What Provosts Want from Their IR Directors

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to eAIR@airweb.org

This month’s question is answered by Eric Lovik, Director of Institutional Research, Reporting, and Assessment at Radford University.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

20160629-Lovik-Eric-0876.jpgDear Eric, I have just been promoted to Director of Institutional Research at my institution and will now be reporting to the Provost. In your experience, what do Provosts want from their IR directors?

The provost is someone who handles immense responsibilities and is expected to guide the largest enterprise in the institution – the academic side of the house. To that end, the IR director is in a strategic position to support the provost in several key areas:

Decision Support

The provost needs accurate, reliable, and relevant information - quickly and clearly. At the same time, the provost also might need details about the process and context behind the data, so IR directors must keep a balanced perspective in terms of clarity and simplicity versus complexity and granularity. Examples of information and reports to support decision making include historical and projected admissions and enrollment numbers broken down by each program, department, and school/college within your institution. You might also need to provide faculty workload and faculty salary analyses. I recommend that you spend time browsing through previous reports that your predecessor provided to the provost. Be proactive and ask the provost what information is needed, how often, in what preferred format, and so on. In my experience, external peer benchmarking has always been helpful. In your reports, provide data to demonstrate how your institution aligns with the comparative and aspirational peers. Also, keep an eye on state and national higher education news and trends so you can alert your provost to potential issues that may affect your institution, and consider what data you have that may give your leadership a sense of where your institution stands in relation to these new issues.

Assessment Support

Some IR offices not only handle reporting and data requests but also oversee academic assessment and accreditation. Whether your office handles academic assessment or not, the IR department will naturally be engaged in various assessment processes, particularly at the start of the cycle in which program, department, and institution-level data are collected and distributed. Communicate to your provost in advance about what is coming up next on your internal calendar regarding the assessment cycle. Typical assessment-related information would include annual academic program reports, student survey results, grade distributions, industry exam scores, and faculty/class metrics. Assessment and accreditation are not exercises we go through just because we must do them. We "do assessment" because it helps us to enhance student success. As you collect assessment data, it would be helpful to point out any potential problem areas to the provost ahead of time so that the gaps in performance are not surprises down the road. Of course, be sure to communicate with the academic chairs and deans about what you find so that everyone is on the same page.

Relationship Support

The provost wants an IR director who can be trusted. All cabinet-level administrators must be able to work with an IR director who maintains confidentiality and is dependable, especially the chief academic officer. On a professional level, demonstrate your relational support not only by providing information to support decisions and assessment but also by "being present." Show up for meetings ready to listen and prepared with information. Eliminate all distractions during meetings, give your full attention and provide thoughtful feedback. On a personal level, be mindful that your supervisor is human too, and treat the provost as you would want to be treated. The value of understanding emotional intelligence, both yours and others’, cannot be overstated. Learn your provost's tastes and preferences. 

In summary, the IR director position is a unique opportunity to influence the institution by serving those to whom we report, whether we report to the provost or someone else. Institutional researchers are needed to inform the institution's decision makers, generate evidence for student success, and provide supportive relationships.




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