At this year’s annual campus conference held before the start of fall classes, President Paul Johnson, with the help of Interim Provost Tom Boyd discussed a faculty productivity model focused on equally distributing Mines’ resources amongst the different colleges. This new model, however, has caused a stirring among the faculty as it appears to only focus on attempting to quantify teaching efforts, by equating performance to the number of credit hours taught and amount of research funding awarded.
Following this presentation, many faculty were concerned that putting too much emphasis on quantification would reduce the quality delivered by Mines’ faculty. In addition, many faculty are concerned that implementing the model may have only unforeseen consequences for students and professors.
“I am nervous about this spreadsheet thing,” Dr. Lincoln Carr, a professor in the physics department said. “Putting people in little boxes is not student-centric. And that is my biggest concern, it’s not student-centric, and not taking into account the needs of different fields.”
According to Interim Provost Tom Boyd, the goals behind the model are centered around building Mines’ reputation and to provide definitions to measure the amount of academic activities and weigh their value to the university.
“We’re engaged in a process to understand how we can manage the institution at the highest level and do what we need to do,” Boyd said.
This productivity model is not actually new, and has been in development for several years. According to President Paul Johnson, the faculty initially requested that a new workload model be developed to make professor’s work loads more equitable.
“We had a number of faculty groups working in strategic plan work groups. One of the work groups was a research sub committee,” Johnson said. “A group of faculty came up with a list of things we should think about if we were trying to grow the research occurring at Mines.”
Essentially, the point of the productivity model, or the workload model as it is referred to by President Johnson, is to define how various contributions by faculty are valued across the institution.
“[We want to] define institution wise, and to some extent on a person to person basis, what combination of things are equally valued across the institution,” Johnson said. “This says that we can all have differentiated workload assignments that are valued equally across the institution.”
The model will be applied at the college level. This allows for each college’s respective dean to report back on their faculty’s productivity.
From an administrative standpoint, Boyd is not interested in micromanaging faculty on an individual basis. Boyd is focused on challenging each college’s dean and various department heads to develop a unique model that delivers the best curriculum possible assuming each faculty member is pulling their own weight.
“I’m interested in managing at the college level,” Boyd said. “It’s then the colleges and the department head’s job to manage individual faculty. In the end, it has to roll up and make financial sense in terms of what the institution can support.”
Although the model will be applied at the college level, Mines faculty worry about the negative impact that the model could have on individual professors.
“It’s not supposed to be applied to individual faculty,” Carr said. “However, when you set up a standard [like this], and you show faculty that this is going to be applied in your college, then at the department level, faculty start thinking, ‘how do I measure up?’”
Due to the emphasis on number of credit hours taught, faculty are concerned that the productivity model is emphasizing that larger classes (and ultimately more credit hours) are more valuable to Mines than smaller, more specialized classes.
“When I look at this thing, it tells me that I should only teach large undergraduate classes,” Carr said. “I should never teach a small class, it will never help me on the spreadsheet. I should never teach a graduate course. I should never mentor a student in research, and I should never do senior design. That’s what the spreadsheet conveys to me. And I think that is not a good message.”
Quantity vs Quality
From the administrative standpoint, it is important to deliver economically feasible curriculum to benefit the student body, as well as the faculty.
“If there is a faculty member teaching one class of twenty-five people, that requires one of two things to happen,” President Johnson explained. “One, that means another faculty member has to teach more classes, or [second], students have to pay more tuition. We’re simply trying to say that, for the institution to move forward these things need to happen.”
However, the fear among faculty is that focusing on the quantity of the academic services offered creates unintentional incentives that encourage faculty to disregard quality of instruction.
“How Mines stands out [as an institution] is that it does pay attention to hands on education [and] small class sizes,” Professor Carr noted. “Really looking after the [academic] career of individual students.”
Other models are already in place that set performance expectations specifically regarding the quality of the academic services provided by faculty. In addition, this model is only one aspect of a larger plan for the future of Mines that the administration has been working on. For example, this summer thirty faculty were paid to take part in a program to improve course curriculum and improve the quality of education offered across the university.
“There are many different components,” Provost Boyd said. “The productivity model is one component, promotion and tenure expectations is a second component, and program performance expectations are another component.”
Two Different Messages
The Faculty Senate has produced a Faculty Handbook that already has general outlines for faculty performance expectations. However, according to Boyd these guidelines are very vague and ill-defined.
“The faculty handbook is a document that defines the expectations for faculty and the institution. The hard thing about applying the faculty handbook is that nothing is defined,” Provost Boyd said. “Under the request of the president last spring, the faculty senate did a significant amount of effort to revise and update our promotion and tenure criteria that speak directly to quality [of instruction].”
Professor Carr, however, is concerned that the new productivity model is in contrast with the preexisting guidelines, leading to much of the confusion and frustration amongst the Mines faculty.
“It’s like the faculty have one arm that is getting pulled to get promotion and tenure, and that’s the student-centric thing. And another arm is saying we want to fix the budget, and right now they are pulling in two directions,” Carr said. “They should be pulling in the same direction– they should be aligned. If they’re not, I don’t think that it’s going to be effective”
How This Can Affect Students
Dr. Carr is concerned that the new model indirectly detracts from the university’s focus on the students. The business model of any university should be investing in students, and Carr is concerned that the administration is losing sight of that.
At the same time, the model allows for flexibility in the distribution of resources across the different colleges. From President Johnson’s perspective, the model is focused on reaching goals set by faculty while remaining economically feasible.
“Within the economical constraints of the institution, we are asking departments to maintain high retention rates of students, increase four year and six year graduation rates [and] increase the distinctiveness and preparation of the students,” Johnson said.
With the help of the faculty senate, the productivity model has already started to be implemented across the university. The implementation process will be done in sections to allow for adjustments to be made along the way.
”We received some feedback, and I have made some adjustments concerning this particular model,” Provost Boyd said.
In addition, the feedback from each department head is crucial to the success of this model, as well as the institution as a whole.
Dr. Carr expressed his excitement that department heads are being involved with the review process, as they are the most involved with implementation within each department.
“We are going to start down this direction and make adjustments as we need to,” President Johnson said. “There’s something aggregate that we are trying to accomplish as an institution.”