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The feminine mind and the culture of assessment

C. S. Lewis said that women are fidgets and men are lazy.

I find that there is a fair bit of truth in this, though both can be either. (I'm frightfully lazy myself, and a fidget, which explains why I blog.)

But it occurred to me that Lewis's evaluation of male and female traits might have some relevance to a recent fad from which some of you may have suffered--the assessment craze.

Now raise your hands, all of you who have been forced to fill out stupid forms and write up foolish reports explaining how your academic department is spending lots of time "assessing" itself. The illusion, of course, is that if departments assess themselves, this will mean that they are improving, which as anyone who knows anything about academe knows, is balderdash. The real changes that everyone may know need to be made are not the sorts of things that are at all likely to come out in an "assessment," which is basically a certain number of pounds of paper presented to administrators, or to the assistants of administrators, to make it look like everyone is learning something and doing something.

I understand that these things are now being demanded by accrediting agencies and that universities are devoting whole positions to "the Intermediate Unnecessary Vice Something-or-other for Assessment," and long-suffering chairmen are having to put together a committee among their faculty and write up the reports, which are then passed up the chain, and which help no one to do anything useful whatsoever. And administrators are telling chairmen, and chairmen telling faculty, that the yet higher administrators (who have to worry about the accrediting agencies) want there to be a "culture of assessment" throughout the institution. A culture of learning? Nah. A culture of assessment. What an odious phrase.

Does it seem too much to guess that this idea has in some sense a feminine origin? It's not that I'm definitely saying that a woman thought of it--though maybe one did--nor even that I'm putting a lot of weight on the involvement of women in enforcing the fad--though statistics on that point would be interesting. It's just that, speaking as a woman, that desire to make sure people look like they are doing something, even if they really aren't, has an all-too-familiar ring. If it wasn't a woman who kicked all of this off, it was someone with a feminine mind.

All of which reminds me of this fun video. Enjoy.

Comments (10)

I've not yet watched the video - that will have to wait until evening - but this is reminiscent, for me, of the argument my wife and I often entertain: women, for some inexplicable reason, have a propensity to engage in makework, a pointless shuffling, alteration, and reorganization of something or other, or the insistence, against all reason, sense, and physical exhaustion, that unless some utterly tedious and unnecessary piece of work is performed right now, it will never be performed. The categories often overlap, multiplying the suffering of all parties other than the makework-making woman.

Work which it is not necessary to perform is necessary not to perform.

Watch the video with your wife to get the most fun out of it. It's completely clean and kid-safe, though little kids won't get it, just because.

Gee, Lydia, thanks for that reminder, right in the middle of my lovely summer, that in another 6 weeks I have to start making my little boxes with numbers in them that will tell everyone how well we teach the courses in our department . . . !!!!!!

On rare occasions, we do assessment things that have a little bit of value. Of course, these are things we would have done anyway, without an assessment program, since we do desire to teach well. The only silver lining in our assessment program (yes, we would like to keep our accreditation, though I often wonder why, really . . .) is that the person who runs it -- not quite a vice-president, but an assistant to one -- makes it as painless as possible for us to jump through the hoops that SACS keeps adding.

But how much time we waste on this exercise that could be spent on prepping classes, conferring with students, doing the job we were supposedly hired to attend to. Most frustrating.

I'm frightfully lazy myself


Sorry, Beth. :-) Go back to enjoying your summer.

The categories often overlap, multiplying the suffering of all parties other than the makework-making woman.

A typical meeting run by a woman at work:

Laura: There’s a production problem with the xyz process. Steve, do you have any ideas?
Steve: I have some ideas, but I’m not sure at this point. I’ll take a look and send a status by 11.
Laura: But haven’t we run into similar errors in the past?
Steve: Yes. There are a couple of possibilities that I would prefer to eliminate before escalation.
Laura: Like?
Steve: Well, a fairly common occurrence is that the abc cycle is out of sync. And, considering that the product database was refreshed last night, we should also eliminate that.
Laura: Isn’t the abc cycle an operations responsibility?
Steve: Well, yes…
Laura: Let’s get Mike in conference.
Steve: That’s probably not necessary at this poi…
Laura: Probably. But I want to have all the bases covered.
Laura: And you mentioned product as well?
Steve: (Trying to think fast and failing….) Well, I mentioned them in passing, but…
Laura: Conference in Tom, Jane & Julie.
Steve: ok.
Laura: Mike, there is a production problem and Steve says that the problem is likely with the abc cycle…
Steve: (Thinking… here we go…)
***Break to fifteen minutes later…***
Laura: OK, I think we have a pretty good plan of attack. Are there any more concerns or comments?
Steve: (You think?)
Julie: I have two concerns. You see, in our platform…
***Break to ten minutes later***
Steve: (What a life those pigeons by the window have… Remember, I have to stop at Home Depot on the way home to pick up some lumber. Need to make those stakes for the tomato plants. They’re getting big… I wonder what my wife is doing right n…)
Laura: Steve, what do you think about Julie’s concerns?
Steve: (Who? What concerns?)
Steve: They are a definite possibility.
Laura: OK. Does anyone else have comments or concerns?
Steve: (Please God…)
Jane: I do. Last night’s product refresh…
***Break to 20 minutes later, five minutes before 11 am. The meeting ends after listening to Laura’s rave about her weekend jaunt in the city. I get back to my desk at 11 am where an email from Laura waits, respectfully asking for status.

A Typical meeting run by a man:

Tony: There’s a production problem with the xyz process. Steve, do you have any ideas?
Steve: I have some ideas, but I’m not sure at this point. I’ll take a look and send a status by 11.
Tony: Cool.

I meant to use a different quote to start the post...

Work which it is not necessary to perform is necessary not to perform.

Don't know how I did that.

Steve, your two meetings description is hilarious--worthy of Dave Barry. My husband laughed his head off.

I gladly concede the generalities, but must remark that each time I have to listen to 5 or 10 minutes of football repartee between the VP and the male faculty members at already frustratingly unproductive and unnecessary faculty meetings, I feel like screaming and running . . . :)

I would share your reaction, but that's probably how they keep their sanity at the meetings. :-)

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