The use—or misuse—of student ratings of instruction (SRIs) in faculty evaluation is a frequent topic in higher education news. Unfortunately, popular press articles on the topic often garner more attention than the vast empirical literature. A recent review of the research by Linse (2017) pointed to common misperceptions about SRIs, offering administrators evidence-based advice on appropriate SRI interpretation.
Consider the experience of Jordan, a fourth-year political science major, who was told by his professor that many African-American students do not pass her class (Brooms, 2017). This stereotyping can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or what Claude Steele describes as a “stereotype threat,” which impacts students’ performance by challenging their academic ability or competence.
Higher education leaders have an opportunity to make an impact on the education and development of a diverse population of students and help them become contributing citizens in society. However, the job comes with a myriad of challenges that can confound both novice and experienced leaders alike.
In this post, I offer seven tips to help guide academic decision-making. In a play on my last name, I call them “petty principles.”
Tracy Ford has just completed her PhD and is searching for a full-time position in a university. She is a much sought-after young academic as she has published six articles and presented at a national conference. Also, she has experience in teaching in an adjunct position, and her evaluations were outstanding. She is attending a national conference and is searching job listings for a position. One university catches her eye, and she is excited, as it is in the part of the country where she wants to reside, and the position sounds as if it was written specifically for her. Tracy discusses with colleagues the department where she will be if she is offered the job. The response by everyone she speaks with is the same: WARNING. TOXIC. STAY AWAY. People explain that the department is lethal and dysfunctional. Members of the department are in open warfare with each other. In sum, it is an awful place to work. She does not apply, and no one else does either.
As budgets tighten at colleges and universities, academic leaders are repeatedly urged to be more entrepreneurial in their approaches. “It’s time to think outside the box,” we’re told. “Be creative. Be daring. Be innovative.” But what do you do if you’re not a naturally innovative person? Or how can you be creative if the people who work in your area rarely seem to display much creativity? In short, can innovation be taught? And even if it is taught, can it be learned?
Elwood F. “Ed” Holton III, former director of the School of Human Resource Education & Workforce Development at Louisiana State University, recognized as early as 1996 that the Kirkpatrick Model of Training Assessment, although so widely adopted that it has become virtually an industry standard, had several serious drawbacks (Holton, 1996). To begin with, he noted that the Kirkpatrick model is essentially a taxonomy, or classification scheme, and he stated, “One shortcoming of taxonomies is that they do not fully identify all constructs underlying the phenomena of interest, thus making validation impossible” (Holton, 1996, p. 6).
With all the investments that colleges and universities make in trying to develop their academic leaders—sending them to conferences and workshops, creating their own in-house professional development programs, assigning new leaders to mentors, and so on—institutions want to know whether they’re getting any return on their investment. In short, does the leadership development that current and prospective academic leaders participate in make any real difference? If so, what difference does it make? And in either case, how do we know?
This is the first year that the Gallup poll has included political affiliation in its survey, so there is less historic data than one might desire. However, taken together, the two surveys point out differences in attitudes that can be either a problem for higher education to confront or an opportunity to steer the conversation.
While the words “tenure track” make it sound like there’s a smooth set of rails that will take you from hiring through to a position on the permanent tenured faculty, “tenure obstacle course” might in fact be a better description.
Many countries are currently considering diversifying their higher education systems by modeling U.S. community college-like institutional designs. Vietnam and China, along with other nations, are intrigued by, curious about, yet somewhat suspicious of American community colleges—especially in terms of their relationship to universities and higher learning.