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How does a faculty evaluation system keep things fair?

Topics in Higher Education

Every year, administrators and department chairs are responsible for evaluating faculty performance. During the annual review process, these stakeholders will review the information and feedback they’ve gained about each professor in order to see who is eligible for promotion, tenure, and pay increases. While there are factual pieces of information that play a role in the faculty evaluation process—such as years of service and scholarly publications—other more subjective factors hold significant weight in evaluation. In order to properly evaluate the more ambiguous elements of faculty performance, universities should have an unbiased faculty evaluation system in place. A high-quality platform can help improve the quality of faculty reporting, making annual reviews more fair. Find out more about how a comprehensive faculty evaluation system can ensure your faculty receive the necessary feedback and support.

Features of a successful faculty evaluation system

In order to provide fair, accurate feedback for all faculty members, a faculty evaluation system must offer meaningful information that can guide academics’ professional growth. This evaluation should contain both qualitative and quantitative information, which the faculty member can refer back to as they develop their skills and experience.

A faculty evaluation system must also contain information that can be used to determine personnel decisions within the department or institution. While annual reviews aim to guide individuals’ professional development, they also determine faculty members’ performance in comparison to the rest of the staff.

One comprehensive faculty evaluation system can serve both purposes. It can gather the detailed data from faculty members and compile information over time to reflect faculty members’ performance patterns that can impact department decisions, including tenure, promotion, and merit raises.

How faculty evaluation software keeps things fair

One of the primary ways a faculty evaluation system helps the institution increase its equity, diversity, and inclusion is by ensuring all employees receive adequate opportunities.

A comprehensive, unified software makes sure the university is providing equity in terms of pay, tenure, and promotion across multiple demographics. For instance, are female faculty members being offered the same salaries as male faculty members with the same credentials and experience? Are faculty members of color being granted tenure at the same rate as their white colleagues? A faculty evaluation system can answer each of these questions to ensure faculty members are being acknowledged, paid, and rewarded in equitable ways.

Another way this technology improves fairness in the institution is by providing a transparent look at faculty achievements. When a faculty member is being considered for tenure, the fact that their article won a major professional award three years ago will be included in the faculty evaluation system, thereby being acknowledged rather than overlooked. A faculty evaluation system may also track achievements beyond the traditional triad of research, teaching, and service. For instance, a faculty evaluation system could include records of op-eds a faculty member has published. 

Who should be included in the faculty evaluation system?

In order to ensure your faculty evaluation system is performing at its peak effectiveness, it’s important to determine exactly who should be involved in the faculty evaluation process and who should be integrated in the platform. First and most importantly, it’s crucial that the faculty member being evaluated is included in the reporting system. Not only is it useful for them to view the gathered information in order to perform a self analysis of their performance, incorporating faculty members into the evaluation system also creates transparency that encourages them to be active participants — rather than passive observers — in the assessment process.

The department chair of the faculty member going through the evaluation process should be able to review relevant information that is included on this platform. Whether or not the faculty member is eligible for a promotion, the chair of the department should have access to the faculty member’s quantitative and qualitative information. That way, they can work together to plan opportunities for professional development.

Along with the faculty member who is being evaluated and their department chair, it’s important to include administrators in the faculty evaluation system. While they may not be required to attend every annual review, they will need to be made aware of any departmental changes that occur before or during the evaluation sessions. For instance, administrators should know which faculty members are eligible for tenure. In addition, they may work directly with department chairs assess which individuals may be eligible for a promotion.

In many faculty evaluation systems, institutions may include a select number of students in the process. Although the students will likely not be sitting in on the annual review session, their voices and opinions provide a new perspective to the faculty evaluation model. In a student-supported evaluation, department leaders will ask students a variety of yes or no questions as part of course evaluations. Some examples of questions that may allow students to accurately assess the quality of their instructors’ abilities include:

  • Were you challenged to put forth your best effort in this course?
  • Was your instructor able to communicate the material to the class effectively?
  • Did your instructor have high expectations of students in the course?

Types of data that support faculty evaluation

As previously mentioned, administrators and peers use different types of quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate faculty on their performance throughout the academic year. Exactly what information is needed in order to develop a fair and accurate faculty report?

Quantitative information

Certain information is necessary for administrators and department chairs to determine which employees are eligible for promotion. For instance, a part-time instructor who has put in a number of years of service and has yielded great results may be given a full-time course load if the university believes they can add value to the organization. In addition, it is necessary that universities collect certain pieces of information for compliance and bookkeeping; storing this information in a faculty evaluation system thereby serves multiple purposes.

Some of the tangible, easily reportable elements that make up a faculty evaluation include:

  • Years of service: The amount of time a faculty member has been with the university is a crucial component in determining whether or not they qualify for tenure or a promotion.
  • Prestigious awards and fellowships: It’s worthwhile to keep track of which of your faculty members have earned Fulbright grants (for example) and which instructors have been nominated for teaching awards and fellowships. This information can be used by department chairs and tenure committees recommending to administration that these faculty members be promoted.
Qualitative information

Data collected regarding a faculty member’s performance that cannot be measured or reported numerically tends to be less standardized and more difficult to gather than quantitative data. Nevertheless, it provides immense value to a faculty report.

Some pieces of qualitative data that should be compiled in a faculty evaluation system, and may be shared in annual reviews, include the following:

  • Student perspectives: A numerical scale may not be able to capture an educator’s ability to communicate with students. However, the information students share about different faculty members in their course evaluations is worth noting. This may include faculty achievements or ways they can improve their teaching performance to resonate more with their students.
  • Professional successes: Perhaps a faculty member’s recent publications caused a department to gain credibility within its field. It’s important to gather information that suggests educators’ professional growth, as this reflects an asset they bring to the department and institution as a whole.
  • Quality of classroom instruction: A faculty member’s ability to coordinate classroom dynamics and plan out their courses throughout an academic year is an important element of the faculty evaluation process. Although student evaluations can provide useful information, evaluators may want the perspective of someone familiar with the challenges of teaching. This typically involves another educator — most likely the department chair — sitting in on a few class sessions and receiving certain materials, including syllabi, assignments, and exams.

Supports for faculty evaluation systems

When faculty members, department chairs, or administrators have any questions throughout the faculty evaluation process, they can look to a handful of sources. Faculty members who have questions about the system may be able to communicate their issues or concerns with their department chair or administration. However, every university is going to have different rules and regulations for who can access what data within the faculty evaluation system.

Depending on the interface your institution works with during the evaluation process, you may be able to reach out directly to the platform’s support system. This is where it benefits your university to use a high-quality faculty reporting and evaluation platform. More often than not, it benefits the institution at large when administrators contact the platform’s support network. That way, they can resolve issues for all faculty members at once rather than on an individual basis.

When your institution is ready to move away from clunky evaluation and reporting systems, it may be the right time to make the change to Interfolio’s Faculty Information System. This resource provides a more intelligent reporting and data storage platform that allows multiple parties to view up-to-date information in real time. If you’d like to find out more about Interfolio’s review, promotion and tenure platform, get in touch with us to see how integrating our technology into your institution’s review process can improve the accuracy and fairness of faculty evaluations.