – what do you mean by this and that, and maybe we should clarify certain things, and they did not know something. So, last March, I dutifully pulled out the Evaluation guidelines file and started to write some definitions – what does it mean to have a paper in print or accepted, or in revision, etc. Then I read the whole document, and gradually found more and more things to clarify, so it is easier to read, and faster to evaluate. This is something I do all the time – if I see something can be done better, I will suggest another form or another process. Can you see me getting engrossed in the document? That's what happened. We have a growing School, and it just takes too much of faculty time and my time to look through thick dossiers, especially if they are poorly organized. Several people suggested that it is easier to read dossiers that are identically ordered, and where the most important information is summarized. Anyway, I felt like I am doing a good service to the School, and I was not quite ready to hear that at least some people think I am trying to impose something on them. Why would I want that?

This is a faculty decision, and there is simply no way for me to implement any of the changes. We do have faculty governance, remember, which is a democratic system. In fact, we will go through the proposal item by item, and discuss their respective merits. We are a community of scholars, and have always had open and honest conversations; our disagreements have never produced personal animosity in the past. We value rational argument and respect evidence. Whenever there is an objection, we will put each specific item to a vote, and use a secret ballot to decide, so there is no pressure of any kind. That is how we did it the last two times, and this is how we will do it again. If something passes, it passes, if not – so be it. I am certainly not about to lose my sleep over a few hours of work that may not turn out to be useful. We really have larger fish to fry, and cannot afford to spend too much time – and emotions – on this routine process.

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