Coronations and Assassinations: Finding the Appropriate Role for Faculty in the Evaluation of Administrators


It has been ten years since changes in the California Education Code authorized faculty to have a meaningful contribution to the evaluation of administrators, and eight years since the Academic Senate published two important papers on the evaluation of administrators, Administrator Evaluation: Toward a Model Academic Administrator Evaluation Policy [1992] and Chief Executive Officer Evaluation: Toward a Model Chief Executive Officer Evaluation [1993].1

Certainly, "it is the intent of the Legislature that evaluation of administrators include, to the extent possible, faculty evaluation" [Education Code 87663 (i)]. While the original intent language is enshrined in code, it parallels the explicit participation of students in faculty evaluation contained within that same section [Education Code 87633(g)]. Further, as a minimum condition for operation, governing boards of community colleges "shall give reasonable consideration to recommendations and positions developed by students regarding district and college policies and procedures pertaining to the hiring and evaluation of faculty, administration, and staff" [Title 5 51023.7]. Included elsewhere in those legal mandates are the right to see the contracts under which administrators are hired and a demand (as yet unmet) that the various professional organizations establish minimal qualifications for academic administrators.

It appears, however, that these are laws more honored in the breach than in the observance; even the Community College League of California, in its trustee's handbook, seems to disregard these legal provisions, claiming instead that "Generally, the trustee's evaluation of the CEO and his or her self-evaluation are usually sufficient" [Trustee Handbook, 2000, Chapter 25, p. 127].

Because most faculty report being specifically excluded from or generally ignored in the evaluation of their college's administration, the Academic Senate invited representatives of an administrator's union, a district vice chancellor, and faculty senate representatives to participate in a breakout at the Fall Plenary Session. The objective was to begin discussions of appropriate faculty involvement in the evaluation of administrators. While the Academic Senate publications and positions may differ from the comments of some participants, their observations are shared below.

Many evaluations arise, as Diane McKay of West Valley Mission College noted, out of a particular crisis or in response to the "thin funnel" approach wherein presidents are evaluated only by the board and keep their jobs as long as they please only the board. Both approaches are wholly unsatisfactory.

Charlie Bossler concurred, observing that the evaluation of all too many administrators results in either "coronations or assassinations." Bossler, Dean of Students at Los Angeles Harbor College and President, Administrators Union (Teamsters), said that deans in their district organized in response to the increasing collateral power of faculty unions. Currently, 90% of the grievances that come to the deans' union concern the evaluation of administrators, though this was not the original reason for unionizing the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) deans. In fact, to his surprise, many administrators have never been evaluated. Complicating any evaluation procedure is the general lack of clarity about what deans actually do beyond their more general job description. Because salaries, particularly those connected with merit pay, are dependent upon an employee's adherence to stated responsibilities, duty statements become critical.

In the case of the LACCD, the college presidents' salary scale is broken into tiers (ranges), and to move from one to the next requires that a president not just perform satisfactorily but must exceed expectations. Because rational individuals can disagree in making evaluative judgments, including whether or not an individual has exceeded expectations, determining the criteria of and process for evaluation is crucial.

The evaluation of administrators, then, must build upon a clear, collaborative process for selecting administrators and building a pool of talented administrators who can move into vacated positions. Peter Landsberger, currently the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources for LACCD and former president of the College of San Mateo, explained his perspective on evaluations as he approaches negotiations with Bossler's union. He delineated two kinds of evaluation, informal and formal, both of which he believes should be part of the development of competent administrators.

Informal evaluation is more impressionistic, more "private" in Landsberger's words, smaller in its scope, does not include formally collected documentation, is often conducted more frequently, and is relatively risk-free. This method can be very useful and can take a variety of forms-talks, quiet reviews, shadowing, even videotapes. Such informal evaluation can develop potential and encourage professional growth. In this sense, informal evaluation is formative. Official evaluation, on the other hand, has both summative and formative elements, is formally and systematically conducted and carefully documented, is more public in its prescribed inclusion of others (both internal and external evaluators), and has the potential to affect employment status; hence there is perceived risk. Because of this element, formal evaluation may not always be particularly effective at promoting growth, though it does document performance over a prescribed period of time. Evaluation has a spectrum of purposes, some of which are at odds with others: recognition of outstanding performance, improvement of satisfactory performance and promoting growth, identification of weak performance to prompt improvement; and documentation of unsatisfactory performance. Thus, Landsberger notes, neither type of evaluation can do the job of the other very well. He further observed that most people are more comfortable with informal evaluations than with formal evaluations that require more resources and are less effective in nurturing growth.

