Students’ course evaluations considered in professors’ tenure, salaries

Students’ course evaluations considered in professors’ tenure, salaries

Katelyn Wilkinson

Course evaluations affect professors’ tenures, pay raises and potential promotions, according to Dr. Steven Levitt, COLFA associate dean for undergraduate studies and curriculum.

Course evaluations are the end-of-semester class assessments that many professors give students extra credit for filling out.

The evaluations, which are available in the thirteenth week of each semester, generally ask students to rate their experience in a particular class and the professor’s availability, mastery of material, clarity of a syllabus among other things. These evaluations are then provided to the professors, the department chairs and deans for discussion on class improvement.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board requires universities to publicize student course evaluations, and, in compliance with this law, Bluebook provides the numerical information of course evaluations (the average student rating on a five-point scale) and the number of students who participated. Rate my Professor, an alternative professor-rating website that many students prefer to use, gives user ratings, but the ratings are often outdated, some professor’s rating most recent ratings are from 2009.

Bluebook additionally provides professors’ course syllabi, textbooks and previous courses taught while Rate My Professor provides ratings on clarity, easiness, helpfulness and “hotness.”

Many students take these course evaluations as an opportunity to provide their opinions on the class and professor.

Justin Johnston, a senior history and political science major, said that he had a professor who was disliked by most of the class.

“A majority of the class filled out less than favorable course evaluations for her, and a few students went and complained to the department chair about the way the class was being conducted,” Johnston said.

According to Levitt, course evaluations are considered in tenure and promotion decisions as well as “in decisions to not rehire non tenure-track (adjunct) faculty.”

Additionally, Levitt said, “Course evaluations are an integral part of annual performance evaluations.” These annual performance evaluations determine pay increases, meaning that course evaluations can have a direct impact on a professor pay raises. Levitt said that course evaluations could count for up to 50 percent in these performance evaluations depending on department.

“I definitely read them (course evaluations),” said Dr. Kimberly Fonzo, assistant professor in the English department. “Basically, I want to know what the students liked about the course and what they would want me to change. Sometimes a student will suggest a way to change or tweak an assignment that I find really helpful, and I will give it a try. I find teaching evaluations extremely useful in this way. Criticism has almost always been constructive, so I welcome it.”

According to Dr. Fonzo, when assessing a professor’s performance, the English department considers multiple aspects, including student evaluations.

“The department doesn’t tend to privilege the numbers that come out of the online evaluations, especially because we still can’t control what percentage of the class fills them out. So many variables can affect evaluation scores, including whether the course is required or an elective, whether students come to your class already liking the material that you teach, whether you can give students more individual attention due to a smaller class size, or whether your course deals with issues of race and politics regularly.”

Some people believe that there is a correlation between grades and ratings on course evaluations: If students have high grades in the class, they will give high ratings on evaluations or vice versa.

In his essay for the Educational Testing Service, “Will Teachers Receive Higher Student Evaluations by Giving Higher Grades and Less Coursework,”

John A Centra states that there is no significant correlation between grades and course evaluation ratings. “Neither the field experimental studies nor the correlational data provide convincing evidence for the conclusion that student ratings of courses were influenced by the grades they received from instructors,” Centra stated.

“For now,” said Dr. Fonzo, “I mainly use evaluations to improve my courses, and I improve my courses out of respect for my students, not for the sake of a pay increase.”