By Laura McDonough
According to Provost Martin Abraham, the teacher evaluations that show up in Youngstown State University students’ mailboxes are used to gauge teacher effectiveness and course value. Others say the evaluations help dictate which professors receive tenure.
Students should begin seeing faculty evaluations in their inbox in April.
Linda Moore, human capital management analyst from the Office of Human Resources, handles all of the professor evaluations.
Moore said a committee views the evaluations when reviewing professors for tenure or promotion. The opinions on the evaluations can contribute to whether a professor’s contract is renewed or ended.
“I don’t think students realize that they need [the reviews] for tenure or for promotion, or to just keep a job if they’re part-time faculty,” Moore said. “If you’ve got two professors going up for tenure and you only have one position, maybe that’s the deal breaker,” she said.
When faculty issues arise, Moore is asked to produce the evaluations for the professor.
“That adds to whatever kind of a mess they might be in. Or if they go up for tenure and get denied, they might want copies of all the evaluations,” Moore said.
Zara Rowlands, chair of Human Ecology, said she doesn’t put much trust in the evaluations because of the poor return rate.
“Students who tend to complete them are the few who are very unhappy,” Rowlands said. “I have often read comments that blame an instructor for things beyond their control or criticize them for completing instruction in a way dictated by accrediting bodies.”
Rowlands said she never hired or fired anyone based on evaluations because of the poor response rate. Instead, she uses them as a tool for identifying areas for development and improvement.
Rangamohan Eunni, chair of the Department of Management, said the evaluations are just one factor in the decision making.
“We have, in the past, discontinued some contract renewals based on deficiency in teaching effectiveness, which in part was determined by professor evaluations as one of the inputs,” Eunni said.
Bruce Keillor, chair of Marketing, doesn’t believe the evaluations are accurate.
“They can help to provide an indication of potential problems or things the faculty is excelling at,” Keillor said.
Moore said students concerned for their grades should know the evaluations are not given to the educator until after final grades have been posted, so if their evaluation is recognized it will have no impact on that class.
Going digital helps anonymity by removing the handwriting portion that an educator may recognize.
For example, Moore said she was unpacking evaluations to distribute several years ago and could tell what classes a student had because she used the same pink pen for all of her evaluations.
Moving the evaluations online means it’s up to the students on whether or not they will fill out the form, which has produced very low response rates, Moore said. While the paper evaluations were filled out more, the responses may not have been any more accurate.
“On paper, no one would answer the questions. They would do all A’s and one B or I would get pictures where they colored in circles in the shape of sailboats or a frog or smiley face,” Moore said. “It’s like, okay, I know you didn’t even read the questions. So how is that an accurate assessment of this professor?”
The evaluations may not be taken seriously, but Moore said they need to be because they do have the ability to impact tenure and promotions.
“The general opinion from a student perspective is ‘I’ll only do the evaluation if I really like the professor, or if I really don’t like the professor or the class,’” Moore said.
Doing this can skew the results for or against the professor, but Moore said sometimes you have to take the results with a grain of salt.
“If you have 50 students in a class, and only four people respond, that’s not a very good number to judge anything on,” Moore said.
Moore said getting a better response rate may just be up to the educators.
“The professor, in my opinion, needs to come in and say ‘Here we go, we need to do this,’” Moore said.
She suggested professors take a few minutes of class time to allow students to use laptops and phones to complete them in class like the old paper format.
Rowlands said completing the evaluations could be used as a requirement to release grades.
“The paper-and-pencil were expensive but they ensured a good response rate because we had a ‘captive’ audience. Somehow, the students need to be convinced that their input is valuable,” Keillor said. “Trouble is that they are asked to do a ton of these every semester.”
Eunni also said the evaluations should be done during class time again.
In a memo by Abraham sent to faculty on April 3, he clarified the university’s position on the evaluations.
“While student evaluations admittedly serve both a formative and summative role in overall faculty evaluation, as per our collective bargaining agreement Article 14.1, it is in our mutual interest to encourage robust student participation as a means toward supplying valuable feedback,” he said. “Which in turn enables faculty to assess course materials and their delivery, and therein better serves the student body.”