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Academic Analytics: Faculty Resolution at SAS-NB Faculty Meeting

Submitted by Staff on Fri, 12/04/2015 - 14:19

Academic Analytics, a private database contracted to measure faculty productivity at Rutgers, may undermine the tenure process, while narrowing the range of scholarship.

Faculty who belong to School of Arts and Sciences (SAS)-New Brunswick passed this resolution about Academic Analytics on Monday, 14 December 2015: Resolution Critical of Academic Analytics

On Friday, December 4, 2015, Rutgers AAUP-AFT President David M. Hughes wrote to tenured and tenure-track faculty members at Rutgers: 

Dear Colleagues:

Over the past year or so, many of you have shared concerns regarding the Administration's use of a database owned by Academic Analytics, LLC. That firm tallies our productivity – measured quantitatively on the basis of articles, books, citations, awards, grants, grant dollars, and conference proceedings – and compares us against a global mean. The more details we’ve learned about Academic Analytics, the more convinced the union is that faculty must act to limits its use.

Academic Analytics collects and crunches this information from publicly accessible websites relating to more than 270,000 professors. In April, the Union invited Professor John Holmwood (Sociology, Nottingham) to present on the deleterious effects of such metrics in the UK. His talk and related information may be found here

At Rutgers, Academic Analytics seems to have had very little impact so far. The Administration has been using the database since Richard Edwards signed an agreement with the firm in May 2013. The Union obtained that contract under the Open Public Records Act, and we have posted it here. That document indicates that the university is paying $492,500 over four years for the service. The contract also stipulates rules under which most faculty will not have access to the data. So far, our Administration has given passwords to deans, some department chairs, and some graduate program directors in the GSNB.

This secretive process raises the first and most pressing concern. Under the collective bargaining agreement signed with the Union last spring, the Administration committed to the openness of personnel files. Thus, the candidate for tenure and promotion may examine – and indicate errors in – all relevant documents in a personnel file, excluding only the outside letters. By the same token, no administrator or evaluator may consult Academic Analytics in the course of assessing a faculty member for advancement. Unofficially, some deans have already pledged to restrain themselves in this way. Executive Dean Robert Goodman even put that promise in writing

In that spirit, the Union is seeking to guarantee the exclusion of Academic Analytics legally, explicitly, and comprehensively across the Rutgers system. On 16 December, we will meet with upper-level management to propose 1) that the Administration exclude Academic Analytics data from all tenure, reappointment, and promotion considerations; and 2) that the Administration distribute one’s own data to every faculty member covered by the database. The second point would give faculty the ability to correct errors. It also accords with the evolving best practice regarding publicly collected “big data,” i.e. that affected individuals have the right to scrutinize and challenge the records. (See Paragraph #13 here.)

Many of you have raised a further set of concerns relating to the use of Academic Analytics to evaluate departments and programs. The Administration absolutely intends to employ that database for this purpose. To allocate funds for curricula and faculty lines, some deans and chancellors appear to be comparing our units with discipline-specific or CIC-specific benchmarks. This process seems to have advanced farthest in New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School, New Brunswick.

In principle, few of us would object to making such comparisons. The Academic Analytics database, however, suffers from systematic flaws that render it unsuitable and possibly dangerous. To list only a few such deficits, the seven measures mentioned above fail to count numerous journals, many granting agencies, and various forms of collaboration on grants. I have attached my own original and corrected data – obtained after an Open Public Records request – as an example. Most fundamentally, the entirely quantitative approach conflates apples and oranges and runs roughshod over the nuanced peer judgment so characteristic of Academia thus far. Academic Analytics falls far short of the evolving standards for scholarly bibliometrics, as presented in the Leiden Manifesto.

What consequences might flow from such a warped set of metrics? I can easily imagine department chairs and their faculties attempting to “game the system,” that is to publish in the journals, obtain the grants, and collaborate in the ways that Academic Analytics counts. Indeed, a chair might feel obligated, for the good of her department, to push colleagues to compete in the race. If so, then we all lose. Faculty would put less energy into teaching, service, and civic engagement – all activities ignored by the database. Scholarship would narrow to fit the seven quantifiable grooves. We would lose something of the diversity, heterodoxy, and innovation that is, again, so characteristic of Academia thus far. This firm creates incentives to encourage exactly that kind of decline.

So, in my capacity as a member of the SAS-NB faculty, I have joined with numerous co-sponsors to propose a resolution that would prohibit the application of Academic Analytics in decisions affecting the composition of the faculty, graduate and undergraduate curricula, and grant-writing. The draft resolution is here. I urge all of you who are voting members of the SAS-NB faulty to attend the meeting. It will run from 2-4pm on Monday 14 December in Voorhees Hall, room 105 (College Ave. Campus).

If adopted, this resolution would only affect the School of Arts and Sciences, New Brunswick. Depending on the outcome of our labor-management discussion on the 16th, I may be contacting those of you in other schools to see if you would like to pass a similar resolution.

Thank you for wading through this message. I wrote it as concisely as I could. Complexity now seems to come with the territory of higher education. As we saw with the Pearson contract, the Administration is now out-sourcing core functions to private firms in secret deals. It takes all of us – scrutinizing and analyzing as scholars do – to monitor and protect our beloved university. 

In solidarity,

David M. Hughes
President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
11 Stone Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08904
Phone: (732) 964-1000

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