Faculty Council expresses concerns about professor productivity database

Katie Balevic

UT System contracts with the company Academic Analytics have sparked concerns among faculty members over how the University administration evaluates professors’ work.

Academic Analytics runs a database of U.S. faculty members and allows universities to compare their departments’ and professors’ published work, research citations, federal funding and awards with those of other universities. Worried that it does not present an accurate picture of their work, UT’s Faculty Council approved a resolution in opposition of the professor productivity database at their most recent meeting on Jan. 22.

After the American Association of University Professors issued a statement cautioning that the database lacks qualitative analysis last spring, UT’s Faculty Council decided to look into the company. 

“We had heard the possibility that it was being used, but we weren’t sure,” engineering professor Brian Evans said. 

Last fall, Evans found a 2014 UT System report that described UT-Austin using Academic Analytics and a $3.6 million license contract for all UT System institutions from 2012 to 2017. There is another $2.9 million contract from 2017 to 2021. Evans then researched Academic Analytics and presented the resolution recommending UT administration not use the database.

The Faculty Council’s resolution stresses that Academic Analytics fails to adequately measure professors’ teaching, service and contributions to book chapters, investigations, patents, performances and art displays. Evans compares Academic Analytics’ process of rating professors to employers only “Googling” job candidates, instead of reviewing their resumes or references.

After only hearing hesitation from one faculty member, the council unanimously approved the resolution.

“To keep faculty uninformed about the process seems wrong to us and to the principle of shared governance,” English professor Alan Friedman said. 

Joey Williams, communications director for the provost’s office, said the University did not disclose UT’s connection to the company because UT only used Academic Analytics to report information to the UT System and explore the database. The 2014 report found by Evans only displays suggestions for the possible use of Academic Analytics, Williams said.

“Some of the leadership in the colleges and deans were exploring the tools to assess it’s utility,” Williams said. “But it’s never been used to make decisions about faculty performance or promotion.”

UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler said the UT System’s academic institutions were given access to Academic Analytics database as part of the 2012 contract but that the institutions are not required to use the tool. The UT System only uses Academic Analytics to assess departments and their potential for new doctoral programs, Adler said.

Academic Analytics co-founder Anthony Olejniczak said its database and software is intended to be nonevaluative.

Although UT faculty members have expressed concerns about Academic Analytics’ limited measures of professor productivity, Olejniczak said the company could not otherwise provide data on a national scale. Concerned faculty can also work to review and verify data, as was the case at Rutger’s University, Olejniczak said.

“Any faculty member that’s got concerns can enter the system and review their data,” Olejniczak said.

The Provost’s office has created a working group composed of faculty to review how UT can best proceed using Academic Analytics, Williams said. For Evans, faculty would have to be involved in any use of the database.

“It would have to be used under faculty review and in accordance to the principles of academic
freedom,” Evans said.