When hiring and assessing faculty, research-oriented academic
institutions heavily emphasize publication output. But is this the best way to hire and promote the best candidates? In many cases, the answer is no. Rather,
this approach rewards researchers in well-established fields who give their undivided attention to
research, and it favors academics who follow linear, uninterrupted full-time academic careers.
That puts at distinct disadvantage those professors whose academic achievements are in newer, more innovative
fields; those whose main achievements are in teaching; or those who have taken sabbaticals or pursued part-time
employment so that they would have time to care for loved ones. In short, schools that evaluate faculty based
primarily on publication output can develop a skewed view of what the ideal faculty candidate looks like.
Even more troubling, this measure ignores "third-mission activities," in which faculty engage with the local
community, address social challenges, contribute to the transfer of university knowledge to market, and disseminate
knowledge to nonacademic audiences. As third-mission activities become increasingly important to universities,
more schools need to incorporate them into their evaluation procedures.
At the Vienna University of Economics
and Business (WU) in Austria, we asked
ourselves whether, in to day's complex
and increasingly interconnected world,
we could justify reducing an applicant's
performance to a publication list. Ultimately,
our answer was no.
That's why we now assess faculty
performance across many dimensions.
We refer to our model as "uLike," which
stands for universitiire Leistungsbeurteilung
im Kontext entwickeln. In English,
this translates to "Academic Performance
Assessment in Context."
More and more, we're seeing three
elements on the resumes oftoday's
academic scholars that make it unfair--and unwise--for us to ignore all factors
except research output:
Nontraditional career paths. Researchers might have earned PhDs
later in life, perhaps because of previous
careers in business, or they might
have taken breaks in their careers to
act as caregivers. Their careers could
have been interrupted by relocations or
unforeseen events in their personal lives.
Traditional systems of faculty evaluation
often do not take such common career
detours into account, at a time when the
number of faculty who are affected by
such factors is likely to increase. Today,
both women and men are increasingly
taking time off to raise children, and baby
boomers are caring for their children and
elderly parents simultaneously. Even
millennials and members of Gen Z are
following informal paths in their early
careers, often by necessity: According
to a 2012 study from the University of
Western Australia, the number of secure
early-career jobs is decreasing.
"Academic age." Each professor has
not only a biological age, but also what
we call an academic age, which refers
to the number of years a professor has
spent actively pursuing academic work.
For example, consider two professors
who both earned their PhDs the same
year. One has produced eight publications
while working full-time, while the
other has produced five publications
while working part-time. In absolute
terms, the full-time professor has
produced more work. However, the part-time professor has had less time to
conduct research; she or he is both academically
younger and potentially more
productive. In this scenario, measuring
each researcher's performance by publication
output alone would not be neutral
or objective. We also must account for
the period of time each candidate had to
accomplish the work.
Teaching and third-mission activities.
As mentioned above, the performance
portfolio of today's university
must include not only research production,
but also broader contributions to
society. Therefore, faculty recruitment
policies also should consider applicants'
teaching and third-mission activities,
including achievements related to university
management and development,
committee membership, management
of academic units, conference organization,
journal paper review, knowledge
transfer, media appearances, participation in public events, and commitments
to community service and social impact.
CHANGES TO OUR CRITERIA
In 2012-2013, a working group of full
professors at WU began developing an
alternative performance assessment
model for the school. As a first step, they
created a new job profile for all WU faculty,
which included criteria in research,
teaching, and third-mission activities.
This profile also was applied to all new
hires going forward.
In 2015, with the help of the Rector's
Council, we re-evaluated our search
criteria once again, this time to include
each candidate's biographical history
and career paths. We were inspired by
the method of faculty evaluation used by
many universities in Australia and New
Zealand, where faculty's performance is
evaluated relative to their opportunities.
This method does not assume that all faculty follow traditional linear, uninterrupted
academic career paths, largely
because that career pattern no longer
matches that of many of our professors.
The new job profile outlines the
expectations WU has for faculty in
the areas of teaching, research, and
third-mission activities, and the school
conducts regular evaluations. Above-average
salary increases are granted only
to those professors who excel in two of
these three areas and who meet average
standards in the remaining dimension.
If faculty members are seeking promotion,
we consider their academic age and
biographical factors that could impact
their performance, and we compare
their performance to that of other full
professors who work in similar fields
and are at similar stages of their careers.
By clearly defining our criteria and
the broad spectrum of responsibilities
that we associate with a professorship,
we positively manage faculty expectations.
"Over the last decade, research
output has become the dominant goal
for academics on all career levels," says
Michael Miiller-Camen, professor of
human resource management at WU.
"WU's job profile for full professors tries
to reverse this development by proposing
that professors have to demonstrate
excellence in all three areas. As a result,
the performance perspective of WU
professors has broadened."
MORE NUANCED RECRUITMENT
We have made three significant changes
to the language we use in our public
announcements of open positions.
One of the most telling changes is the
requirement that states that applicants
must have "an outstanding publication
record in the relevant fields." Here, we
have added the phrase "commensurate
with academic age" to clarify that we
consider how much time each candidate
has had to publish.
In addition to "a record in attracting
and conducting third-party funded
research" and "experience in empirical research," we now ask applicants to
demonstrate "teaching qualifications at
the undergraduate and graduate level."
Finally, we ask applicants to highlight
their "gender mainstreaming skills,"
because our full professors must accept
leadership roles with respect to the university's
equal opportunities policy.
Once we begin reviewing applications,
according to WU's bylaws, we
are required to appoint at least three
reviewers-including at least two
external reviewers-to evaluate faculty
candidates. The reviewers' highest-rated
candidates are invited to a public
hearing, after which the search committee
proposes a short list. The rector then
decides which candidate to approach
with an offer.
We have drafted documents to provide
both our search committee members
and our reviewers with reference
points throughout the process and
remind them of their responsibility in
evaluating faculty candidates. These
documents include an evaluation sheet
that breaks down each requirement
in the language of the job posting. In
addition, guideline and assessment
sheets direct the committee to consider
candidates' academic age, interruptions
in their professional careers, reduction
of working hours, and delays in completing
individual educational stages due to
caring for children or family members.
The documents also remind them
to consider candidates' involvement in
civil society activities and time spent in
leadership and service positions. At no
time can the committee use candidates'
future intentions against them, whether
they might plan to go on parental leave
or opt for parental part-time hours.
Finally, the committee members
are reminded that they must evaluate
a candidate's "bibliometric data
related to publication based on a
comprehensive selection of parameters
such as teaching, thesis supervision,
knowledge transfer, and research and
WU's Equal Opportunities Committee
oversees the entire recruitment process.
Guaranteeing transparency at every step
is crucial, because Austrian law gives
candidates the right to file complaints
against alleged discrimination with a
government anti-discrimination board.
See "Three Candidates, Three
Assessments" below for an example of
how our committee and reviewers might
evaluate three representative candidates
using the uLike model.