U faculty: efficiency can’t be quantified

Opponents say some states’ measures are “anti-intellectual.”

Jill Jensen

Increased state budget cuts have prompted a national discussion on controversial faculty productivity measures, and faculty members at the University of Minnesota are eager to set the record straight.

Some state legislatures have introduced a productivity standard based on salaries, tuition revenue and grants, to promote greater efficiency at schools like Texas A & M University.

Faculty members at the University are concerned that misconceptions about their value to the state could prompt similar âÄúanti-intellectualâÄù measures here, said William Beeman, professor and chairman of the anthropology department.

Though the state does not contribute the majority of the UniversityâÄôs budget, Beeman said it could still influence the University into adopting this type of standard.

âÄúIt being a state institution, weâÄôre subject to political pressures,âÄù he said.

There havenâÄôt been âÄúgrumblingsâÄù at the Minnesota Legislature about micromanaging the University, but faculty have done a poor job highlighting their accomplishments to the public, said Joseph Konstan, an associate department head of the Computer Science and Engineering department.

The University Senate Faculty Affairs Committee on Tuesday discussed the methods to broadcast to the government and public productivity and efficiency âÄî a discussion continued from its Sept. 13 meeting.

The next step will be meetings between University Relations and faculty members to find ways to better tell their story, University spokeswoman Diana Harvey said.

Productivity in red and black

The measure at Texas A & M resulted in a âÄúred and black listâÄù that recorded what individual faculty members were generating in revenue in relation to his or her salary. Those whose salary exceeded the dollars brought in were highlighted in red.

To determine the profit or loss of a faculty member, the faculty memberâÄôs salary was subtracted from the amount of external grant funding brought in and the revenue generated by teaching classes.

âÄúWe want to make sure that weâÄôre never fighting that in Minnesota,âÄù Konstan said.

Texas A & M did not return multiple requests for comment.

âÄúIf weâÄôre going to do anything that looks at faculty performance or productivity, we want to shape the discussion so that we do it based on what matters,âÄù Konstan said.

He said universities shouldnâÄôt try to measure education and innovation in dollars.

âÄúWe donâÄôt exist in this profession for the goal of generating tuition,âÄù said George Sheets, chairman of the faculty affairs committee. âÄúThat simply isnâÄôt a factor that drives the intellectual activity that the academic profession honors.âÄù

Disadvantaged disciplines

Sheets works about 50 hours a week as a professor in the Classical and Near Eastern Studies department, but under the Texas standard, he said heâÄôd be considered unproductive.

Sheets teaches small classes and his research, not funded by external grants, would not count toward the productivity measure. But he said heâÄôs required to spend 40 percent of his time working on it.

The measure of productivity draws qualitative conclusions based on quantitative data, he said.

âÄúIt really is a crazy system of thinking about higher education,âÄù Sheets said. âÄúItâÄôs looking at one aspect of the costs and is completely ignoring the actual outcome.âÄù

The department is one of several disciplines in the humanities and social sciences that are disadvantaged in the productivity measure by nature, Beeman said.

âÄúWe have no hope of generating this kind of income, and so therefore, by that measure, our productivity would be considered low,âÄù he said.

Konstan said the University would have to give up on disciplines like dance and language because those require a smaller environment to learn the information.

For example, the State University of New York at Albany eliminated all language degree programs except Spanish in 2010 because of low enrollment.

âÄúThat automatically does some very interesting things that I donâÄôt think you really want to do in a university,âÄù Konstan said.

Student ratings of teaching is one way the faculty are already held accountable, said Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs.

She said student input is used in personnel decisions like promotions and salary raises.

Data from the Office of Measurement Services show faculty in 2009-10 averaged 5.2 out of 6 on close-ended questions âÄî like if the instructor was well-prepared.

âÄúThe issue is not that I donâÄôt want to be scrutinized,âÄù Sheets said. âÄúBut I donâÄôt want to be judged on the basis of irrelevant criteria.âÄù