Thursday, January 06, 2011

Incompetent academics to face strict penalties

John Walshe writes in today's Irish Independent that Incompetent academics (are) to face strict penalties. According to Walshe, "ACADEMICS face stiff penalties if they fail to get a satisfactory rating under a proposed controversial performance appraisal system". He further reports that "Under the confidential plans, staff who get a poor rating will not be able to go for promotion, take sabbatical leave, undertake private consultancy work or receive annual salary increments".

KPI framework from
An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis
(O'Loughlin, 2010)
Now I don't support "incompetent academics" anymore than the next person - but what is an "incompetent academic"? This can be difficult to measure - I once gave out a strong bollicking to a certain section of a class over their constant chatter in one of my lectures. Once I was finished, in walked one of the College admins to distribute an evaluation survey about the module I was teaching - what timing! Needless to say my ratings were poorer than usual. Is this an effective way to measure "performance"? There are lots of things that could be used to measure performance: pass rates, publications, research projects, student ratings, use of technology, student engagement, attrition rates, and lots of other measures. In my book (An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis) I proposed a new framework for key performance indices (KPIs) to help measure performance - very few of these KPIs are used in academia. In my 8 years as a lecturer in NCI I have NEVER been observed or appraised in class by a peer - let alone a manager! How do they know whether I am competent or incompetent? Indeed - how do I know?

What about the environment we work in? According to the Bullying of Academics in Higher Education Blog - there are ten signs to what incompetent academic (leaders) will do:
  1. Delegate work rather than balance work loads
  2. Reduce all answers to Yes or No rather than explaining their reasoning
  3. Not separate personal life from professional life
  4. Manage crisis
  5. Create an environment where mistakes are unacceptable
  6. Humiliate or reprimand an employee within a group
  7. Not stand behind subordinates when they fail
  8. Encourage hard workers not smart workers
  9. Judge people on hours not performance
  10. Act differently in front of their leaders
(Note: in no way am I suggesting that I am bullied in my work place.)

Cartoon copied from the
Bullying of Academics blog.
I think many academics will recognize some of the above points. I'm not passing blame on to management - but incompetency goes both ways.

Predictively there is union opposition to the proposed "system" - Paddy Healy, former president of the TUI, describe the plan as an "attack" on academic freedom, permanency and tenure, and (wait for it) Irish democracy! Academics do enjoy a lot of "academic freedom" (at least most that I know do) - but we also need to live in the real world and recognize that in straightened times some "freedoms" may need to be let go, and that no job is permanent or secure. I'll leave the bullshit about "Irish democracy" being attacked by this for your own reflection.

The Hunt Report (due soon) will have a lot of suggestions and I'm sure many things that will be like a red rag to a bull to most academics. Some sections have been leaked, but I will withhold any more comment until the final report is released. Should make for some interesting reading!

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