Council seeks alternate appraisal of professors

Nick Mehendale

UT’s Faculty Council created a new committee at its Monday meeting to determine the best way to conduct annual evaluations, hoping to ensure the faculty has a say in how professors and staff are reviewed.

Faculty Council Chairman Dean Neikirk, an electrical and computer engineering professor, proposed the committee reach a consensus about the way the faculty would like to be evaluated. Under current evaluation procedure, students review non-tenured teachers every semester. These teachers also submit annual reports to administrators, who review any research or papers they have published.

Although the new committee is not seeking to change the way evaluations are conducted, Neikirk said the committee would open discussion to new proposals about evaluations from outside sources.

“Some people in the state and nationally are not sure that their faculty is working at their maximum,” said Janet Staiger, a radio-television-film professor and former council chairwoman. “We think almost all faculty is doing a great job. We need to explain what we do, that we are not overpaid and that, many times, we are overworked.”

Neikirk cited a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommendation that would have evaluated teachers based on how many of their students graduate as opposed to the number of students enrolled. He said the proposal might have increased teaching loads by putting unrealistic demands on teachers.

“There is the issue that if there are designations of teaching workloads, that there will be a different category of faculty,” Neikirk said. “Teaching intensive and research intensive. Who would choose this? Will it be done on a university level or on a department level? We need to have a part in creating discussion.”

Earlier this year, Texas A&M University set up a controversial system of accountability for their professors by evaluating how much each professor is worth based primarily on their salaries, how much research money they bring to the college and the portion of their salaries that comes from teaching.

The council did not establish how many faculty members will serve on the committee or when they will begin meeting, and Neikirk said he was not sure what the structure would lead to.

“We need a more holistic view of this issue,” Neikirk said. “As well as a discussion of whether it should be faculty or departmental.”

Associate anthropology professor Pauline Strong voiced her concern as to whether the new committee will cause outsiders to believe that faculty are not already subjected to assessments by the UT administration.

“The creation of this committee makes it sound like we don’t already have accountability or assessments in place,” Strong said. “The way we are framing this makes us sound unaccountable. As faculty, we all feel a deep sense of responsibility. We need to frame this somehow as something we are currently doing.”

Other members saw the creation of the new committee as a necessity if the faculty wanted to have a say in the way it functioned.

“To not go through with creating this committee would be absolutely tone-deaf politically,” said Philip Doty, associate professor in the School of Information.