Perspectives: IPRM

This article is from the WLUFA Advocate January 2015 3.3

Categorically, a Mistake

Peter Eglin, Sociology

The IPRM project misconceives the nature of the academy. It
assumes that the evaluation of academic work can be done by
extracting and abstracting measures of performance from the
actual practices that constitute that work in the local contexts
in which those practices have their home. How good a given
program is, whether it is worth enhancing, maintaining or
minimizing, depends on an indefinitely large range of consid-
erations, including irremediably contested assessment criteria,
and potential effects in the lives of students or the society
generally that may not be apparent for decades. The idea that
such determinations can be made by an abstracted measure-
ment exercise involving collecting “data” on such things as
“student demand” is simply preposterous.

This does not mean that evaluation cannot be done. Obviously
not, for it is continually done. But its doing is traditionally and
properly located in close affiliation to–indeed, as part and
parcel of–the very activities it evaluates. This is most truly the
case for the base activity of the university, namely the thinking
work that goes into what Ernest Boyer called the scholarships
of teaching, research (discovery and integration) and applica-
tion. Each academic evaluates their own work as a constitu-
tive part of doing it – whether preparing classes, revising
manuscripts, devising new experimental tests or whatever. In
turn, fellow practitioners in critical communities evaluate one
another’s work when presented for curriculum review or
publication. And whole programs are evaluated by depart-
ments and their curriculum committees, faculty councils and
their curriculum committees, academic planning committees,
senates and periodic review committees. At all levels,
disciplinary or faculty colleagues do the evaluating and
academic criteria are primary. Resource implications are
surely considered but academic criteria come first. Moreover,
what might be called “disciplinary respect” is accorded each
lower level of this decision chain by each higher level. Thus
do academic institutions function.

Two implications for the IPRM project follow. First, we have
no need for another system of program evaluation as a well
established, academically based, collegial and democratic sys-
tem already exists in the university. But secondly, and more
profoundly, the idea that the fruits of this institutional web
of evaluative decisions can be captured, or replaced, by a set
of administratively – driven, abstractly formulated categories
of assessment removed from the local, institutional practices
that give them meaning is a category mistake of the first order.
The value of the academic activities thereby assessed is lost.
The very procedure designed to measure the phenomenon in question
loses it.

See also Peter’s article on The WLUFA Blog
at:
Corporate Rule, Universities and the IPRM

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