The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Thought would destroy their paradise...  ...Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.
Commentary of the Day - November 29, 1999:

Guest Commentary by Jerry Farber - Assessment; Charlie, Charlie, Charlie:

"Assessment" is one of the latest buzzword in the lexicon of university administrators.  The following memo from San Diego State University professor Jerry Farber to California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed sums up the views of many of us who serve on the front lines of the education wars about this latest fad.

To:  Charles Reed, Chancellor, California State University system

From:  Jerry Farber, Professor, San Diego State University

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, please Charlie, we don't do enough evaluating, we don't do enough ranking.  Neither, dearest Charlie, do we ourselves get ranked enough--get evaluated enough.  Charlie, Charlie, hear my plea: there's not enough accountability  in our lives!

Let us have more assessment!  Let there be more ranking, more committees, more meetings, more forms, more dossiers, more charts, more tables.  And let there be less time--less time pissed away, Charlie, pissed away in libraries, in classrooms, in laboratories.  Let there be less thinking, Charlie Reed!  Less thinking and more--many more!--year-end reports, clean, bound, thick.  Thick, Charlie.  Let there be thick reports, reports bristling with charts, reports weighing ten pounds each and with fine gold logos on their vinyl spines, stretching on shelves in Long Beach, Sacramento, Washington, stretching for miles, Charlie!  And let them be dusted.  And grant that there be committees to assess the dusting.

Save me, Charles Reed!  I spent four hours yesterday afternoon preparing for class, when I could have been reading thirty colleagues' applications for merit raises.  I spent an afternoon the day before in the library, Charlie--reading--when I could have been in an assessment meeting assessing things.   And had I not already wasted that morning in classrooms teaching students, when it would have sufficed merely to certify their outcomes instead?  Charlie, liberate our students from seat time, from real time.  Let seat time become screen time.  Phase out face-to-face, and let place become no place.

And forgive us, Charles Reed, for not being assessed enough, for never being assessed enough.  Forgive us those moments in our lives when we were not accountable.

Forgive us for only having been assessed by scores of professors, by national testing services, by examination boards, by admission boards; forgive us for only having undergone the scrutiny of implacable, dark-robed doctoral committees.

Forgive us for only being assessed by our students in every single one of our classes.  Forgive us for only being assessed by colleagues and administrators:
               when that we are hired,
               when that we come up for retention,
               when that we come up for tenure,
               when that we come up for promotion,
               when that we apply for a sabbatical or research grant,
               when that we undergo post-tenure review--
       for only being assessed by members of our profession whenever we submit anything whatsoever for publication, apply for a fellowship, apply for a grant;
       for only being assessed in our departments by teams of faculty from other universities, and for only being assessed in our universities by accreditation teams.

And forgive us, Charles Reed, for not assessing enough.  Forgive us for only assessing every student in every course day by day, week in, week out--for only assessing graduate theses, comprehensive exams, senior projects, credential applications--for only assessing the work of teaching assistants--for only assessing paltry dozens of students who ask each year for letters of recommendation--for only assessing each other every time any one of us seeks retention, tenure, post-tenure, or promotion, for only reading each other's scholarly work, visiting each other's classes, poring over each  other's teaching materials and student evaluations--for only sitting on search committees assessing the dossiers of hundreds of applicants--for only doing yearly assessment of part-time colleagues--for only sitting on committees that assess the work of administrators--for only being editors and referees who assess manuscripts submitted for publications.

It's not enough, Charlie.  It won't do!  Let there be more!  Let there be more!  Let there be more evaluating, let there be more ranking. Let there be more mission statements.  Let there be more outcomes statements!  And let us spend months of our working lives devising those outcomes statements.  Let there be more bullshit, Charlie, and let it be everywhere.  And let us have outcomes  committees, Charlie, and committees to assess the outcomes of the outcomes committees, and let there be committees to assess those committees, Charlie.  And let them all produce reports, Charles Reed.  Thick reports.  And let no one read those reports.  But let them be delivered by the truckload into the hands of administrators hired solely to receive them--and to assess them.

Let there be assessments of the assessments of the outcomes of the outcomes.  And let every one of us, too, be assessed perpetually by perpetual assessment committees.  Oh, and please, Charles Reed, grant us that there be an abundance of committees, a plenitude of committees: committees on committees, stacked in towering hierarchies.

Charlie, let there be form without content.  Words without thought.  Save us from thinking.  Keep us hopping, Charles Reed.  Keep us implementing, keep us finalizing, fly us to Long Beach for plenary sessions, breakout groups, packets of coffee creamer, vegetables and dip.  Put name-tags on us, Charlie.

Reward us.  Punish us.  Control us.  Manage us.  In-corporate us.  Free us from our calling.  Deliver us from all intrinsic motivation.  Drive us henceforth with extrinsic motivation.  Release us from passion; lead us toward greed.  Lift the heavy burden of integrity from us.

Hold back what is rightfully ours that we be accountable, that we attain total and perfect accountability--that there be no moment when we are not accountable.  Dangle merit raises over our heads.  Keep us hopping.

Give us released time.  Release us.  Give us all released time.  Grant us all nothing but released time.  Release us from teaching.  Release us from learning.  Grant that we enter into administration with you, Charles Reed.  Let there be no teaching.  Let there be no time for teaching.  Let us enter into the Golden Shores with you in an outcome of permanent, perpetual assessment.

Jerry Farber is a Professor of English at San Diego State University.  The Irascible Professor is pleased to name Jerry honorary Irascible Professor of the week for his contribution.

The Irascible Professor agrees with Jerry on this issue.  The IP has chaired his department for 10 out of the past 12 years.  During that time the number of required reports assessing department operations, program outcomes, etc., etc. has increased  at a nearly exponential rate.  Some of these reports are read by our Dean.  A few even are read by our Vice President for Academic Affairs, and perhaps one or two are read by our President.  While most of these reports eventually make their way to the system offices at Golden Shores, no one there is capable of reading them in any meaningful context, so - at best - their contents are fed into the gaping maw of some computer program to provide justification for the preconceived notions of system administrators - most of whom haven't taught a class on any of the campuses in decades if ever.  In the long run most of these reports are, in the IP's humble opinion, a waste of time and effort.  Time and effort that could better be spent in the education of our students.  Thanks again Jerry for saying so in a better way than I ever could!


The Irascible Professor invites your comments.
©1999 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.