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Dean's Corner

By Elizabeth H. Simmons, February 3, 2016


Over the last decade, Lyman Briggs has made progress in recruiting a more diverse cohort of faculty: people of varied social identities, using different teaching methods, working in different disciplines (or crossing disciplinary boundaries). At the same time, we have had to think about how to support the professional development and career progression of our new colleagues.

As it turns out, many of the standard ways of evaluating faculty performance in research and teaching need to be examined carefully to make sure that the process really is fair and really does measure what we think it does about faculty accomplishment. Here are a few examples of why one needs to be careful and how Lyman Briggs is trying to do so.

The literature shows that women and faculty of color receive less positive student teaching evaluations even when other measures of performance show them to be doing equally well in the classroom (e.g., peer evaluations, student scores on common exams). Lyman Briggs uses many forms of evidence to evaluate faculty teaching in order to help counter this trend. We also use the SALG instrument for student evaluations; this asks students to focus on how aspects of the course helped their learning (to avoid a mere "popularity contest").

Research also shows that in comparing individuals with different kinds of accomplishments, people tend to prefer whatever the person from the majority group did and give it more weight in an evaluation; in comparing a man and a woman candidate in a male-dominated field, for instance, people value what the apparently male candidate has done. If one then swaps the gender markers on the files, people reading the files switch their judgment to say accomplishments of the other person are more important! LBC uses a rubric for annual teaching assessment in order to focus evaluators on concrete evidence and on activities that the college deems important. The college's annual evaluation form for faculty is structured in parallel with the rubric so that everyone knows what sorts of accomplishments the evaluation committee is expecting to see described.

It has been found that if faculty of color include material on the experiences of marginalized populations in their courses, that is not necessarily seen as valuable by other faculty. Because inclusion and globalization are core parts of our college's mission, LBC's teaching evaluation rubric explicitly gives credit for inclusive practices (defined broadly) in teaching.

Similarly, in many disciplinary units, faculty whose research is perceived as out of the mainstream (e.g. because they do interdisciplinary work or study marginalized populations) have their research undervalued. LBC's tenure criteria explicitly say that interdisciplinary work is welcome and that we will ensure an appropriate range of referees offer feedback. Because no two of us in Briggs study identical areas, we do not have fixed ideas about which topics of disciplinary work is inherently "more desirable."  

There are also accounts of how collaborative work by women scholars is undervalued in the academy. Because of the joint appointments LBC faculty have with other units and the high proportion of time they spend on teaching, we allow faculty to do collaborative work even in disciplines where that is not the norm. What we look for is evidence of the impact of the LBC faculty member's individual contribution to the team project and the unique role they played in the work's success.

Finally, it turns out that letters of evaluation for faculty (or students) are often written quite differently depending on the gender or race of the person the letter is about (no matter who is writing the letter). In Briggs, we all try to remain aware of this and to read external letters with a careful eye to the evidence being cited regarding the individual’s specific accomplishments.

As you can see, understanding how to fairly evaluate the work of a diverse faculty cohort is very important to the college—and remains a work in progress. We are always on the look out for ideas about how Lyman Briggs can do better!

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