Several days ago, Bryant University students received a message asking them to submit course evaluations for the classes in which they are enrolled this semester. I believe that students should boycott this highly flawed course evaluation process. The students should send a strong message to the administration that they want meaningful course evaluations. No one needs to waste their time completing evaluations that will have little or no impact.
Students should know that I have been one of the strongest advocates for a strengthened course evaluation process here at Bryant. Several colleagues and I worked tirelessly to implement an online course evaluation system at the school to replace the old paper-and-pencil system. Moreover, I have advocated strongly for a process by which all courses and all faculty members are evaluated each semester, which was not the case when I arrived at Bryant in 2006. We have now taken a step backward though, and I cannot support the flawed process that has been put in place this semester.
The administration notified faculty members on Wednesday afternoon that, “Department Chairs shall not refer to CoursEval results in any document submitted to the Rank & Appointment Committee for any purpose, including Chair recommendations concerning reappointment, promotion, tenure or merit applications. In addition, CoursEval results may not be the basis for any personnel actions, i.e., Performance Plans.” In short, the evaluation results don’t matter. They will not affect the evaluation of faculty members in any way, shape, or form.
During my six years here, the course evaluation results began to take on a bit more weight in decisions such as merit, promotion, and tenure. I viewed this change as a positive development. Please do not mistake me. I do not mean to suggest that student evaluations of teaching should be the only way that the university evaluates courses and faculty members. We should have a robust process of evaluation that includes a systematic review of course syllabi and other instructional materials. We should implement a strong peer observation process, in which faculty members sit in on their colleagues’ classes both for developmental and evaluative purposes. Other means of assessment should be implemented as well.
The student evaluations should be a piece of the puzzle, not the entire means of assessing the quality of teaching here at Bryant. However, student voices should be a meaningful element in this process. Those voices should be considered carefully and thoughtfully. Student voices should matter. Regretfully, they do not matter under the guidelines established for this semester’s evaluation process. Students should express their disappointment and press for meaningful change by boycotting the current process.
Note from The Editor-in-Chief: To all faculty and staff: The purpose of this boycott is not to harm faculty, staff, or their hard work throughout the semester. The purpose is to make sure that the student voice is being heard. Please give your students paper evaluations or create an evaluation online if you would like evaluation results. Students want to provide their professors with feedback, but they want their feedback to be utilized to improve the course and help the professor. Evaluations shouldn’t be worthless if anything negative is written.