Saturday, July 02, 2005

Evaluating Professors

All UK universities are revising their systems of remuneration for academics. Much of this is being done by a process known as "job evaluation". For most academics it appears not to be a difficult task. I may be wrong. However, for senior academics, viz, professors, it gets more complex.

Professors are promoted to their positions for their individual characteristics, especially in relation to research. My university has just begun this process and it is one that the professors had failed to have confidence in. Recently, heads of department were evaluated. Although the evaluations showed significant differences in role, size and scope of job, the university's senior administrators decided to ignore the results and place all heads on the same point of the pay scale. The heads have not yet seen their evaluation results nor has it been explained to them how the final results were arrived at.

We professors decided that we could not embrace that approach and we have had to insist on consultations with the vice-chancellor and the personnel director to ensure that the evaluation would be transparent. We insisted that we receive the results so that we could be aware of any decisions being made. Reluctantly, this was granted. Some of the reluctance was based on the fact that the Hay Group evaluation process was difficult to interpret without training.

The job evaluation process looks at three dimensions.
1. Know how: How much does one know about how many things? Redolent of Isiah Berlin's distinction between the fox and hedgehog.It also includes elements of affecting people's behaviour.
2. Problem solving: which concerns creativity, innovation and challenges.
3. Planning and organizing: Do we cross disciplines? Do we plan over the long term or short term? Are we pulling together heterogeneous elements?
As the professors listened to this explanation, most of us could feel that it might have enough analytical force to make meaningful distinctions.

Our concerns are raised when we consider what is to be step 2 in the job evaluation process. This is where the senior administrators (or management as they now prefer to call themselves--title inflation) will take the Hay job evaluation material, construct a series of pay bands and place each professor on a point. What was not explained was how this would exactly be achieved. Moreover, there would be a year on year review that would determine if professors would receive any pay increment. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this, provided that we have input into the process. As yet, we may only have minor input. We may achieve more. It has only taken us a year to reach this point with the administration.

Perhaps the most useful and constructive thing to come out of the entire process is that for the first time, professors across the university began to talk to each other and respond to the scale of the endeavour that faces us. Producing that spirit of collective enterprise has been wonderful.
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