TITLE: Under Review
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: February 14, 2008 6:43 AM
Leave it to George Costanza. In the episode of
George finally has a great relationship with a wonderful
woman. Inexplicably, she likes everything about him.
Yet all he can think about is Jerry's current girlfriend,
a masseuse who can't stand George. Rather than turn his
attention to his own loving partner, he makes such a
strident effort to get the masseuse to like him that he
drives her even further away -- and loses his own girl,
who can't understand George's obsession. But it's really
quite simple: George wants everyone to like him.
I understand that not everyone will like me. But deep
inside it's easy to lose sight of that fact in the
course of daily interactions. When I
became department head,
one of my goals was to treat everyone fairly, to be open
and honest so that each member of the faculty could trust
that I was giving him or her a fair hearing and doing the
best I could to help him or her succeed within whatever
conditions we found ourselves to be operating.
That's where George's problem tries to sneak in the door.
What if I do treat everyone fairly and am open and honest;
what if I do all I can so that each faculty can trust me
and my intentions -- and still someone is unhappy with me?
Trying to do what George tried to do is a recipe for
disaster. As hard as it is sometimes, all I can do is
what I can do. I should -- must -- act in a trustworthy
manner, but I cannot make people like what I do, or like
me. That is
part of the territory.
For me, though, the occasional encounter with this truth
sucks a lot of psychic energy out of me.
This is the second semester of my third year as head,
which means that I am undergoing a performance evaluation.
I suppose the good news is that the dean feels comfortable
enough with how I've done to do the review at all, rather
than look for a new person for the next three-year
appointment. He is using an assessment instrument
developed by the
at Kansas State. The faculty were asked to judge my
performance on a number of tasks that are part of a head's
job, such as "Guides the development of sound procedures
for assessing faculty performance" and "Stimulates or
rejuvenates faculty vitality/enthusiasm". My only role
in the process was to rank each of the tasks in terms of
their importance to the job.
I look at the review as both summative and formative. The
summative side of the review is to determine how well I've
done so far and whether I should get to keep doing it. The
formative side is to give me feedback I can use to improve
for the future. As you might guess from my fondness for
so-called agile software development practices, I am much
more interested in the formative role of the assessment.
I know that my performance has not been ideal -- indeed,
it's not even been close! -- but I also know that I can
get better. Feedback from my colleagues and dean will
Though I was not asked to assess my performance on these
issues, I do have a sense of my job performance. I have
been only marginal in managing day-to-day affairs. That
task requires a certain kind of focus and energy that I've
had to develop on the job. I've also had to learn how to
respond effectively in the face of a
of data, information, and requests. I have also been only
marginal in "leadership" tasks, the ones that require I
take initiative to create new opportunities for faculty
and students to excel. This is an area where I have had
a lot of ideas and discussed possibilities with the faculty,
but finding time to move many of these ideas forward has
In an area of particular importance to our department given
its history, I have done a reasonable job of communicating
information to the faculty, treating individual faculty
fairly, and encouraging conversation. I recognized these
tasks as primary challenges when I accepted my appointment
and, while I had hoped to do better, I've done well so far
to keep this dynamic front and center.
The results of the faculty survey are in; they arrived in
my mailbox yesterday. I decided not to read the results
right away... I have been a little under the weather and
wanted to preserve my mental energy for work. The last
session of my 5-week bash scripting course meets today,
and I would rather be focused on wrapping up the class
than on the data from my evaluation. I can tell myself
not to fall victim to George's masseuse problem, but
sometimes that is more easily done with conscious choices
about how and when to engage relationships.
This afternoon, I'll look at the data, see what they can
help me learn, and think about the future.