The Sport of IR

football game

I was watching the NFL season-opening  game last night.   I’m not actually a football fan, but when your husband writes a book connected to football, it’s one of the sacrifices you make.  (I have also watched DOTA tournaments with my son, and thought it made about as much sense as professional football.   What can I say, I love my guys.)   I was struck by the between-play graphics of the players and their stats, and got to wondering (it wasn’t as if the game held my attention), what kinds of pictures and stats would be shown on a highlights reel of Institutional Researchers.  (You don’t know, it could happen.)

I imagined a shot of myself at a recent discussion of the merits of assessment, face straining to appear as though I was hearing the comments for the first time instead of the hundredth.  (That would be the akin to football’s “tough warrior” pose.)   For many in IR the classic shot would be hunched over a computer, reading glasses on, vertical concentration lines above the nose… followed by a sudden arm-raised celebration when the stat program finally ran correctly.  The casual shot would be a laughing one, as most IR folks I know are very friendly and have a fantastic sense of humor.

The stats would be fun.   An old IR friend from Maryland used to count down his retirement by the number of factbooks he had left to do:   “three more factbooks until I retire!”   So a count of factbooks you’ve done could be one stat.  Another might be how many accreditation self-studies you’ve supported.   Twice earlier in my career I managed to change jobs just after a reaccreditation was completed at the new institution.   I thought it might be a wise strategy to continue, but alas, fell in love with my current institution.  How many Presidents or other senior staff members you’ve adjusted to would certainly be a reflection of a certain level of skill attainment (or at least endurance).    The speed with which one could generate a presentation-quality summary table would be like the 40-yard dash time.   The IR Director is kind of like a quarterback, so there could be special stats for that player.   I’m getting pretty good at evading tackles and the hurry-up offense, though I’m not sure how to measure that.

Our business cards ought to be more like sports trading cards that make use of these kinds of images and stats.   These would be much more fun to share at meetings and conferences.   (Excuse me while I call the folks at VistaPrint…)


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Robin Huntington Shores

Currently the Director of Institutional Research and Assessment at Swarthmore College, Robin has worked in Institutional Research for over 20 years at a range of institutions.