A Response to the UO’s Goal of Measuring Excellence

Dear Provost Banavar,

We applaud your call to develop meaningful metrics that will help us evaluate “how well we are collectively contributing to the university’s mission.” We are proud to work for the University of Oregon and we support the vision of our University defined by our mission statement:  “The University of Oregon is a comprehensive public research university committed to exceptional teaching, discovery, and service.” As stated, our vision “is to be a preeminent and innovative public research university encompassing the humanities and arts, the natural and social sciences, and the professions. We seek to enrich the human condition through collaboration, teaching, scholarship, experiential learning, creative inquiry, scientific discovery, outreach, and public service.”

The faculty chose to come to the UO because it is a tier-one research university. We all gain by the current efforts to strengthen the research mission of the UO. Focusing our institutional commitment to research will make us more competitive in the recruitment of the best faculty and students, will aid in the retention of our current faculty, and will strengthen our ability to train and inspire students at all stages in their educational development.

Many of our faculty also chose to come to the UO because it is a comprehensive public university committed to “serving the state, nation, and world.” Many of us stay precisely because of the multiple opportunities to serve our students and the larger community: this service includes mentoring first-generation college students, developing and leading interdisciplinary study abroad programs to ensure that our students become global citizens, working with communities locally and around the world to plan urban environments that are more livable and sustainable, offering our expertise to local arts and cultural organizations across Oregon.

Our concern, as a faculty who take seriously the charge to serve the local, national and global communities, is that the current discussions of how best to measure institutional excellence is focused exclusively on research production and loses sight of our broader mission as a public university. In prioritizing research and educational efficiencies as the primary metrics used in institutional planning, the Administration is incentivizing a model of faculty productivity that is likely to be corrosive to our larger public mission of “educating the whole person,” serving the public, and undertaking major research projects that have the potential to be truly transformative. We, the faculty, students and larger community, will all lose if we as an institution sacrifice our mission as a public university to define ourselves as a research university measured by a system of metrics that values short-term productivity goals over long-term impact.

Many on the faculty have responded with apprehension to the Administration’s call to develop research metrics not because we think our research is lacking, but because we fear that the increasing emphasis on research productivity will incentivize behaviors that will be detrimental to our mission as a public university. How excellent can we as a public university claim to be if the entire faculty, in order to protect our departments in a time of restrained resources, decides we can no longer invest our time in the community or in our students in order to devote even more of our time to research and creative excellence? How excellent can we be if faculty in the creative arts and professions shift their focus from artistic production and the individual mentoring of students in developing their creative and technical skills to producing research because it can be more easily compared rendered as a metric?

We do not disagree with the need for metrics for evaluating the success of individual departments of for developing institutional plans for investing resources. We do ask the Administration develop meaningful metrics that support the faculty’s desire to make the UO a great public university and a great research university. To achieve this goal, we ask for a more thoughtful process in developing broad-based institutional metrics that measure excellence in all the areas that define our mission as a public research university.

To make these metrics meaningful within the UO institutional context and when measuring our success in relationship to comparator institutions, we ask that any metrics we develop provide a 360-degree measure of each department to take account of differential teaching and service loads across the university. Such a system of metrics should take into account:

Research and creative output, including but not limited to quantity, critical assessment of venues, and qualitative assessments of research methodologies (for example, whether the data was compiled using archival research or published data) and innovation; awards and grants; scholarly talks.

Teaching and Mentoring, number of courses and students taught in formal teaching load; numbers of students mentored in independent studies, undergraduate and graduate creative projects, theses, dissertations, and field exams supervised; success of students as measured through special awards, acceptance into graduate or prestigious service programs, or jobs.

Service to students, department, university, academic field, and larger community.

As much work as it will be, we ask that if the Administration commit resources to developing qualitative metrics that measure our faculty’s contributions to teaching and service. Teaching and service loads are highly uneven within departments and across the university and have a direct impact on the production of research and creative works. Comparisons of research / artistic productivity between UO departments and with comparator departments without these other metrics provide an incomplete picture of departmental strengths.

Professor Maram Epstein
East Asian Languages and Literature