Evaluating Faculty Performance:
A Practical Guide to AssessingTeaching, Research, and Service
By Peter Seldin
Bolton, Massachusetts: Anker Publishing, 2006
The “About the Author” section in Evaluating Faculty Performance, Peter Seldin’s most recent contribution to the evaluation arena, lists fourteen “well received” books he has authored as well as consultations at 350 colleges and universities in 45 countries. Seldin, a professor emeritus of management at Pace University, has indeed had a productive career in publishing guides to teaching, improving teaching, teaching portfolios, faculty evaluation, changing practices in evaluation, successful evaluation programs, and evaluating administrative performance. Like many of his previous publications, this 2006 guide is a compilation: fourteen chapters, two by Seldin and the other twelve by thirteen contributors. This recent entry in the field of assessment and evaluation will likely join its predecessors as “well received” and rightly so. Evaluating Faculty Performance is full of practical advice, its authors for the most part avoid the jargon of evaluationese, and there are multiple appendices of student evaluation forms, appraisals of research, self-reflection questions, and class observation guides.
In addition to guides, clear organization, and accessible language, the volume employs other mapping techniques such as warning of the pitfalls of poorly implemented systems, over evaluation, and evaluations that have no purpose. One very apparent guidebook technique is the “tell’em where you are going, go, then tell’em where you’ve been.” Evaluting Faculty Performance begins with an overview of the contents listing each contributor’s key points, two introductory chapters by Seldin describing a successful evaluation program and the key principles and guidelines of such a program, eleven chapters on different aspects of evaluation such as student ratings, peer observations, teaching portfolios, misuse of evaluation data, and then Elizabeth Miller’s fourteenth chapter summarizing the key points and recommendations of each chapter. This organized plan means that time-strapped evaluators and evaluatees can read the introductory chapters by Seldin and the last chapter and have a quick overview of the assessment process.
Benefits of the Seldin and Others route are most enticing: practical, “hands-on information, specific strategies, and state-of-the art techniques to improve faculty performance” do beckon one on. Yet in reading one more volume on evaluation--how we as faculty can improve, should perform, correct our deficiencies--I wonder if we who teach, administer, evaluate ourselves and others, and spend inordinate amounts of time writing up performance records are misguided travelers seeking a holy grail that does not exist. Are there really any assessment systems that provide equitable evaluations, improve teaching, and benefit all in the university, or are we just part of a huge marketing scheme? We in higher education are a large group of consumers; evaluating performance in universities and colleges is a big business. We are sold on the promise of more accurate, fairer, more quantifiable, more stringent, more legally sound assessment products. It is an industry that has spawned thousands of publications and hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.
Setting aside such cynical questioning for the time, I found Seldin’s lists in Chapter Two helpful, especially the bulleted material under the headings Key Guidelines for the General Process of Evaluation and Deficiencies in Evaluation Programs, including excessive cost in time and energy. Clement Seldin promotes the value of internal and external service to the university and notes how advising, a time-consuming faculty service, may be unfairly judged as less important than chairing a high-profile but undemanding committee. Evaluating faculty research is a difficult task at best. Tech Kah Lim’s advice includes recognizing how research is done in different fields and utilizing peer review as well as quantitative and bibliometric measures. Jane Halonen and George B. Ellenberg’s listing of teaching evaluation follies—student, faculty, and administrative—is entertaining. Students suck up, faculty barter, and administration obfuscates.
Evaluating Faculty Performance is a reasonable, readable guide that aims to generate objective and critical thinking; to be, where necessary, “a stimulus for change”; to help “establish the right climate for evaluation,” and to provide outlines of “key issues, red-flag dangers, and benchmarks for success” for both faculty and administrators in public and private institutions. It works, but it is difficult to banish the thought that this is one more guidebook pointing out the same landmarks that have been described in multiple travel guides and that the journey we are led on is not into new knowledge but rather is one more sojourn to where we have traveled before.
Gwen McNeill Ashburn
The University of North Carolina at Asheville