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June 24, 2009


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In the Shadow of the Valle of Counting

So what metrics would you use? And do you have similar concerns about how we evaluate students?


On the more general topic addressed in your original post on tenure: It is important that tenure protects not only those writing politically controversial scholarship, but also against being fired when, for example, a dean is enraged that someone has shared with a site inspection team the fact that seven professors would be leaving the faculty that year (when the dean has chosen not to share that information with the team), and is furious that someone shared with the site inspection team a copy of an article that had appeared in the Journal of Legal Education. When the dean then expresses great anger over this in a faculty meeting and declares that he will find out who did it and that the person or people will soon be out looking for work elsewhere, it helps to be protected by tenure. Especially when so many people in the room have no idea who did this but are targets nonetheless.

Kim Krawiec

Shadow -- part of my final post in this series is dedicated to your first question, so I won't spend much time on it here. My goal is to be concise, rather than coy, though. So if you don't find it sufficiently addressed in the last installment feel free to prompt me again in those comments. I will say, though, that I think this focuses on the wrong half of the equation. We perceive "the metrics" to be the hurdle to this type of evaluation, only because we fail to first develop a coherent institutional mission (which requires making uncomfortable choices and value-judgments about what type of activity will be encouraged and rewarded). Once those choices are made, the range of appropriate metrics becomes more apparent, although there may still be disagreements at the margins.

As to our students, I suspect we’re all in agreement that we could do a better job of evaluating them than we currently do. But at least we make some attempt at evaluation (and ordinal ranking at most schools) twice a year, which is far more than we typically do with each other.

LLL – excellent story. I’d certainly love to hear more about that one. Sounds like your school is one of those where the danger of being fired for using the aloe-enhanced Kleenex, as opposed to the anti-bacterial one, is greater than the risk of being fired for not publishing anything for a decade. I feel your pain. As I’ve noted before, I’m not sure that I’m persuaded by the frequently-invoked yet rarely-supported claim that tenure is vital for protecting politically controversial speech for most law professors (the other arguments in favor of tenure are to me stronger). Again, happy to hear more evidence on this point, though.

Mike Madison

Is the game worth the candle? What you characterize as objections to implementing incentives strike me (and resonate in my experience) as objections to the very difficult, prior process of realizing public consensus on coherent institutional goals. The fact that those objections bleed backward from designing implementation to identifying strategic goals underlines just how difficult that first phase is. It's possible for a strong-willed dean to force a faculty to accept incentives of a certain sort, but will they work to produce a set of desired outcomes? Or breed resentment, resistance, and cost-generating conflict?

I have no answers, only the growing, nagging suspicion that the best way to motivate a team to perform better is to have the right leader -- and then to put the right players on the field. [That last phrase is linked to this post -- -- in case the comments don't take HTML.]

Kim Krawiec

Hi Mike – thanks for joining in, and thanks for the link. I very much enjoyed your Co-Op post. I think that you and I are quite in agreement on the causes of the problem: objections to the subjective nature of academic quality assessment are more easily resolved than (and are usually a smokescreen obscuring) the more serious problem of defining who it is that we want to be as an institution. But I do think that the game is worth the candle. In fact, it is vital to any institution’s long-term health to undertake that task, although I can certainly understand why it wouldn’t be worth your candle (or any other individual’s) to take on as research dean. But these disagreements, if left unresolved, tend to eventually become deeply repressed and then emerge elsewhere over time in a very unhealthy manner, harming innocent by-standers (like unsuspecting job candidates). It’s always been my belief that this is part of the reason that a faculty will spend three hours arguing over whether to eliminate minus grades and then hire someone for lifetime employment with no discussion at all. I hope to post on these issues more in my last post in this series. Hope you’ll join in again.

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