volume 40, number 5
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Letters to the Editor

Steven Houser, Professor and Chairperson of Physiology, School of Medicine

April 6, 2010

Evaluating Teaching, Scholarship and Service at Temple University School of Medicine: Deeds Speak Louder Than Words

I am writing in response to a recent article written by Professor Michael Sirover and published in the Faculty Herald. Dr. Sirover takes issue with the Performance Matrix used at the Medical School to help evaluate the effort of Basic Science faculty. He suggests that the matrix is flawed and undervalues service, thereby documenting the “true feelings” of the University. In my opinion Professor Sirover’s article was poorly researched and filled with inaccuracies. In my view he has misrepresented the facts regarding almost all aspects of faculty evaluation at the School of Medicine. In the paragraphs below I try to clarify things for other faculty members who may have read his article.

 

First, Professor Sirover states that Dean Daly, and his Associates, Drs. Kozera and Orth, developed a matrix to help Chairs and Research Center Directors measure faculty performance. Actually the matrix was developed by me, when I served as the Senior Associate Dean of Research at the Medical School. Drs. Orth and Kozera make important contributions to our School but they were not responsible for developing the performance matrix.  In addition, many faculty, both research and teaching, were involved in the process of developing our Matrix. 

Dr. Sirover understands that faculty increments are all merit based at the Medical School, without any cost-of-living adjustment. Therefore, the School developed a tool, the performance matrix, to assess faculty professional activities and productivity. When I served as Senior Associate Dean of Research at the Medical School, Dean Daly asked if I, with the help of Basic Science Department Chairs and Research Center Directors, would develop a system that would measure basic science faculty activities, namely scholarly work (research grants and peer reviewed publications), teaching (Medical, Dental, Podiatric and Graduate courses and graduate student mentoring) and service. Evaluating performance is difficult under the best of circumstances and our goal was to rely on parameters that were easily and objectively measured, and also reflected those core activities that are essential for a faculty member to attain tenure and be promoted. Parameters in the matrix include teaching contact hours, publications, research support, graduate student mentoring and service. Contrary to Dr. Sirover’s statement of “the total number of points is 400”, there is no “cap” to the total number of points one can earn. The more work one does the more points one can earn. Faculty members with multiple research grants, numerous publications, multiple graduate students, substantial publication records, significant teaching loads AND heavy service commitments have all received high matrix scores each year. The Medical School uses these data to rank faculty members across departments and recommend annual merit increments to Department Chairs.  Chairs then use these recommendations as PART of their decision making process for annual compensation decisions. Faculty members meet with their Chairs to discuss their matrix score and plans for the future. If matrix scores are low, Chairs can work with faculty members to help them make a more appropriate contribution to the School and the University. The matrix is not perfect, but I believe it captures most faculty activities. During its initial development the matrix underwent review by an ad hoc committee comprised of basic science faculty members with strengths in teaching, research and service. It was also reviewed by the Dean’s Advisory committee of faculty members and was presented for discussion and suggestions at the Medical Faculty Senate. This matrix has been used now for three years, with FY10 its fourth year, and each year it has undergone some revisions so that the activities of the Medical School faculty are measured as accurately and fairly as possible.

As a Basic Science Chairperson at the Medical School with more than 30 years here at Temple, I find the Performance Matrix to be a valuable tool. As a Chair, it tells me how much a faculty member is teaching, the quality and quantity of their scholarly work, and their service to the Department, the Medical School, the University, their professional organizations and the scientific and educational community. In my Department we have outstanding researchers who do a modest amount of teaching and outstanding educators who have substantial teaching loads and do little bench research. Almost all faculty members in the Physiology Department have a significant service function. I certainly value the service that faculty members perform and I think it can and does represent a significant component of their effort.

 

Dr. Sirover suggests that Service is an insignificant portion of the Matrix Score. Unfortunately, the data he uses to form this conclusion are inaccurate and therefore his statements are misleading. Dr. Sirover states that the total number of available matrix points is about 400. As I stated above, there is no cap to the total number of points one can earn. The more one does, the higher the matrix score. The average Performance Matrix score last year for Basic Science Faculty in the Medical School was 127, and these faculty members were recommended for average increments. Dr. Sirover is correct that for most faculty the service component was capped at 20 points, representing 17% of the annual effort (about one day for service per week). For the majority of the faculty members in the Physiology Department, this system adequately captures their service effort and in my view encompasses a reasonable amount of time to commit to service.  Importantly, if a faculty member has a greater than normal service responsibility, I, as Chair of the Department, or the faculty member can ask the Dean to allow more than 20 points on their matrix for service. The Dean has approved many of these requests at the School of Medicine.

As I tried to develop a fair Performance Matrix for the faculty at the School of Medicine, service was the most difficult activity to quantify. Contact hours can be quantified and grants and publications are easily counted. However, service is more elusive. I continue to try to be fair and I know Dean Daly has spent many hours with chairs, faculty and his staff working on ways to continually improve this evaluation tool. In addition, the Dean’s office has offered new school-wide service roles for our faculty and they will receive additional credit beyond the 20-point cap for service on their matrix. These deeds do not fit with Dr. Sirover’s words that service is not valued at the Medical School..

As a Department Chair I am also evaluated with a performance matrix. I like the fact that I am objectively evaluated based on what I do. I think my evaluation has been fair and it forces me to think about what I have accomplished each year and what I hope to accomplish in the future. I like the fact that there are no points for being tall or likeable and that no points are deducted for being short or difficult (thank goodness). After the data are collected, there will obviously be people at the top and people at the bottom of the matrix. As a Chair I use these data to make decisions regarding salary, to help me mentor junior faculty, and to identify those faculty who just do not have enough to do. Unfortunately, there are a few Medical School faculty members who have very low matrix scores and their Chairs have recommended to the School that they not receive a merit increment in salary.  In order for a faculty member to receive no salary increment the Chair of the Department must concur with the School’s recommendation.

I think it is important for faculty members at other Schools to have some context regarding what the School of Medicine considers to be average effort. As an example, a faculty member at another Temple School who teaches two 3 credit courses in the fall and spring semesters (12 credit hours), and does nothing else, would receive a matrix score of about 200 with the Medical School matrix system (168 points for contact hours and points for being the course director). The faculty members at the School of Medicine who have been recommended for no merit increase usually have matrix scores of less than about 60 (and are on an 11 month contract). This is roughly equivalent to teaching one 3 credit course per year. To me, those few individuals with these matrix scores, while not “worthless” as Dr. Sirover contends, have the time to do more for the School and the University. As I stated earlier, Dean Daly and his staff have developed new service roles for faculty members and I hope those with time available will take advantage of this opportunity.

Given the current state of the economy in the US and the number of workers who have lost their jobs or have had their salaries reduced, it is difficult for me to look a Pennsylvania taxpayer in the eyes and say that an effort that represents less than 50 student contact hours per year is a full time job worthy of a salary increase.

Steven Houser,

Professor and Chairperson of Physiology, School of Medicine