Student Evaluations To Be Standardized
Wednesday’s College Faculty Meeting shed some light on the once dark abyss that concealed what actually happens to student evaluation forms filled out at the end of every course.
The College Faculty met to vote on two motions conceived by the College Faculty Council (CFC), the body charged with overseeing personnel decisions such as tenure appointments. The proposals, which overwhelmingly passed, called for greater regulation over the use of Student Evaluations of Teaching.
The SET policy currently used by the College requires that professors hand out SETs to students at the end of each semester but does not standardize the substance of each professor’s survey. The lack of standards has bothered CFC, as the council must read SET results when considering a professor’s tenure status.
“Before, [a professor] could [write], ‘Did you like me?’” said Professor of History Steven Volk, who spoke on behalf of CFC to introduce the motions to the faculty. “We’re calling for some more intelligence behind the content of SETs.”
The first motion considered by the College Faculty, designated Motion I, mandates that each department must craft a consistent SET to be used by all of its professors, and that the CFC must approve a department’s SET before it is used.
“This first motion is designed to improve reliability,” Volk explained.
The second motion sought regulations over how SETs are filed and stored, as there is currently no rule dictating how these materials are maintained from semester to semester.
Though the Faculty approved both motions, the outcome was not without dissent. Some professors argued that the motions did not go far enough, especially given the importance of SETs to tenure appointments.
“I’m uncomfortable with this proposal,” said Frances Hasso, professor of gender and women’s studies. “If there is such a commitment to teaching, there should be some mediating office on teaching designed to evaluate evaluations.
“I’m a little bit worried about empowering a random group of us to make these decisions…We need a stable body.”
Physics Professor Dan Styer was another vocal opponent.
“I am concerned that even when students are asked to evaluate teaching, they do not. Students fill out these surveys for a number of reasons,” Styer emphasized. “Are they interested in the material? Did they like the course? Was it taken to fulfill a requirement?”
Styer suggested that while these are important pieces of information, they are not related directly to the quality of a professor’s performance.
Other professors spoke out in favor of the motions.
“SETs are an important form of communication between students and us,” Professor of East Asian Studies Ann Sherif said. “They help us understand our own teaching.”