Volume 80 | Issue 3
May 2012

President's Column: Under review

Dave Barnes, James Madison University

Evaluation is a necessary evil. OK, there—I said it. I am not supposed to say it. I am supposed to say that it is important and even vital to our work; to our success; to our effectiveness. And it is. All of that is true. But does it get me out of bed in the morning? Make me want to rush to work? Not so much. However, I have learned to appreciate those who do jump out of bed wanting to assess, evaluate, and measure. I do not mind saying I thank God for these people and their passion. Barnes


My oldest daughter married one of these special people. He just defended his dissertation in educational assessment and has helped me understand even more clearly the value of his passion. Many of us in this field relish our time when we can imagine new and innovative programs, ideas, and services. This is my favorite part of my job. And yet, making sure that what we are creating is hitting the mark is just as vital as the effort to build it. See, I am coming around; I do want to make sure that the things we create are meaningful, purposeful, and impactful. 

I have learned something through all of my ACUI involvement opportunities, but few have been as instructive as those I have had around the CUSA program that ACUI administers. As the ACUI website states, “The College Union and Student Activities Evaluation Program uses experienced people from inside and outside the profession to evaluate college union and student activities programs, services, operations, and facilities. Using mixed methodologies, including on-site visits, and document analysis, consultation teams and processes can be designed to explore almost any challenge your program faces.”

I have had the privilege to serve as a member on a number of these consultation teams. I like to believe that in every instance, the schools we have visited have had a powerful and meaningful experience. Just the mere exercise of having outside, objective eyes review their programs and facilities can give each school affirmation of their greatest needs and accomplishments as well as access to ideas and suggestions they may never have considered.

In the past few months, James Madison University, my employer, had the opportunity to experience just such a visit. To be on the other side of a review was indeed positive and affirming, and has provided us with concepts in a form that has given these ideas special credence and more power than if they had merely come from our own people. If you are at a point in the development of your program when an evaluation would be beneficial, I cannot speak highly enough of this experience.

And with these thoughts and experiences fresh in my mind, I do believe that the time has come for our Association to consider an external review as well. In much the same way that I know firsthand the impact an external review can have on an institution, I think we are at a point in our history where ACUI might benefit from an objective, outside evaluation of what we do and how we do it. 

With the upcoming transition surrounding the hiring of a new executive director; with the focus on the celebration of our first 100 years as a professional organization and the anticipation of the next 100; and with important conversations like our regional audit, it seems clear that an external review is a timely and positive step. The Board of Trustees recognizes the importance of evaluation and assessment, and will be investigating the resources that would be involved in undertaking such a review. In the meantime, as you have comments on how we can improve as an Association, I encourage you to email or me directly at