Trent Faculty Raise Concerns Over Newly Mandated Evaluations

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Trent University faculty members have just received their first ever written evaluations on their performance as mandated by Trent University Faculty Association’s (TUFA) new collective agreement.

The new provision, “the annual performance review,” is to become an annual process coming into effect this year, whereby the Deans of Science, Social Science, and Humanities will evaluate the performance of their faculty members based on annual reports on teaching, university service, and research.

However, the results from these written performance evaluations have spawned some concern and disappointment among some faculty members.

In a press release, director of the cultural studies PhD program, Alan O’Connor, who is currently on sabbatical, said, “I am still in a state of shock,” after receiving a letter signed by the Dean of Humanities saying that his performance is only “generally satisfactory.”

It also states that he is required to attend his office with a representative of the Trent faculty union to develop a plan so that he’s not evaluated as “unsatisfactory” in 2013-14.

During a conversation over the phone, O’Connor said that the new system seemed to represent a significant shift in the university, from one that is currently run by the different departments, to one which will be run by the managers (deans).

Further, the dean has the new power to intervene and discipline any professor, which does not affect just one person, but actually brings about a major change in how the entire university works.

According to O’Connor, the shift is not a good one, saying, “Everyone knows universities are run best by the faculty who is teaching and know what they are doing.” He also added, “I am proof that it is not a good shift because the dean’s office made a mistake with me. If a faculty is on leave, they are not required to submit a form.”

According to his post, the items being considering in the annual review under the Collective Agreement do not match the items taken into account by chairs in allocating teaching and other duties.

O’Connor also grieved that it does not seem possible for the Dean to fairly evaluate 60 to 80 faculty members in four weeks. Perhaps the review could be done jointly by the Chair and the Dean. That would bring a lot more information to the evaluation, he suggested.

“Trent University’s new collective agreement gives the Deans extraordinary powers to deny professors an annual raise, sometimes called a Career Development Increment (CDI). It gives one administrator extraordinary power over faculty careers, and there is no appeal process. Until this year, decisions about faculty promotion, tenure, and merit awards (often awarded for publishing a book) were handled by a 10-person committee of professors (COAP) with a full portfolio on the table. Now, the Dean alone can decide to discipline faculty, and on the basis of a three-page form,” O’Connor explained.

Hugh Elton, Dean of Arts and Sciences – Humanities, commented, “I cannot agree with the faculty member quoted [saying] that this process gives one administrator extraordinary power over faculty careers and that there is no appeal process.”

He added, “The collective agreement explicitly includes provisions for appeal, immediate cancellation if the member receives a satisfactory performance review, and a process for restoration of denied CDI.”

Elton further explained that CDI denial, which is covered under the current TUFA collective agreement section VIII. 6, states for a faculty member not to receive an annual step increase, three consecutive annual findings of unsatisfactory performance are required.

Besides, Elton added, CDI denial is a lengthy and involved process involving the member, Dean, Union, Provost, President, alternative options, and rights of appeal. Thus, a Dean cannot make a decision that results in a faculty member being denied an annual pay increase.

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Any Dean’s recommendation of such action needs to be approved by two higher-level officials in a process that involves the faculty union and a meeting with the faculty member, Elton explained.

There was no evaluation system earlier, but there was a punitive system of denying people annual pay rise based on the Dean’s assessment, a very complex mechanism used only in extraordinary cases.

“That was not helping people improve their performance, which is one reason for putting the performance review in place,” Elton reported.

“When it is first time through, everyone is doing it by the book so even though we all know that the faculty members are doing very well, the guidelines say that we should talk to the faculty,” he said.

All faculty members are on the right track, they are bunch of skilled professionals, and are really good at what they do. This is why Elton thinks there is a little bit of dissatisfaction.

Everyone knows they are actually really good at what they do and, “Here we are, poking on the outside in a very erratic arrangement.”

Elton said it was encouraging to learn that, even though everyone recognized that there was a problem with the process this year, it was still welcomed and agreed upon as a necessary process going forward. Most people are not happy, but the concerns he has received are mainly about how the evaluations are being done, and not the actual assessments themselves.

