What makes a good university professor? Is s/he a good teacher, researcher, colleague? Who is the judge and whose judgement ‘weighs’ most? These and other similar questions go up and down on a scale of relevance, and opinions on the hierarchy differ, depending on who is being asked. It as well depends on where and when it is being asked.
Some of these questions are tackled in a recent study published in the American Association of University Professors’ journal under the title “Changing Practices in Faculty Evaluation
”. The aim of the study was to compare previous and current evaluation practices in order to see if and how criteria have changed and where the relevance is placed nowadays. The baseline data come from a 2000 study whose findings indicate that meaningful evaluation is rare and usually based on rather randomly collected information. A questionnaire was again sent to universities in 2010 with a set of thirteen evaluation criteria. The questionnaire targeted deans of randomly sampled accredited four-year liberal arts colleges. Around 400 deans responded to the questionnaire, providing additionally their comments and some relevant reports. The quantitative results of the study comparing the 2000 and 2010 findings can be found here
It appears that classroom teaching remains the major criterion (99.3%), far above the rest, at least according to heads of universities. Although research and publications are a few places below, the table shows that their relevance has visibly increased. Some deans explain the change as the result of state pressure to publish and be visible, or as one of the deans said: “High visibility is the name of the game today.” Community work and on-campus activities are also highly valued by the deans, and the rise in their relevance can be seen in the table. A big drop - by more than 10% - is visible in the relevance of personal attributes (from 28.4% to 18%), which can reflect a more liberal attitude to personal choices in appearance or in personal affiliations, although the phrase itself remains rather vague.
Having teaching as the most important criterion, the question is – how is teaching evaluated? According to the study, student ratings are the most important source of information, even rising in importance since 2000 – from 88.1% to 94.2 %. What follows is chair, self and dean evaluation, all of which have risen in the past ten years. What can be observed is that self-evaluation is gaining more and more importance. As noted in the study, “[m]any academics—faculty members and administrators alike—believe that self-evaluation can provide insights into the values and beliefs that help shape course and instructional objectives and, in turn, contribute to classroom competency”. But the highest rise has been in the importance of classroom visits. Since 2000, its relevance has increased by around 50% - from 40.3% to 60.4%. Some deans think that this is the only way to see what is going on behind the closed door.
What the study shows is that evaluation criteria have undergone changes and reflect both the external demands placed on universities but also the changing requirements of professors. Although the importance of classroom teaching and the satisfaction of students top the evaluation criteria list, the observable trend is that ‘faculty members are paid to teach but are rewarded for their research and publication’, as noted in the study.