If you’re not a first year student here at Bryant University, you’re familiar with the course evaluation process. If you’re an upperclassman, you’re familiar with the change Bryant made a couple years back from paper evaluations to online evaluations. Most people were happy with this change; the online course evaluations were easier to implement, fill out, and analyze afterwards. With the amount of courses Bryant offers each semester, it’s easy to see why the change was made.
A recent meeting with the faculty union left Bryant’s administration in a tough spot. A grievance was filed this summer during the faculty contract negotiation, as stated by Linda Lulli, Associate Vice President for Human Resources at Bryant. She said, “the language [in the contract] said that faculty would be able to do it [course evaluations] in the classroom, but because of the software, [the administration] can’t constrain it.” Professor Michael Roberto also confirmed that “the union finally agreed to require all faculty members to administer course evaluations every semester…prior to that, tenured faculty were only required to administer evaluations once every couple of years,” and stated that “the union wanted the online evaluations to be administered during class time, as the paper-based evaluation system had worked in past years.” The union and the university both agreed to these provisions.
The problem is that the CourseEval software system that Bryant currently uses for student course evaluations does not have the ability to allow professors to open the link to their specific class survey only during a certain period of time. The closest it gets is allowing students a specified timeframe to fill out each of their course evaluations, which in Bryant’s case is the last two weeks of the semester when evaluations are open.
Michael Roberto said that many professors in the Faculty union expressed concerns about this. With this freedom, students don’t have to fill the form out in class even if their professor specifies that they will have time in class to do so. They could even, in theory, fill them out with other students. The main concern was that the results of the evaluations could be skewed if the students weren’t filling them out in a controlled environment. Dr. Griffiths also mentioned that if students don’t fill evaluations out in class, the participation rate is much lower and statistically, lower participation rates can also skew results of the course evaluations.
So you’re probably asking “what does this all mean?” If you’re a student at Bryant, you have already received an email from the Academic Affairs Office informing you that you can now fill out your course evaluations. The email specifically states that “This semester, course evaluation surveys will NOT be administered in class. You may access the surveys online anytime during the dates listed below.” But if you’ve read this article so far, you’d know that this is clearly in violation of the contract with the Faculty union.
It was brought to The Archway’s attention by Professor Michael Roberto that an email was sent out to professors just before students received their course evaluation email. Professor Roberto quoted the email from the Vice President of Academic Affairs as saying, “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.” This means that what students say in their online course evaluations may be used by individual professors who take the time to look at their evaluations and take them into consideration when they teach the course again, but will not be able to be used in any formal manner.
Kelsey Nowak, Editor-in-Chief of The Archway, and this writer met with Jose-Marie Griffiths and Linda Lulli to clarify this information. Vice President Griffiths stated that “[the course evaluations] can be used by individual faculty to improve the course…also for department chairs and deans, it could be an indication of a problem…if we see a consistent set of concerns.”
Jose-Marie Griffiths said that “We’re not going to take serious personnel action just based on these responses,” which has always been the case. But this semester, it’s important to note that course evaluations cannot be used at all, not even in part, if they’re negative.
Professor Michael Roberto brought to light something that was said in an email sent later in the week on behalf of Linda Lulli, providing further clarification for professors about course evaluations and what function they would serve this semester. The email stated “Poor CoursEval results may not serve as the basis, in whole or in part, for performance plans or otherwise adversely affect faculty.” Basically, department chairs and deans can use the course evaluation results to measure performance, but even if a professor had consistent low scores from a variety of students, the chairs and deans could take no official action against the professor.
In our meeting with Linda Lulli and Jose-Marie Griffiths, we raised the topic of the process of promotion and tenure. When asked “So when a faculty member is up for tenure, they’re not asked to produce all their course evaluations?” Linda replied “No, whether it’s positive or negative, they can put anything they want in their application that they want to include.” Jose-Marie went on to further explain that “Positive evaluations, [since] faculty have to provide the proof of good teaching through the [application] process [for tenure consideration]…they can use [the positive evaluations].” Therefore, professors will be able to pick what they want from these evaluations to include in any applications for tenure. They’re not required to include anything negative that students say about the courses they’ve taken.
Since this is the last issue of the semester, articles and letters to the editor in response to this article may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than December 14, 2012 and will be posted promptly on The Archway’s website, bryantarchway.com. All articles and letters must follow the guidelines set forth on page two of this publication.