When a new president, provost and several deans took office, Abilene Christian University (ACU) seized the moment of change to evaluate systems and identify opportunities for improvement. Susan Lewis, vice provost, recently spoke with us about the university’s shift toward data-informed decision making, and how updating ACU’s faculty annual review process benefitted faculty, department chairs, deans and the provost’s office.
Lewis shared that a culture shift occurred during this transition. Driven by a new strategic plan that includes a vision of innovation, and a commitment to “use quantitative, qualitative and experience-based decision making,” staff and faculty approached the update in annual reporting with a willingness to embrace change to accomplish the mission.
Evaluating Annual Reports
The new administration quickly realized faculty annual reports had become fragmented, with different schools and colleges maintaining separate requirements and documents that were overwhelmingly similar. “We wanted to combine them into a single, consistent instrument, with flexibility to accommodate the differences,” Lewis said. They did so by bringing together the deans, printing all of the existing annual reports, and discussing similarities. Once deans recognized how close they already were, they could talk through the remaining differences and agree on how to capture the information needed and effectively report on it.
Improving Annual Reporting for Faculty
The old system required faculty to set goals in June for the upcoming academic year, then maintain a document tracking progress toward those goals. Then faculty were expected to report on that progress by March 1, with that report forming the basis for their annual reviews. Lewis said that the system wasn’t perfect, so things didn’t always get done according to plan. “It’s a long time between June and March to maintain a document,” she noted.
ACU elected to set up electronic reporting to ensure faculty had a place to enter and track their goals, provide their self-evaluation and see their department chair’s response. ACU also created a place to report planned workload, something that was previously a spoken-word agreement between faculty and a chair. Documenting planned workload ensures up front that everyone has the correct expectations and is treated fairly. Faculty are now secure in agreements to deviations from the typical 4/4 load if there were a change in department chair. For example, they can document a plan to complete a full teaching load during the summer session, something that previously relied on the department chair’s memory.
Making the Case on Campus
“This was part of a systemic change, a new focus on data and tracking activities,” Lewis said. So she personally went out to departments to share the value of this shift with faculty. “It was important that I went to these meetings to give a good picture of why we were doing this,” she said.
She also spent time answering concerns. “There was a misunderstanding,” Lewis shared. Faculty saw the planned teaching and thought it reflected last year’s actual workload. “I made it clear that this was your plan for this year. We don’t need a report of last year’s work in hours and minutes.” Instead, the planned teaching is used beside faculty’s goals to get a view of how successful faculty were in achieving goals, and what circumstances, such as workload or unanticipated outside considerations, contributed to their performance.
An added benefit of the new system for faculty: immediate insight into their annual reporting, including responses from their department chair.
Empowering Chairs and Deans
The new reporting system gives chairs and deans insight into whether faculty have completed their goals for the upcoming year and when they complete self-evaluation. This ensures they can encourage faculty who entered data incorrectly or in the wrong place (or haven’t completed tasks) to get back on track. And deans know when chairs have completed their review tasks.
Benefits for the Provost
The new system has provided important insight to the provost’s office. Lewis shared four:
- Discover who’s innovating in teaching and learning: “Previously, that information stayed at the college level. It wasn’t recorded at the university level,” she said.
- Better understand assigned workload.
- Identify noteworthy teaching, service, research and scholarship that may warrant additional support.
- Provide faculty development opportunities in areas the university wishes to promote, such as experiential learning.
With a consistent process across all colleges and schools, ACU is better placed to support faculty as they work toward stated goals. In addition, ACU now captures faculty information that used to disappear into file cabinets at the college level, providing a rich new source of information to inform decisions at the university level. Interested in learning how your university can ease processes and capture the information needed for decision making? Contact us today.
ACU and Digital Measures
Founded in 1906, Abilene Christian University has six college and schools on its main campus, serving about 5,000 undergraduates, and a graduate school branch in Dallas. With about 270 full-time faculty, ACU partnered with Digital Measures in 2014 as part of a campus-wide shift toward data-informed decision making.