The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
My Professional Activity Report and Self Evaluation (or PARSE) is over twenty pages long… not counting all of the required documentation. PARSE was instituted to save time and space–it’s all on computer and just needs ‘updating’ each year–but it seems to have become a repository of everything that can either be scanned or entered having any sort of relation to faculty activities. All of us on faculties everywhere are, for good reason, concerned about our advancement… to tenure (if we are lucky enough to be on that track), to re-appointment, to promotion. So, we dump everything we can into our files and then burn them all onto our particular institution’s version of PARSE DVDs at the end of each academic year.
Promotion committees get the pleasure of reading through all of this. It’s quite the experience. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of years (having made it to Associate Professor that recently), but I am already exhausted each year by the sheer volume on each candidate… and by the demands of the Peers Committee as it discusses each file. Teaching, scholarship, and service: we get caught up by the minutiae of each, constantly in danger of forgetting that there’s a person involved, too, someone whose contributions can’t be completely reduced to the 1s and 0s of a digital file.
In most colleges and universities today, the full-time faculty are overwhelmed by their own duties, teaching, conducting scholarship, and meeting the service demands of departments with fewer and fewer people who can take on administrative responsibilities (much of the teaching now taken over by adjuncts and temporary hires). So, not even members of peers committees take the time to actually read the work of candidates for promotion and re-appointment and tenure. Instead, they rely on markers like “peer reviewed” or “university press” or something else giving them confidence that the work will stand up to scrutiny at the next stop down the line. This makes it necessary for candidates to surround their work with as much secondary information as possible. Overwhelmed by the demands of their own students, committee members don’t have the time to really look into the teaching of their colleagues, so (here again) turn to secondary information, student evaluations and peer evaluations, each packed with check marks and scores. Buried under bureaucratic demands of departments where administration (as I have said) devolves on fewer and fewer heads, few faculty members are really aware of the extent of what anyone else is doing–outside of those serving on the same committees or concerned with the same functions. Once again, it’s the paper trail that begins to matter most: Letters of appreciation for service, it seems, count for more than service itself.
Add to all of that the growing mania for assessment and “outcomes,” an outgrowth of the insane No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies foisted on our public schools by corporate “reformers” (and their tame politicians) who find more truth in bean counting than in actual education, and you have a situation ripe for parody.
Steven Ward of West Connecticut State University has picked this fruit. And he has done it with precision.
Give him a read. You won’t regret it.