Assessment and Accountability

Market Forces and the College Classroom: Losing Sovereignty

Using concrete examples from our own university we consider incremental changes, driven largely by concerns over external assessment and accreditation, that have altered the sovereignty professors once had in the classroom. At the same time, this turn of events is clearly more than local, and the anecdotes we offer are hardly confined to our institution alone. Thus, prior to “entering the college classroom,” we must give consideration to market forces and such attendant issues as competition, standardization, bureaucracy, mass production, and technology.

Assessment as a Subversive Activity

The 2011 volume of the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom contained two articles critical of “the relentlessly expanding assessment movement.” Accompanying these provocative essays was a challenge for someone “on the other side of [this] question” to answer these criticisms. The essays by John Champagne and John Powell are packed with “philosophical, political, and pedagogical” concerns about assessment.


Ward Churchill was dismissed from the University of Colorado (CU) in 2007, having been convicted of plagiarism as well as fabrication and falsification of evidence for his claims that the United States government had been complicit in the genocide of Native Americans. It was Churchill’s essay of September 12, 2001, that drew attention to him— an essay that called victims of the attack on the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns.” For four years the essay, titled “Some People Push Back,” went unnoticed, but in 2005 it caught the attention of faculty and administrators at Hamilton College in New York, and from there it went viral, becoming the topic of nonstop media commentary that lasted for months.

Teaching in the Corporate University: Assessment as a Labor Issue

When, in response to a call for papers for the 2008 conference of the Modern Language Association, I began to formulate an argument concerning the relationship between assessment and the corporate university, I assumed that writing such an analysis would be (and I hope I will be forgiven this admittedly masculinist simile) like “shooting fish in a barrel.” My intention was in fact to concentrate on something less obvious: assessment as a labor issue, and the ways the drive toward assessment is both explicitly and implicitly an attack on academic freedom. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read the spring 2008 President’s Column of the MLA Newsletter, with its defense of assessment (Graff 2008).

Outcomes Assessment: Conceptual and Other Problems

Despite their plausibility and their having become common practice, programs of outcomes assessment are fraught with problems. Disclosing the problems requires critical thought and a skeptical attitude at odds with most of the relevant literature. The practice lacks a basis in research, though circular, question-begging faux research attempts to caulk the gaps. Its real basis, discernible on investigation, raises more problems.

Paranoia and Professionalization: The Importance of Graduate Student Academic Freedom

As one faculty member in my department often reminds me, graduate students are in an inherently paranoid position. The balancing act of teaching and coursework, the inscrutable whims of a dissertation director, and the heartless machinations of “the University” can all portend our demise. We imagine ourselves tenuously holding on, one unfinished chapter or poorly taught class from being unceremoniously dumped into the overeducated, underqualified mass of jobless failed scholars (perhaps an even worse fate than that of those unemployed academics who have finished their PhDs). In short, the pressures of graduate school turn us into the self-conscious subjects for whom there need be no watchful eye manning the panopticon: Chimerical scrutiny leads many graduate students to unwarranted stress.


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