The University Record, May 24, 1993

LETTERS

Evaluation of administrators ‘long overdue’

The evaluation of the administrators of this University by members of its faculty is long overdue, and the discussions under way in the local chapter of the AAUP at its last meeting began to address problems of “the tail wagging the dog.” It is sometimes conveniently forgotten that a university—even THIS university—exists primarily for the edification and education of its student body and not for landscaping avenues of personal privilege for either professors or administrators.

Yet after reading the April Newsletter of the AAUP, which described the activities of a task force exploring the evaluation process, one gets an uneasy sense that this worthy enterprise is being sabotaged by fruitless debates over methodology and procedures, all of which disguises the real cause—a pronounced “fear and trembling” at the audacity of a low-rung professoriate daring to critique its overlords. At one point we are informed that possibly it is the OFFICE, not the officers, of the various bureaus which ought to be evaluated! How absurd. Imagine, in a military context, dealing with an artillery officer who regularly shells his own men, by abolishing artillery.

Next, the task force warns that probably the faculty lack the “competence to do the work” of evaluating administrators. Then who does have it? The implication is that only administrators have the wisdom to evaluate other administrators. (The present system.) Does it not occur to the task force that no administration, after undertaking an expensive self-study, will conclude that its performance is poor, and then, in a mood of guilty abasement, will proceed to slash its salaries and fire itself?

The task force also is troubled by use of the word “evaluation,” which it finds “threatening” and urges that a more gentle word be found. “Massage” perhaps? Equally pressing is the “danger” that poor scores of an administrator could result in “misleading” stories in the news media. Why are poor scores “misleading” and why should the media NOT have access to this information? For decades the faculty has been subjected to classroom evaluation by students and the results published in guidebooks produced and financed by the University. We have had to endure it. What makes the administrators so special?

Probably the overriding consideration as purveyed in the report of the task force has NOTHING at all to do with all the logorrhea about methodology and “fairness” but EVERYTHING to do with just plain, unadulterated timidity. For example, we are told that once upon a time in an unnamed institution there was a certain faculty which voted “no confidence” in its dean and then was “threatened with severe retaliation for this vote.” We are not told what this ogreish dean did. Did he seek out and destroy his betrayers or just cut off the departmental supply of paper clips? Michigan is not Gulag. The fears of the task force echo the voting system in the U.S.S.R., circa 1936. Cast your vote FOR, not AGAINST, the Party Boss—or pack your winter clothing.

If the preliminary report of the task force is any indication, we shall wait a long time before the faculty at this University undertakes its evaluation of the administration. As Hemingway said, “Paper bleeds but little.”

Too bad, for university administrators, and educators generally, are currently in a downside so far as the public is concerned. The presidents of Boston University, American University, Stanford and Penn—to mention only a few—have been exposed for shady dealings or just plain tomfoolery. A rigorous method of evaluation is badly needed, but it cannot be designed and conducted if the overriding concern is hurting someone’s precious ego.

Cecil D. Eby,
professor of English