Thinking Like an Administrator

A few years ago my university (University of Toronto) decided to take a look at student evaluations. A committee was formed and this was its terms of reference.
In recognition of the need to periodically revisit practices related to the evaluation of teaching, the Course Evaluation Working Group was formed in the Fall 2009 (Appendix B) and was asked to:
  1. Review current course evaluation practices across the University of Toronto and at peer institutions;
  2. Review current research on course evaluation policies and practices;
  3. If necessary, make recommendations to improve existing policies and practices.
This sounds like a good idea. As you know, I am very skeptical about student evaluations [On the Significance of Student Evaluations]. It's abut time that universities took a long hard look at the process with a view to abolishing student evaluations or drastically revising them and reviewing their importance in promotion and tenure decisions. It's even more important to revise the policy on using student evaluations to judge the effectiveness of part-time lecturers and teaching assistants. At the very least, their role in determining teaching awards should be critically examined.

If I were in charge of this project I would pick a committee composed almost entirely of the following groups:
  • front-line lecturers in introductory classes, including tenured faculty, untenured faculty, full-time lecturers, and part-time lecturers
  • teaching assistants (graduate students)
  • undergraduates
There would have to be substantial representation from undergraduates since they feel strongly about the issue and any drastic changes would require their consent and cooperation.

I would avoid having any administrators on the committee since the purpose of the committee was to evaluate existing university policy. In general, administrators are reluctant to make radical changes and they have trouble thinking outside the box. Furthermore, most of them don't have time to think seriously about the issue.

Administrators think differently than I do. Here's how they constructed the committee (see Course Evaluation Working Group.
  • Edith Hillan (Vice-Provost, Faculty and Academic Life; Co-Chair)
  • Jill Matus (Vice-Provost, Students; Co-Chair)
  • Grant Allen (Vice-Dean, Undergraduate, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering)
  • Gage Averill (Dean and Vice-Principal, Academic, UTM)
  • Cleo Boyd (Director, Robert Gilliespie Academic Skills Centre, UTM)
  • Corey Goldman (Associate Chair [Undergraduate], Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Arts & Science)
  • Pam Gravestock (Associate Director, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation)
  • Emily Greenleaf (Faculty Liaison & Research Associate, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation)
  • Jodi Herold-McIlroy (Wilson Centre, Faculty of Medicine)
  • Glen Jones (Associate Dean, Academic, OISE) Helen Lasthiotakis (Director of Academic Programs and Policy)
  • Marden Paul (Director, Planning, Governance & Assessment)
  • Cheryl Regehr (Vice-Provost, Academic Programs)
  • Carol Rolheiser (Director, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation)
  • Jay Rosenfield (Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine)
  • John Scherk (Vice-Dean, UTSC)
  • Elizabeth Smyth (Vice-Dean, Programs, School of Graduate Studies)
  • Suzanne Stevenson (Vice-Dean, Teaching & Learning, Faculty of Arts & Science)
No students. No teaching assistants. No part-time lecturers. Very few people who are currently teaching large undergraduate courses. Almost every person has an administrative positions of some sort—most of the positions take up a considerable portion of their time and some of them are full-time jobs.

That's what thinking like an administrator looks like.

I don't think my university is unusual. We have thousands of very smart students and teachers but all the important committees seem to be composed of people with heavy administrative responsibilities. Does anyone understand the logic here?

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