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UT System Releases Data on Faculty "Productivity"

Photo by KUT News

This afternoon, the University of Texas System released much-anticipated data on faculty "productivity" — noting, however, that the 821-page spreadsheet is in a raw draft form that has not been fully verified and "cannot yield accurate analysis, interpretations or conclusions."

The information in the spreadsheet, which includes professors' total compensation, tenure status and total course enrollment, was compiled at the request of the UT System Board of Regents' recently formed task force on productivity and excellence. That task force is chaired by Regent Brenda Pejovich, who is on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank.

The TPPF, along with the office of Gov. Rick Perry, have encouraged university systems to compile such data as one part of a set of "breakthrough solutions" for higher education that they debuted in 2008. Recently, this effort — and resistance to it from some in the higher ed orbit — has become a topic of discussion and debate in the media and around the legislature.

When the Texas A&M University System developed a similar spreadsheet that listed in red professors who failed to generate enough revenue to cover their compensation, it caught the attention of the Association of American Universities, an elite group of research universities that conveys coveted "tier one" status on the most prestigious institutions. AAU president Robert Berdahl, a former president of UT-Austin, sent A&M Chancellor Mike McKinney a letter counseling against following what Berdahl referred to as "ill-conceived" reforms.

In releasing the UT System data, spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said in a statement, "The collection and analysis of the data will not be used to produce what many in the news media and general public refer to as a 'red and black report.'" De Bruyn maintained that the analysis "is not intended to gauge performance on an individual basis, but rather to review university departments by institution so that the presidents of the nine UT System academic can assess the strengths of institutional departments by campus and recommend adjustments as necessary."

Many faculty members have been nervously awaited the data's release. Earlier today, Dean Neikirk, the chair of the UT-Austin Faculty Council, sent the following note to his colleagues preparing them for its release:

The Faculty Council Executive Committee members were informed last week at a UT System Faculty Advisory Council meeting that “faculty data” would be released in response to an open records request. We now know that this release will likely take place Thursday afternoon. The data that will be released will include faculty name, salary, numbers of sections and students taught, etc.; unfortunately at this time we do not know what the “etc.” includes. UT System will include a statement with the data that “The data in its current draft form is incomplete and has not yet been fully verified or cross referenced. In its present raw form it cannot yield accurate analysis, interpretations or conclusions.” Nonetheless, it is likely that within a very short time various web pages will offer an “analysis” of individual faculty “productivity”; it is reasonable to expect someone will produce a version similar to the report generated at A&M last year. Please be aware that this may occur, and feel free to inform your colleagues about the imminent data release. Most, if not all, of this information was already available, but the “convenience” of the release will no doubt invite a variety of interpretations.

Dan Formanowicz, a University of Texas-Arlington biology professor who chairs the UT System Faculty Advisory Council, told the Tribune this afternoon, "It's not the data that bothers us; it's how people use it. We're not afraid of the data."

The analysis of the data will not be solely up to the regents. "Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner and staff have agreed to assist the task force in evaluating and analyzing the data and the Coordinating Board will be fully involved the final analysis of the data," de Bruyn said in his statement.

Pejovich's task force, as well as a new task force dedicated to blended and online learning, chaired by Regent Wallace Hall, will present progress reports at next week's Board of Regents meeting.  According to de Bruyn, no formal action on these matters will be taken at that meeting, and the work of the task forces will continue through the summer months.

Here's the draft form of the data being examined.

Reeve Hamilton has interned at The Nation and The Texas Observer, for which he covered the 2009 legislative session. Most recently, he was a desk assistant at The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. A Houston native, he has a bachelor's degree in English from Vanderbilt University.