MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
December 6, 2010
X. QUESTIONS TO THE CHAIR.
Dr. Hillary Hart (civil, environmental, and architectural engineering) reminded the Council about the vote at the last meeting to develop an ad hoc committee on what was originally called faculty accountability but then reframed, at the suggestion by Professor Phil Barrish, as “faculty excellence.” She said the committee’s focus would be reviewing and developing meaningful measures of productivity of faculty and faculty groups, which President Powers had referred to at a later meeting as “ecosystems.” She said she would like for the Council to reflect on how to proceed with developing the committee and asked if any Council members had ideas or suggestions or wanted to volunteer to serve on the committee. After saying she thought some discussion about the committee would be helpful, she asked Chair Neikirk if he would be “the recipient of self-nominations and ideas for how this committee should be formed to be representative of the faculty on campus at UT Austin?”
Chair Neikirk reported that he could not attend the last FCEC meeting due to a scheduling conflict, but he had sent an email encouraging the committee to discuss this matter. After saying he had received a few useful comments from Council members following the November meeting and would welcome any others that members wanted to offer, he asked members to refrain from making nominations for committee membership until a more concrete idea about the committee’s size and term of service were determined. He added that he was quite concerned about establishing a committee that was too large to be effective, and he thought it was important to give additional forethought to what the committee’s objectives need to be and whether or not a sunset clause should be established for evaluating its work. He said he hoped to make additional progress on these issues by the January Council meeting.
Professor Brian Evans (electrical and computer engineering) said, as chair of the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, he would like to see a liaison established in the new committee with both his committee and the Faculty Grievance Committee. He said he recalled that this new committee was perceived as an ad hoc one because its charge failed to fit well into a single existing standing committee. He said he thought the overlap with the academic freedom and grievance areas was obvious and needed close coordination; he also believed that a liaison with other existing standing committees might be needed as well.
Provost Leslie thanked Council members for their efforts and interest in working on this important area of concern for the University. He said his office was keenly interested and had worked hard with The University of Texas System “to be proactive in terms of getting our hands around productivity measures that are at the center of programmatic kinds of measures rather than individual faculty members.” He said he and his office welcomed a strong working partnership with the Faculty Council as well as The University of Texas System in an effort to determine how to effectively and meaningfully perform this important assessment function.
Professor Evans said he believed the annual evaluation of performance, as mandated by the HOP, was extremely helpful. He also thought it was very important that chairs provide all faculty members an annual written evaluation of performance. He encouraged anyone who had not been receiving these written evaluations to specifically ask for them. Professor Staiger said she was in complete agreement with Professor Evans regarding the importance of the written reports on faculty performance. When this issue was raised by the FCEC, Professor Staiger said there were objections from some Council members, whom she thought might have been in large departments where the task was perceived as onerous for the chair. She said she thought a subcommittee could be responsible for some of this work. In her department, she reported that only the tenure track faculty members receive annual statements, whereas the other faculty members receive numerical scores on teaching, research or creative work, and service. She added that she thought some minimal written report with some type of statement regarding progress or lack of progress was essential for faculty members to receive. If this is not done annually, then at post-tenure review, faculty members can end up being totally unaware of problems, which can result in potential legal issues. She said she believes every department needs to find a way to provide written documents, and these can be written in such a way to be advisory but not be binding.
Professor Gordon explained he had voted against the ad hoc committee at the last Council meeting because he felt the Council was not prepared “to take this issue far enough.” He perceived that UT Austin and all of higher education were under attack and would continue to be so. He said he thought faculty members were unaware of a number of issues and needed additional information to be prepared for the tough upcoming four years. He said the Council must play a key role in seriously paying attention to and analyzing the accountability issues in order “to put in the place the kinds of defensive positions necessary to be able to confront the problems of the near future.”
Chair Neikirk said he agreed with Professor Gordon. He added that he thought Professor Gordon’s comments helped define one of the challenges of the ad hoc committee. He explained that the charge for the committee had not yet been determined because the charge would not be a simple one; in fact, he said he thought the committee would have to write its own charge. He explained that gaining agreement on the measures will be extremely difficult, and there will likely be new measures proposed by others that are unknown at this time. This means the ad hoc committee faces a very challenging task, particularly with regard to determining the appropriate level of aggregation for performance data that is not necessarily at the individual faculty member level. He said the Texas A&M model aggregated at the individual level, which many individuals perceive as the easiest and most likely way to measure productivity. He said the committee members would need to be persuasive and capable of convincing decision-makers that the individual unit of analysis is not an effective measure for assessing the overall productivity of an institution. Although he was concerned that the inherent difficulties of developing measures that counter the usual standards and of convincing others of their value could lead to paralysis, Chair Neikirk emphasized that it was essential to move forward on this task. To successfully accomplish this important work, he said the ad hoc committee needed to be carefully assembled with members who offer divergent viewpoints about assessing the productivity here at UT Austin.