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College of Human Ecology employees Kathy Witherow, Marilyn DeLong, and Tom Thao on the stairway in the McNeal Hall atrium.

The College of Human Ecology developed an online faculty reporting system that streamlines and improves the activity-reporting process. Left to right: chief of staff Kathy Witherow, associate dean Marilyn DeLong, and information technology specialist Tom Thao.

Reducing faculty paperwork

Improvement spotlight of the month

By Meredith Fox

From Brief, June 1, 2005

Every January, faculty members across University campuses can be found digging through files, looking back at calendars, and reviewing class rosters in an effort to complete their annual faculty activity reports. Classes taught, papers published, grants administered, public service provided...class enrollments, student evaluations, advisee counts, speaking engagements, committee assignments...all these and more are gathered and reported.

Annual faculty activity reports are required check-ins with departments and colleges. The process differs slightly from college to college, but, based on this data, all faculty members are reviewed for purposes such as promotion, tenure, and salary adjustments.

The data is also used to generate critical management reports for college and central administrators. Once submitted, college staff members comb through the information to generate useful reports.

It's a time-consuming and cumbersome process for everyone involved.

Now three colleges on the Twin Cities campus are developing a better approach with an online faculty reporting system. The Carlson School of Management, College of Human Ecology, and Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs are pursuing ways to improve the process and make it more productive.

"With all of the demands on faculty time, it is hard to find time to do everything well," says John Bryson, associate dean at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. "We wanted to find ways to save some time for faculty."

In the College of Human Ecology (CHE), it used to take up to a week for staff in each department to sort through faculty activity information and create summaries for administrators, according to chief of staff Kathy Witherow. In the Carlson School, the last accreditation report took months because data had to be gathered from multiple sources, some of which contained inaccurate and outdated information, says administrative services director Andre Prahl.

A better way

The College of Human Ecology found a faster and better way to gather and use activity information. In 2003, CHE staff deployed an online system for faculty that uses common definitions across all departments and includes data the dean's office enters from central repositories holding grant, student course, and adviser information. Faculty members need only verify the data rather than find and enter it in themselves. They have access to the system all year to enter data that can't be pulled from central databases.


Faculty activity reporting systems

College of Human Ecology

Kathy Witherow
Chief of staff

Tom Thao
Information technology specialist

Carlson School of Management
Andre Prahl
Director of administrative services

Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
Connie Buechele
Information technology director


View Portfolio

Billie Wahlstrom
Vice provost for distributed education and instructional technology

Kari Branjord
Web development director
Office of Information Technology

Tom Thao, the CHE information technology specialist who developed the system, reports that, by and large, faculty members have found the system easy to use. If they need help or have a question, he is sent to help.

Defining the information to be gathered was the biggest challenge for the team developing the system. Before deployment, CHE spent a lot of time refining the questions to be asked.

"The college worked hard to make the system inclusive and connected to [CHE's] strategic plan and key initiatives," says associate dean Marilyn DeLong. "This linkage provides an important accountability structure for the college."

One of the biggest benefits of the system has been the management reports, which can be instantly generated.

"It used to be that each department would collect slightly different information and present it in different formats for their annual review with the dean," says Witherow. "Today, at the click of a button, CHE has comprehensive, standardized reports to put in front of the dean. It has really informed the dean's decision-making ability."

On the path

The Carlson School of Management and Humphrey Institute are still in the development stage, hoping to make their systems available to faculty by January 2006. The Carlson School's system is based on a database from Brigham Young University's business school because it asks faculty for similar information. The Humphrey Institute is developing a system based on what it has learned from the Carlson School and CHE. Administrators in both colleges are excited about the possibilities offered by an online faculty activity report system.

"Faculty do not have to provide any new information," says Prahl. "We are making information less time-consuming to enter and more accessible once it is entered. This will automate the process already in place."

Lisa Roberge, associate administrator in the Carlson School's Department of Accounting, is responsible for creating summary reports for the department's 19 faculty members. She believes it will improve accuracy and save time if faculty members can verify most data rather than type it in.

Development of these systems must be done carefully because the information gathered directly impacts people's jobs, Bryson cautions, but he sees a variety of benefits.

"It will save faculty time, save management time, make the faculty review process more transparent, allow communication staff to more easily access information about the great work happening at the college, and make the institute more accountable," he says. "It seems to be a win-win situation."

The future: a Portfolio upgrade joins the effort

A new version of Portfolio software, released in January, can collect and report faculty activity data in a manner similar to the systems created by CHE, the Carlson School, and the Humphrey Institute. Portfolio is an enterprise (all-University) application that links to central data systems and provides a repository for managing personal and professional information. It allows users to enter information once and reuse it for a variety of purposes. Faculty members can use Portfolio to gather data about their teaching, research, and service activities.

A University taskforce is currently exploring ways that faculty members can use Portfolio to gather information for the promotion and tenure process. In the future, colleges may be able to use Portfolio as their faculty activity reporting system.

Do you have an improvement success story to tell? E-mail Meredith Fox at

Meredith Fox is community relations coordinator for the Office of Service and Continuous Improvement.

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