Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Monitoring the Faculty
As Concerns Grow About Using Data to Measure Faculty, a Company Changes Its Message
Just a few years ago, Academic Analytics, an upstart company providing data on faculty productivity, talked of helping cash-strapped universities save as much as $2 billion by identifying their lowest-performing professors. At many universities, "an awful lot of the scholarly work is being carried by a relatively small proportion of all of the people," said a company founder, Lawrence B. Martin, back in 2013. The value of stanching such waste could be "staggering," Mr. Martin said. Now the ambitions of his decade-old company are now a bit more measured. Following the defection last week of Georgetown University — whose provost explained a decision to drop the university’s subscription by questioning whether Academic Analytics’ data is comprehensive, accurate, or consistently valuable — the company is now dialing back its promises of huge cost savings. Academic Analytics combs various databases to supply universities with details on the research activity of their faculty. The company does not now believe that institutions should use its information to make individual personnel decisions, said a spokeswoman, Tricia Stapleton. Instead, Ms. Stapleton said, data from Academic Analytics should just be one element among many pieces of information that university leaders use to make broad assessments of their schools and departments. Ms. Stapleton said she did not know why Mr. Martin, one of two company founders, would have encouraged individual evaluations back in 2013. Mr. Martin, a professor of anthropology and former dean of the Graduate School at Stony Brook University, was not available for comment, she said...
The Faculty Association at the University of California at Santa Cruz is also challenging its administration’s use of Academic Analytics, said the union’s co-chair, Deborah B. Gould, an associate professor of sociology. Ms. Gould said she and other faculty have seen numerous instances of the company’s database failing to include their papers, awards, and other elements it counts. But a more fundamental objection, she said, is the company’s premise of being able to truly judge a faculty member’s long-term value by making year-by-year tallies of academic output. A researcher might have thin levels of output while working for years on a project that fundamentally changes his or her field, she said. That’s the kind of thing that should be judged by fellow faculty, Ms. Gould said. "It seems strange to me to turn to a data-gathering corporation that actually isn’t thinking about the kind of nonlinear, erratic temporalities of intellectual labor," she said. "We are able to evaluate ourselves on that front, really." ...
Nothing like a new idea!
And it's food for thought, too!