Academic assessment gone mad

Has accountability to stakeholders got out of hand? Steven Ward imagines an Orwellian world of over-assessment

February 6, 2014


To: All Academic Staff
From: The University Administration
Re: A Modest Proposal for Improving the Assessment of Academic Staff

Given the growing need for our nation’s universities to become more accountable to stakeholders, it has become increasingly apparent that our academic staff are severely under-assessed. To correct this urgent problem we will be expanding assessment beyond the usual areas of research and teaching into other areas of academic life. As is the case with previous assessment endeavours, this will produce valuable data to improve transparency and accountability and enhance the overall learning environment of our university. Many of the following recommendations are taken from the groundbreaking research and assessment instruments found in the Journal of Knowledge Evaluation (Joke), published by the Student and Teacher Assessment and Survey Institute (Stasi).

We will establish a Workplace Agency for Success and Teaching Excellence (Waste) to oversee the large number of Committees on the Recording and Assessment of Professors (Crap) that must be established in order to make these assessment efforts possible. We estimate that this office will need a staff of 60 highly trained Waste managers and appropriate Crap support staff with an annual budget of £100 million. We believe that these funds can be readily obtained through efficiency savings garnered from the large amount of instructional waste present on campus. Further savings will be obtained through the use of more contingent staff and by increasing charges to staff for renting office space and for car parking.

Here are some of the specifics of our new assessment efforts.


Given the importance of collegiality to our university, we have developed a five-page online Survey To Understand Professors’ Interactional Dynamics (Stupid), to be filled out by each academic after an encounter with another academic. Stupid will be used to assess the quantity and quality of the interaction by recording such information as appropriate eye contact, sincerity of smiling, length of gaze, level of pompousness, the use of any unintended gesture and whether the colleague looked at his or her smartphone during the encounter. The survey will also contain a two-page self-assessment section that will enable academics to reflect on their own interactional style and suggest self-improvements. Upon completion, Stupid will be forwarded to Crap for analysis and feedback and then passed on to Waste for administrative action and archiving.

David Parkins illustration (6 February 2014)


Committee work is undoubtedly a severely under-assessed component of academic life. To correct this deficiency we will be implementing a Meeting Evaluation and Satisfaction Survey (Mess). Mess will use handheld Meeting Assessment Devices (Mad), similar to those used by focus groups to judge the effectiveness of adverts, to measure the level of meeting effectiveness and effort of fellow committee members. Mads can be used to signal immediate approval or disapproval of a meeting or individual participants at precise 10-second intervals. Mess will also contain sub-indexes to measure the amount of time spent on issues such as idle chitchat, unrealistic expectations, turf wars, egocentric grandstanding and mission confusion. Response monitors will be connected to a central station in Waste where the results will be continuously monitored and recorded by Waste edumetricians. Results will be followed on large computer-generated tracking boards similar to those used to track incoming missiles. In addition, we will require all academics to be given the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a means to better assess and match personality types serving on committees. Research shows that the Curriculum Committee, for example, would function much more efficiently with a host of personalities with neurotic tendencies, while more delusional types would make valuable members of the Planning and Budget Committee.

David Parkins illustration (6 February 2014)


Another important and under-assessed aspect of academic work is professional activity within the community at large and at conferences. To correct this deficiency we will institute a Public Assessment of Best Learning Utilisation Measures (Pablum) to allow local community members and conference goers to rate lecturers and professors after a public presentation or performance. Much like the objective measures used by the website, Pablum will contain questions about the quality of the presentation, whether it contained too much mathematics or postmodern jargon and the academic’s likeability, as well as a number of “fun ratings” such as hotness, fashion sense and the whiteness of the lecturer’s smile. In cases where a scholar appears on television, we will also use Barb viewing ratings, number of tweets and retweets, or new friends on Facebook as valid indicators of the quality of his or her performance.

David Parkins illustration (6 February 2014)


We are sure that all staff would agree that the impression we make on others is a key part of our effectiveness as professors and colleagues. We will therefore establish a Standing Committee to Review and Evaluate Wardrobe and Employee Dress (Screwed). Screwed will be charged with a monthly assessment of academic clothing, accessories, eyewear, perfume/cologne, hairstyle and nail care. Given the complexity of this task and departmental dress style variations, we will further establish a number of subcommittees within Screwed to establish discipline-based learning outcomes targeted at improving individual elements of academic appearance. Screwed will establish standards on the amount of tweed worn, the appropriate shade of khakis, shirt/tie matching, comb-over effectiveness, appropriate piercing placement and the percentage of sweatshop labels deemed to be politically acceptable. We will also establish an annual Award for Excellence in Academic Dress to recognise those who excel in this area.

David Parkins illustration (6 February 2014)


Our fifth assessment effort is directed at office work time. Consultation with stakeholders has shown limited understanding of what professors do in their offices in the many hours when they do not meet with students. Advances in cognitive neuroscience and improved government spying techniques can now help us to become more transparent and accountable by recording and assessing academics’ brainwave activity at all times. All research-active academics will be hooked up to an electroencephalograph or a PET (positron emission tomography) scan monitor when working in their office or lab. The results of these brain scans will be continuously monitored and analysed by Waste management. In cases where brainwave activity has ceased, a Waste manager will immediately notify the vice-chancellor’s and the coroner’s offices and place a letter of reprimand in the academic’s human resources file. When academic staff are working from home or in the library, they will be hooked to mobile monitoring devices. These will beam data directly to Waste headquarters via circling overhead drones.

We believe that these forms of assessment will dramatically improve the performance of academic staff across our campus. We plan to introduce other assessment devices during the coming months. We appreciate your cooperation with our efforts to make our university a fully quality managed, entirely accountable and totally administered environment.

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Reader's comments (3)

Thank you for this Mad Stupid Joke. Screwed Stasi Mess Crap & Waste. I understand. But how is "Pablum" related to contemporary Higher Education Management? The wikipedia entry didn't quite enlighten me. Well said.
"In cases where brainwave activity has ceased, a Waste manager will immediately notify the vice-chancellor’s and the coroner’s offices and place a letter of reprimand in the academic’s human resources file." This is clearly a mistake. Once brainwave activity ceases, shouldn't the academic be promoted to Associate Dean for Assessment??

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