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OU Researchers Investigate the Equity of Faculty Evaluations

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September 23, 2020

OU Researchers Investigate the Equity of Faculty Evaluations

NORMAN, OKLA. –The Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships on the OU Norman campus recently funded eleven short-term projects that position OU faculty and their collaborators to effectively compete for significant external funding opportunities related to the impact of social inequities on knowledge creation and dissemination.

Keri Kornelson, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, and Megan Elwood Madden,  a professor in the Department of Geosciences, lead a project which aims to improve the equity of OU faculty evaluations on the OU-Norman campus. The resulting work will inform a proposal for additional funding by the National Science Foundation.

“The NSF has a program called ADVANCE, which is designed to find ways to support and improve the working environment for women faculty members,” Kornelson said. “When you start talking about what you can do at a university at a systemic level to make things better for women faculty, you’re going to find ideas that make things better for everybody.”

OU ADVANCE, the team preparing the submission to the NSF ADVANCE program, aims to create a faculty evaluation and reward system at OU that reduces inequity and bias while also explicitly valuing and rewarding faculty efforts towards reaching OU’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

“The ADVANCE proposal and this project are also building off several years of discussions in Faculty Senate about how to be proactive in supporting faculty efforts to engage with diversity, equity and inclusion work,” Elwood Madden said.

“We’re building a foundational understanding of what’s happing, how decisions about evaluation are made and which things count more than other things,” Kornelson said. “One of the things we talk about a lot in Faculty Senate, especially when we’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion work, is ‘If a faculty member engages in (DEI) work, does it count and how does it count, and is it a good use of their time?’ If we want faculty to be concerned about those things, we have to build in an evaluation and reward structure that recognizes that.”

Kornelson adds that before any changes to evaluation systems are to be made, there needs to be a better understanding of what evaluations practices are across departments.

To gain that understanding, Kornelson and Elwood Madden will collect surveys from and hold interviews with OU Norman department chairs and Committee A members, the executive committee in OU departments charged with annual faculty evaluations. 

That data will be compared with the results of a 2019 survey administered by OU ADVANCE about how faculty perceive evaluation structures at OU and a 2017 survey completed by OU faculty that was administered by the Higher Education Research Institute.

“This data will give us a picture of both existing practices and faculty attitudes about how research is assessed and valued at OU,” Kornelson said. “In addition, our analyses will be de-identified and disseminated to the OU community to help units, including the VPRP and Provost, improve the methods and instruments used to evaluate and reward faculty research to effectively motivate faculty to broaden the impact and expand the scope of their research and creative activities. By discovering where the faculty evaluation systems can be improved to be more equitable, we can change the environment for women and members of underrepresented groups.”

Elwood Madden adds that the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have made this review all the more timely.

“This survey comes at a critical time,” Elwood Madden said. “The Provost’s Office has put forward some guidelines for faculty evaluations this year that asks department chairs and Committee A members to consider different types of scholarship than maybe they had been strongly valuing in the past, so we’re hopeful that this survey will not only inform us about how faculty were evaluated last January, but also how the evaluation systems can be made more flexible during these times when we need to reconsider what’s important in the role of a faculty member and how flexible those systems actually are.”