I read with interest the recent article in Inside Higher Ed regarding the retiring president of Westminster College preparing for retirement by compiling an e-portfolio. President Bassis prepared the e-portfolio both “to reflect on his 41 years in higher education…but also as a way to communicate to students and faculty members his steadfast belief in electronic portfolios as a method of cataloging and assessing student work.”
I am a long time believer in evaluation, both formative as well as summative. In teaching, I think the faculty member, the administration, and the students all benefit from these evaluation programs. The faculty member especially benefits from formative evaluation programs and faculty members, students and administrators potentially benefit from the information available in summative evaluations.
There is also benefit in evaluation of administrators. These evaluations should take place regularly and if done correctly, should have the same beneficial impact as faculty evaluations. But there are complications in the evaluation of administrators that do not arise in student evaluations. Any well run student program, has as the student evaluators, students in the class. They are there, in class, on a regular basis, interact with the faculty member and consequently have the contact necessary and the information necessary to render an informed judgment. In evaluating an administrator, especially a non-academic administrator, who has the information to provide a valid assessment? Is it the faculty that should evaluate these non-academic administrators? Clearly, faculty is an intelligent and sophisticated constituency. But nevertheless, are they in a position to provide these evaluations? Can they, for example, evaluate the effectiveness of a vice president for technology or a vice president for admissions or a vice president for finance? No question, faculty can provide very accurate assessments of the campus’ academic technology and no question they can comment on the credentials of the incoming class but are these assessments or comments reflective of the person heading an area? In technology, if the resources are not there, is it the VP who should be blamed? Or if the quality of the incoming class has increased less quickly than expected, is that the fault of the VP in charge of the area? Or could it be greater tuition discounting on the part of other institutions? In cases such as this, valuable evaluation can still take place and faculty can still play a lead role in that process. Faculty can evaluate academic technology; faculty can evaluate the quality of the class, but not necessarily a single individual heading a particular area.
For the evaluation of department chairs, faculty have a perfect vantage point to assess the leadership and administrative ability of the chair. Faculty in a particular school or college are also very well placed to evaluate the dean, though depending on the size of the school or college there may be more or less direct involvement with the dean. (As an undergraduate, I was an active student government type and I remember a number of my professors commented that I had more contact with the dean than they had.) As the provost, I have an excellent vantage point for the evaluation of deans as do department chairs. Deans also have an excellent vantage point for the assessment of the provost as do a significant number of chairs and a significant number of faculty. And, of course, the president is also ideally positioned to evaluate the provost and other senior administrators.
But President Bassis, by his initiative in compiling an e-portfolio, may have helped many of us to further strengthen assessment and evaluation. When a faculty member stands for tenure or promotion or applies for a sabbatical, that faculty member provides a portfolio (e or regular) that helps in the assessment of that person’s work. In evaluating an administrator, chairs, deans, provost, president, or in evaluating an area, a portfolio should also be compiled by the person being evaluated, and the process should encompass that portfolio as an important statement of self evaluation and as important data for evaluation by other constituencies.