Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Evaluating Professors Redux or How To Evaluate Intellectuals

Since I wrote the original article, the professors at the University of Westminster have been completing their job evaluation forms. Has it been an easy task? No. The information we received initially made sense to us. Yet the forms we were subsequently provided with don't conform with what we originally learned. These forms are based on prototypical "management speak", the sort that will make any sentient being quiver with embarrassment, especially if caught using it! I have attached the two forms and information that were sent to us. The two are meant to be roughly similar but they seem to convey subtlely different messages. Am I providing too much or too little information?

One key point for us was that professors are by their very nature individual. The job is the professor. Someone could do my job, but there is no role they could imitate and reproduce. Someone else would be a different professor of law and sociology with entirely different research. This is quite distinct from a book keeper or personnel administrator; their functions don't depend on unique qualities. Professors are intellectuals and intellectuals do not conform to stereotypes found within the stultifying ranks of bureaucracies.

University administrators--one can't honestly call them managers as most of them fail to understand the term--like bureaucratic structures because they permit ordering systems to be installed and audited. A clerk knows where she is located in such a system: who her superordinates and subordinates are. A professor by contrast largely does work that is created by him/her, carried at his/her pace and generally controls the process and content from start to finish. Bureaucrats don't enjoy these degrees of freedom.

In a way, the intellectual is the last free individual. Their thoughts can't be controlled and they are practised in the arts of subversion. What appears like conformity is really an ironic undermining of authority, which tends to confound and confuse bureaucrats. I am not saying that intellectuals are not accountable: they are, but their freedom to think has to be recognized and accepted. Without original thought, there is no freedom, no true society. Very few bureaucrats--only the exceptional ones--are able to combine both roles. I have not met any in my institution.

I have deviated from the start, the evaluation process. I have been struggling with the "dimensions" of my job role, my "accountabilities" and so forth. I am plonking down information culled from my CV in the hope it might hit one or two appropriate targets. I doubt it. My confidence is low here.

Ultimately, it comes down to how the university administrators are going to determine our pay. We, the professors, have been trying to understand the process for some months now. We face an opaque screen, where instead we desire transparency. But of course knowledge is power and the ability to wield it doesn't mean it's used wisely. We have insisted that we are engaged in this process every step. The administrators have reluctantly agreed, but you can see it pains them to do so.
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