Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Professors, It’s Time to ‘Rate Your Campus Admin’

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Peruse RateYourCampusAdmin.com, and it’s not totally clear whether the website is supposed to be funny or serious.

“You will have the power to evaluate the performance of the senior administrators on your campus,” the home page declares. Below that are claims that the site is “fueled by experts” with “years of user experiences with higher-education administrators, condensing a wealth of knowledge about their performance and future employability.” A banner prompts people to “add your administrators here!”

Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra is the faculty member who’s behind it. He’s an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego.

Pardo-Guerra said the project started out as “a bit of a funny joke” and “a criticism of higher education.” But he’s open to the possibility that the website could actually serve a purpose.

Its name mirrors the much-bemoaned RateMyProfessors.com, which has been a thorn in the side of faculty members for two decades.

RateYourCampusAdmin.com is still under construction, but people can sign up for an account and submit requests to add their college to the site. They then can submit anonymous reviews of particular senior officials, like the president and the provost, that Pardo-Guerra will approve — with an eye toward potential liability concerns. For now, Pardo-Guerra plans to handle the moderation duties himself, but admits that he might need help from other faculty members if things really take off.

The project builds off Pardo-Guerra’s own research. In his latest book, The Quantified Scholar: How Research Evaluations Transformed the British Social Sciences (Columbia University Press), published this month, Pardo-Guerra studied how the proliferation of scores, metrics, and evaluations for British researchers has transformed academic institutions there.

Pardo-Guerra spoke on Wednesday with The Chronicle about why he created the website and what he wants it to become. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

OK, RateYourCampusAdmin.com. Is this for real?

It originally started as a critique of what is going on with quantification on campuses. But it’s picking up quite a bit of traction. So let’s see if the critique becomes something more substantive.

So it started out more as kind of performance art, and now it might actually become something?

I think that would describe what’s going on. People have received it with a lot of joy. It would be terrible of me not to recompense that joy with a website that actually works.

Why do you think that faculty members need a place to “rate their campus admin”?

We’ve been rated for a very long time. Quantification has been part of the everyday experience for tons and tons of academics, and also for staff in higher education. It’s always been very asymmetric. We’ve been quantified, but when the time comes to evaluate senior administrators, it tends to be done with very ceremonial techniques of auditing and of seeing if they’ve performed the jobs that they had to perform, and faculty and staff tend to be very marginal in those discussions. So this is a way of voicing our concerns — sometimes, maybe even praising some admins that have done tremendously well — but breaking, to some extent, with that asymmetry that we’ve been living in for quite a bit.

I’ve seen conversations happening at some campuses where administrators are more focused on the idea of measuring faculty productivity. Is this site also a response to that?

Definitely. It’s also a broader response to the way workers in general are evaluated. There was a fantastic report in The New York Times on metrics and the workplace and how people are tracked constantly. It’s really horrible that the people who are tracked are never the ones at the very top of the organization. So that’s part of the logic to it. It’s something that I tell my students all the time — that the way we’ve automated things is also very unequal. We automate the low-level workers, we automate some of the midrange workers, but we never, ever automate the CEO, even though the CEO is a very large cost center in many cases.

If the site does become something, how would it work?

I hope this works as a way of exchanging information about how administrators across higher education are implementing strategies in their campuses in ways that are fragmented. We don’t know what’s going on in other campuses necessarily, even within our own system, the UC system. Maybe this becomes a way for exchanging information on what they’re doing in terms of rolling out new systems and the systems’ not working and faculty having to deal with the debacle of systems that don’t work, or plans for building new residential halls that are presented without any faculty input or student input. And as a platform for exchange. If people start adding their own institutions and their own stories, we’ll be able to better confront some of these things.

It sounds as if part of the thinking is, if administrators on a certain campus are trying to do something and it’s not working, then that would be helpful information for another institution to know before trying to hire them.

Certainly, if that’s also something that helps decisions on optimal hiring, then that’s fine.

I feel as if people who would self-select into writing reviews on such a site would tend to be negative, right? To play devil’s advocate, I don’t know if these reviews would paint an accurate picture of campus administrators.

Indeed, the literature on online reviews shows that it’s hugely biased and that there are a lot of issues with how folks are evaluated online. Now, we also have the fact that student evaluations have been incredibly problematic, particularly for women and people of color. And higher education hasn’t done much to rethink that fundamentally, even though we’re sitting on 30 years of evidence. That has to do a little bit with the symmetry of the situation. There might be self-selection, but that is also the self-selection that we are subjected to as faculty in some respects.

The site just went live. Are you already getting some submissions?

There have been a couple of attempts. They’ve been very tentative, so they can’t be posted, because it’s mostly tests. But it has received about 2,000 visits in the six hours that it’s been active, which I think is great, because that’s more than any of my average papers.

What conversations would you like the site to start?

The conversation that I would love it to start is how to revive shared governance in higher education. That’s really what’s behind the spirit of the website — that shared governance has been eroded over and over in the last few decades. It’s an incredibly wasteful thing to do because campuses are sitting on lots of talent in the form of staff and faculty. If it restarts this conversation about how can we recover some of the lost terrain that has been lost to this erosion of shared governance, I would be happy with that.

Are you struck in any way by the responses on social media so far? It seems that people are quite compelled by it.

I think they are compelled by the idea of being able to say something about administrators, or about their working conditions more generally, that mirrors the way that we are quantified and assessed. The response has been fascinating, because I think there is a lot of good will in the sector to build things together with higher managers and administrators. And maybe, hopefully, this triggers more discussions on how to do that effectively and recover some of that lost terrain. And I think that faculty do miss that more central role on campus — a truer form of shared governance than what we have today.

You are envisioning a world where administrators are not in this adversarial relationship with faculty. Are you saying, based on your experiences and what you’re hearing from other faculty, that things used to be better?

It’s difficult to say if it was actually ever better, because the system was very different. It was less diverse, it was based more on connections, and in that sense, it wasn’t as open as it is today. So we should expect it to be a little more bureaucratic nowadays than what it was in the past.

But in the last few decades, as universities have shifted away from public funding and depended more on tuition revenue and revenue from grants and donations, there has been a fundamental shift in the logic of campuses, where the faculty has lost quite a bit of its voice. It’s good to be very mindful of the financial troubles that modern public universities in particular are facing. But it’s also important to remember that faculty and staff are the university, not administrators, and we should have more say in how we confront these challenges.





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