The evaluating process this year was fairly mechanistic, but, nevertheless, the Deans are talking to faculty members and the union to make a system that fits better.

They are hoping for some changes in the guideline next year after it is adjusted as they go along. Another possible field of improvement that Elton would like to see is moving the evaluation period to either beginning or end of the summer to ensure more time to read the files.

Chair of the Department of Indigenous Studies, David Newhouse, pointed out that the work of faculty, while on the surface appearing to be straightforward and simple is, in reality, complex and difficult to evaluate.

It involves research, teaching, and service (to the university, respective disciplines, community, and nations), and is to a very large extent, self-directed.

“Our efforts are not framed within an agreed upon set of corporate objectives, but are framed and evaluated within our distinctive disciplines and groups,” Newhouse commented. Previously, as faculty members, they were peer-assessed on academic work and by the administration on the performance of duties as defined by the collective agreement, two separate processes.

The current process is slightly different from the previous collective agreement guidelines, but it builds upon what was already in place, informed Newhouse. The annual performance review, conducted for all faculty except for those on sabbatical, is new this year.

He explicitly explained the new addendum by saying that faculty members are now required to report on how they carried out their duties in the previous year. Faculty members who are away on sabbatical or other leaves report on two years of work upon their return.

Based on the report, the Deans will review and assess the performance of each of the members within their division and the process will provide “recognition of a member’s achievements,” while identifying “areas for development,”” Newhouse explained.

In general, faculty divide their time among the primary tasks of the profession (40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, and 20 percent service).

Newhouse pointed out that these percentages are by convention, not contained within the collective agreement, and will vary from one faculty member to another, and from year to year.

He added that the three possible findings will be either satisfactory, generally satisfactory with some areas that require development, or unsatisfactory.

The Deans will then communicate their findings to individual faculty members, and those who are not satisfied with their finding may request reassessment, Newhouse informed.

The collective agreement stipulates that academic assessment (as applied to the reappointment, tenuring, or promotion of faculty as well as to merit awards) is distinct from the collective agreement’s disciplinary mechanisms. However, the exception is the annual performance review process, which can ultimately result in a disciplinary outcom –  the CDI denial.

“The annual review process in its present form is new to this collective agreement and this is our first time through it, so we’ll be reviewing the process with our members and the senior administration through Joint Committee,” he assured.

TUFA Negotiation Council Representative from the Sociology Department, Professor Stephen Katz, said that the other changes beside the annual performance review is that Chairs and Deans can now see teachers’ evaluations which the students carry out. Up until this summer, the teaching evaluation belonged only to the faculty member.

The new process is concerned that they have same accountability authority. While the objective of the collective agreement clearly states the responsibilities of faculty, there was previously no way of telling who was or was not doing their job.

According to Katz, the new process is more about accountability rather than checking on accomplishments. “I am not against accountability, but it is the vagueness of those judgments, and the idea about who determines the criteria that concerns me,” he said.

However, Katz emphasized that this is a result of a long back and forth negotiation efforts between the administration and the unions who represented the faculty.

According to him, the new collective agreement is a softer, modified version compared to the one suggested by the administration, which was lot more difficult. The union was satisfied to an extent with the provisions during the negotiation and “this implies that the faculty was satisfied too,” he said.

Katz suggested that the Deans should be aware of different departments’ standards of accomplishment, be clear as to what the expectations are, and have a clear-cut criteria put in place.

He also added that they should have a standard course evaluation form in order to have a standard judgment.

The administration should take into account the problems that may arise because of the vagueness in criteria, having more than one Dean evaluating the performance, and also from the fact that most of the departments are very interdisciplinary despite being housed into certain deanships, he said.

“We have a lot at stake here, and an unsatisfactory review in the record will be damaging to reputation,” he added.

The second round of annual performance review will be around the same time next year, which is the second week of November.

About Ugyen Wangmo 87 Articles
Ugyen Wangmo is a self trained media personal, steadfast to 'right to information'. She has about six years of media experience through a variety of roles as Reporter, Editor, Stringer, and Freelance writer. She graduated from Trent with a degree in Chemistry and Biology. When not nosing around for leads to write a thing or two about, she indulges in books, fashion, and dance.