Who, then, are the participants in a formal evaluation of an administrator? Clearly, because the process involves data collection, synthesis and analysis of that data, and judgment arising from that analysis, the process must distinguish between those who provide information and evidence, those who gather the relevant materials, and those who must ultimately evaluate its meaning and pass judgment upon their employee. Bossler insisted that faculty should not run but must have a role in administrator evaluations; he asserted that it is foolish for an administrator to think that he or she can manage faculty without any faculty input into evaluation. The law clearly indicates that faculty and students should be involved "to the degree possible." Faculty who are directly supervised by the administrator or have served on a committee chaired by the evaluatee, who understand the responsibilities of the position being evaluated, and who have a clear understanding of institutional expectations are most likely to have significant perspectives to bring to the process. Student representatives who have had direct contact with the administrator or whose activities were overseen by the evaluatee are also important contributors. Finally, those who are responsible for remedial action should be considered in forming the evaluation committee.

As Bossler has pointed out, among the first tasks in the evaluation process is the need to determine the duties of the administrator being evaluated. Job descriptions, both in general and for a particular college are part of the public record; individuals' contracts and goals should be made part of the public evaluation process, though Elton Hall correctly observed that even asking to see an administrator's contract may trigger undue anxiety. In LACCD, though evaluations are not a contractual matter, the administrators' union, concerned about establishing a rational negotiation process, asked its members to submit the duty statements alluded to above.

Currently, the LACCD deans are working on these documents.

The West Valley Mission District has created an evaluation process for district administrators, including the chancellor, vice-chancellors, and college presidents; the process involves the academic, classified and student senates from each college, as well as "input from administrators . . . and 3-5 members of the community," according to their adopted board policy. In McKay's district, an outside consultant was employed to develop a template for evaluation and to suggest how to use it. She emphasized that if the objective is to enable administrators to be successful, then the process has to be honorable. She cautioned that in cases where an interim administrator is being evaluated, the temptation to shorten both the hiring process and the evaluation process must be resisted, otherwise, the entire process is compromised and rendered less credible.

Landsberger warned that evaluators must not prematurely assert that someone does a good or bad job. Clearly, ad hominem attacks and irrelevant data should be excluded, and any evaluation should contain useful recommendations to be implemented. To illustrate, Hall drew attention to a feature of Disneyworld's management evaluation: in that recursive process, evaluators and the evaluatee develop an annual action plan, based on the previous evaluation, that in turn is reviewed in the next evaluation. Such strategies, Landsberger said, then permit that a judgment be made: does this person currently meet expectations or not meet expectations.

Of utter importance, Hall reminded the group, is the shared understanding of what will be evaluated, what modality of evaluation will be used, and who will have access to the received data. The confidentiality of the process is a delicate issue. Confidentiality is important in protecting the rights of the individual being evaluated; yet faculty may perceive that the evaluating team is hiding behind the cloak of confidentiality. On the other hand, to be viewed as honest and complete, evaluations must also protect the evaluator. If the evaluator is identified or the evaluation itself made public, however, neither will be wholly honest or complete.

To address those concerns, Landsberger points to research that identifies three components of evaluation. The first component, Data Collection, might include past evaluations, self-evaluation materials, portfolio submissions, formal observations, and data collection instruments directed at faculty, peers or focus groups. Such instruments should be worked out in advance. If they "stick to the basics," these instruments should not be controversial. The second component, Synthesis/Analysis, should be conducted by the evaluation committee. During this phase, irrelevant or anomalous data is filtered, and recurrent issues or themes emerge. On the basis of this analysis, participants can make recommendations or set goals for the administrator as a formative act. Finally, the decision makers must make a judgment regarding the overall performance of the individual based on the evidence presented.

It is possible to experiment with evaluation techniques and instruments, and then evaluate those experiments. Whatever process is determined, the panelists agreed, it should not be left to the whims of institutional memory; it must be codified. Hall's summary of the discussion reminds community college faculty of these five points as they pursue their rights to participate in the evaluation of their college and district administrators.

  1. The primary aim of evaluation of administrators is personal and professional growth;
  2. Evaluation of administrators is needed, and faculty have a legally mandated role in it.
  3. The process used to evaluate administrators must have integrity.
  4. The evaluation process is a very sensitive process and must respect the rights of those evaluating and those being evaluated.
  5. The administrator evaluation process must have good evaluation instruments.

The author thanks the following session participants for their invaluable contributions to this article: Charlie Bossler, LA Harbor College, Teamsters; Peter Landsberger, LACCD, Vice Chancellor (former President, the College of San Mateo); Diane McKay, Senate President for Mission College; and particularly, Elton Hall, Educational Policies and Executive Committee member, Moorpark College, who also served as notetaker and transcriber.

1 The latter of these documents is available on line at the Academic Senate website and offers models for consideration; to download this publication, visit "Publications" at (