The Tyranny of Metrics

InsideHigherEd’s interview with Jerry Muller about his new book. Published by the high impact-factor Princeton University Press. One excerpt:

Q: Some colleges, government agencies and businesses promote tools to evaluate faculty productivity — number of papers written, number of citations, etc. What do you make of this use of metrics?

A: Here too, metrics have a place, but only if they are used together with judgment. There are many snares. The quantity of papers tells you nothing about their quality or significance. In some disciplines, especially in the humanities, books are a more important form of scholarly communication, and they don’t get included in such metrics. Citation counts are often distorted, for example by including only journals within a particular discipline, thereby marginalizing works that have a transdisciplinary appeal. And then of course evaluating faculty productivity by numbers of publications creates incentives to publish more articles, on narrower topics, and of marginal significance. In science, it promotes short-termism at the expense of developing long-term research capacity.

More on the $600K Brad Shelton has dropped on Academic Analytics so far here.

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6 Responses to The Tyranny of Metrics

  1. Dog says:

    So all of this Metric Fetish Obsession (MFO – how ’bout that?) seems quite irrelevant to me with respect to pay raises that are mostly union determined (and of course we have fallen behind after the declared victory of July 2014).

    If MFO is to be our guideline, then the dynamic range in the merit pool most increase to match the large dynamic range in MFO – since we can not give negative raises. I am quite certain, based on the last few years, the the merit pool size will unlikely to ever be as large as 5% so that those MFO faculty that are way above average will get a significant raise.

    In my own MFO case, I know there were times when this happened when the merit raise pool had dynamic range.

    Those days are long gone.

    These days I think we should stick to ATB supplanted by external equity. Of course, that is not going to happen.

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    • Whoa to the snifflers says:

      Actually, your last comment is wrong DOG. Our union, which you clearly do not understand, DID negotiate an external equity and ATB raise which will follow next year’s ATB and equity raise. If you have not noticed, seven years of union contracts with the UO bring seven consecutive years of raises averaging 24% over those 7 years for all faculty – all in a state with severe budget setbacks for education and tuition hikes that are capping out. The 24% average excludes locking in promotion raises, post-tenure review raises and other benefits. Tell me when that has happened in the past.

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      • Dog says:

        I don’t understand the union

        the past


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  2. stay the course says:

    More B- grade management. Over priced and bad at their jobs.

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  3. Old Man says:

    George of Streisinger Hall hated to write papers. He responsibly submitted enough to keep has grants active, but put his primary effort into developing zebra fish as a model for the study of vertebrate development. There is no metric for the extraordinary effort that led to the first cloning of a vertebrate and the dawn of a worldwide scientific industry. His close colleagues understood that such work, by its very nature, is an act of unpublishable faith and failures. Fortunately, the Administrators relied on the testimony of those colleagues.

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  4. Big XII says:

    The funding model for higher education has pushed administrators to think like business people. Right now in the United States most upper level administrators feel they are fighting for survival, hence all of the business-like practices that creep in. As that funding model has flipped on its head (from roughly 70% state/30% student support to 30% stat/70% student) higher ed began acting more a like a business.

    Recruiting and retention staff in student affairs exploded. I will bet you have 8 million Associate and Assistant Directors of “whatever” in Student Affairs and another 4-5 million Associate and Assistant Deans of “something” running around campus. There is likely the greatest source of your “bloat.” Meanwhile your core functions (faculty, finance and HR, facilities, IT) have not grown nearly as much as your student body and staff levels. This is a national disease brought on by poor state funding to public universities. It has infected so many universities.

    If funding ever comes back and we regain our senses as a country around higher education being a public good, those enterprises created by the business model will have to shrink.

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