The cost of our freedom is self-evaluation

February 3, 2007

referee_no_good.jpgJohn over at Stranger Fruit has a little blurb that is important reading. For some background, consider that the American university is rather unique, in that money comes from the legislature with few strings attached. In turn for this “academic freedom” Society expects us to monitor ourselves through regular internal and external review (think of it as “trial by a jury of your peers”). And just as citizens have to occasionally drop everything and perform jury duty, academics have to perform “service”, with this self-evaluation being both important and onerous:

Contrary to the impressions of some, academics have to justify their existence and the annual self-evaluations have to be read, judged, and commented upon by their peers. And unfortunately, this year I am one of those peers. So, along with class preps, theses drafts and the normal stuff to take care of, I have to work my way through a bunch of my colleagues’ self-evaluations and the evaluations that their students wrote of them. All to generate an evaluation within two weeks. *sigh*

Bear in mind John will likely write an evaluation about each fellow faculty member, based on their self-reporting and those of her students–often grumpy, often deservedly so. These evaluations will need to be synthesized and summarized by all members of the evaluation committee. One product is a personalized report delivered to each member of the faculty, usually with some form of a grade, upon which little things like salary raises and promotions are based. And many faculty, ever sensitive to perceived inequities, will read those reports and wonder what grade everybody else got. And everybody knows who was on the evaluation committee that year….

Sigh indeed.

UPDATE 3Feb07–2:34PM: This post was extensively rewritten as the first version generally sucked.  😉