I’m down to the final three in this collection of My Leadership Lane-Assist principles. Congratulations if you are still with me. Here is principle #15:
You will increasingly conform to what you count.
One day during my tenure as an institutional Provost, the faculty chair of our Psychology program came prancing into my office, beaming. “Ralph, I just saw the statewide scores from the Psychology Graduate Record Exam (Psych-GRE) and, guess what, our seniors achieved the highest average test scores of any postsecondary institution in the entire state!”
“Congratulations, Chip” [not his real name], I said, “but that doesn’t tell me very much about the effectiveness of our Psychology degree program.” Chip was crestfallen. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Let’s think about why we established a Psychology program at our college,” I explained. “Our college’s mission is to develop ministry and marketplace leaders who will embody and propagate the Good News in word and deed to the ends of the earth. We chose to establish a Psychology degree program so that students gifted and called by God to apply biblical insight, embody redemptive compassion, and offer restorative counsel to wayward and wounded people would have the foundational knowledge and skills needed to carry out that calling in church ministry, clinical counseling, or social service professions. These test scores attest to the commendable academic quality of our program. I’m delighted and not surprised, given your dedication to excellence and the characteristic diligence of our students.”
“But the test scores do not represent direct or primary evidence as to whether our Psychology program is achieving its purpose in line with the institution’s mission. These scores tell us that our graduates who wish to pursue advanced degrees and certifications in the discipline will have a very competitive chance at elite program admission and professional success, but they tell us almost nothing relative to whether the program’s graduates have the biblically-integrated knowledge, skills, and dispositions that correspond to the program’s and the institution’s purposes.”
What was our mission, again?
The fact is, if we had embraced Psych-GRE student test scores as an exclusive or even prominent index of program effectiveness, I am convinced the program would eventually veer away from its central purpose. We would select, retain, and reward faculty and students who would elevate our chances of achieving and maintaining high Psych-GRE test scores. In the meantime, we would likely have taken our eye off the ball in terms of institutional and program mission fulfillment.
The program’s features, emphases, and resources would gradually and inevitably skew in the direction of the indices by which we preferred to measure its success.
Metrics and measures and rankings, oh my!
Psych-GRE exam scores represent one measure of program excellence but they dare not become the sole measure, or the most frequently and conveniently cited measure. And frequently cited measures will inexorably become your most conformed-to measures. You might put it this way:
What you most measure is what you most treasure.
By the way, that is one problem with many metrics – they are convenient and conventional. But deference toward or dependence upon “standard” metrics often constitutes a mission minefield.
All measures have bias. Be sure the bias inherent in your measures hews toward what you — not the mainstream majority — deem most important.Click to tweet
True, this approach may or may not diminish your marketplace rankings but it will elevate your missional results.
Speaking of rankings, they represent an especially insidious trap. Institutional presidents and their marketing teams salivate when they learn that their institution has been accorded high ranking on anyone’s list. They can’t wait to tout it in tag lines and talking points. After all, it’s nice to know that the “folklore” concerning our academic inferiority is often false.
I confess to being pretty cynical about rankings. Way back in my days as a Bible college admissions director, I discovered a “Top Ten Bible Colleges” list. Frankly, I was surprised that our college didn’t make the Top Ten since we were in the top tier of enrollment and bore many other hallmarks of quality and favorable statistical comparison — you name it, student selectivity, student satisfaction and retention, student engagement, campus facilities, faculty credentials, library holdings, and more. When I inquired about the basis on which the list had been compiled and how we might merit future consideration, I was flabbergasted to learn that the so-called Top Ten happened to be the ten colleges that had purchased advertising and student prospect mailing lists from this “Christian” marketer. What a sham!
Thankfully, not all college rankings are that blatantly bogus. But you would be surprised to learn how many are blatantly biased. Common bias errors in college rankings include a significantly limited pool of “qualified” candidates or issuance by an entity that has a vested interest in creating the list. Hypocrisy abounds.
Even more widely-publicized and ostensibly credible rankings such as, for example, those rendered by US News and World Report are simultaneously derided by college leaders and touted by those whose institutions manage to emerge from the “black box of bias” as among the most highly ranked either regionally or nationally.
What would it take?
Assessment should always begin with a simple question I learned from Robert Mager: What would it take to convince me that…? What would it take to convince me that my students have truly achieved the objectives of this course? What would it take to convince me that graduates of this program have the knowledge, virtues, dispositions, and skills the program intends? What would it take to convince me our graduates are fulfilling the institution’s mission?
Choose or develop – and designate as your primary indices of quality – measures that correspond to your mission. If you do, you can cancel the negative power and unleash the positive power of Leadership Lane-Assist prompt #15:
You will increasingly conform to what you count.
If you’ve missed any posts from my Leadership Lane-Assist series, you can find them in our 4ThoughtLeaders blog pages. Or, if you’re just tuning in, you may want to start from the beginning of the series with my Leadership Lane-Assist introductory post.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
How about Genesis 3:19, says John Zmirak in this February 25th essay published in The Stream. Zmirak decries the contemporary political obsession with socialism, countering most of the project of secular modernity could be summed up as the technological and ideological crusade to [sneak back into Eden] and shove the pesky business of the Fall and the Redemption down the memory hole.