Rutgers Faculty Opposes Use of “Big Data” in Academic and Employment Decisions: Resolution Raises Concerns over Mistakes and Narrowing Scholarship

Use of a proprietary database that purports to show the publications, citations, books and grants awarded to a professor provides far too limited a perspective on faculty achievement and creates the potential for career-ending errors, according to David M. Hughes, professor of anthropology and president of the faculty union AAUP-AFT at Rutgers. The same data applied to academic disciplines could lead to poor decisions on programs available to students and should not be used, according to a resolution approved by the faculty of Arts and Sciences Monday, December 14.

Hughes and the rest of the School of Arts and Sciences faculty voted to approve a resolution and is calling on Rutgers management to exclude the use of data provider Academic Analytics “legally, explicitly, and comprehensively across the Rutgers system.” Rutgers has been using the database since May 2013, paying $492,500 over four years for the service.

Under the terms of the contract, faculty members do not have access to the data. Hughes filed an open public records request to access his personal record in the system and found multiple mistakes. In addition to the potential for error, “The entirely quantitative approach conflates apples and oranges and runs roughshod over the nuanced peer judgment so characteristic of Academia thus far,” said Hughes.

Professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies and Comparative Literature Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel identified how Academic Analytics assesses publications in international venues, or rankings of scholarship in smaller, emerging fields, or interdisciplinary programs as a concern. “The faculty thinks that scholarship should be assessed by peers based on the quality of the content and not on the numerical value assigned to a particular journal in a particular field,” she said. “Rutgers should have consulted its faculty before signing a contract with this company.”

Rutgers AAUP-AFT represents more than 6,600 faculty, including full-time faculty who are tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track (state- and grant-funded), graduate students who work as Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants, Part-Time Lecturers, Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Counselors, Postdocs, and Winter Session and Summer Session Instructors.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Rutgers Faculty Opposes Use of “Big Data” in Academic and Employment Decisions: Resolution Raises Concerns over Mistakes and Narrowing Scholarship

  1. Indeed, the assessment criteria put in place by Rutgers is not only abusive in of itself, but it facilitates abuse among the faculty. In a world where numbers are the name of the game, significant aspects of academia shall suffer. I believe of special concern are the relationships between faculty and their undergraduates, graduates and post-docs.

    By shifting the focus upon one aspect of academia (research, publications & grants)- faculty shall be further persuaded to spend even less time on the burdensome chores of teaching and mentoring. If Rutgers wishes to operate like a medical school- where grants are the name of the game and teaching becomes an infrequent endeavor- then just be honest about it. You do not need a computer program to achieve that end.

    The Rutgers protocol also opens the door to increased acts of parasitism, predation and worse of all, research misconduct. When faculty feel the pressure and anxiety of living or dying based upon the outcome of their next grant application, some shall inevitably prey upon underlings to advance their career status to garner those funds. And a few shall convince themselves that misconduct is the only means to salvage their careers.

    Universities ought to put their most precious of resources front & center: The students. Profitability is important, but not at the price of undermining your mission.

  2. Pingback: Big Data versus the Faculty (and Close Reading) | The Academe Blog

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