Course evaluation process revealed

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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 archway@bryant.edu 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.

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6 Comments

  1. Dickie Roberts

    Inconsistency between functions, departments, and professors. Public gap between profs and admin. I smell a lawsuit or rough negotiations when the contracts are up. All the while, I think many know that course evals are not the end all solution in deciding if a class is beneficial and if the prof. is effective. Management by walking around? How often do you see a ‘sit-in’ during class?

    Good article.

  2. Jessica Komoroski

    I am troubled by the idea that this subject has once again been thrusted to the forefront of conversation at Bryant. When I graduated in 2011, positive progress was being made on the Course Evaluation process. Students could now fill out all of their evaluations over a two-week period rather than during a small window of classtime. Perhaps more importantly, students were able to evaluate any professor regardless of their tenure. It was our understanding then that our evaluations mattered–what we said about our professors was considered by the professor themselves as well as Department Chairs and others who are vested in the performance of their colleagues.

    Fast forward to today. Dr. Griffiths states that professors who are going up for tenure can use positive evaluations as proof of good teaching on their application. But, on the flip side, it is up to them to decide if they wish to include the negative evaluations. I actually laughed right out loud when I read that. That is like saying the President of the United States can include any positive policies from his or her first term in office during a re-election bid, but they can feel free to leave out the negative.

    In my humble opinion, Dr. Griffiths, it is not the amount of time that students have to complete the evaluations nor the potential for students collaborate that will skew the results. Indeed, it is when students learn that their constructive criticism is all for not that they will choose to not participate in the Course Evaluation process. This will not only lower the participation rate but most likely skew results towards the positive. This, again in my opinion, seems counter-intuitive. Sure, course evaluations should be used to praise those professors that go above and beyond the call of duty to better our education. On the other hand, it is equally as important that course evaluations are also used to shed light on those professors who may believe they are meeting expectations but in consequence are not.

    How can professors truly evaluate how successful they are in the classroom if course evaluations are poorly prioritized? High grades, for example, tell only part of the story. There is no other confidential way for students to appropriately judge the effectiveness of their professors. For this reason and more, the administration should truly value the results of course evaluations–POSTIVE AND NEGATIVE–rather than write them off, as I feel this article and the e-mail from Dr. Griffiths to professors suggest. It is my hope that the students will continue to speak out against these new CourseEval developments, and they should work hard to protect the merit of the evaluations as well.

  3. Alec V. LeClair

    Bryant Really needs to fire a lot of their professors. Its good to know that our voices are heard. According to this, they’ve never cared what we think very much, and now they don’t care at all. The professors are so scummy. No wonder Bryant is one of the worst “rate my professors” schools. I say we give them nothing but negative reviews so they don’t have anything good to show anyone.

  4. David Lash

    Jessica,

    Good point about the skewness caused by the drop in participating students. Regarding the previous paragraph, the President of the United States DID leave out the negative during his reelection campaign along with every candidate ever. Do you have a section for Shortcomings on your resume?

  5. Robert Fluckiger

    I am currently a senior and unlike previous posts I have nothing negative to say about the staff here at Bryant. However, I completely agree that there is something innately wrong with the current system. The purpose of evaluations should be for the student body to reflect on both the professor and subject matter in a way in which their voice can be heard. The evaluations should not only be used by the professor for an internal assessment but ALSO by the University. Bryant should actively be reviewing these and taking necessary action in response. I do not care if you are the best instructor in the world, if the strong majority does not evaluate you well then you do not have a positive impact – and this is what is most important. Bryant needs to do a better job with promoting those professors that have the ability to effect students, engage them, and leave them with a positive image of the subject matter and the University as a whole. It costs almost $50k per year to attend Bryant – the students NEED to have a say on those that impact their education – it is ESSENTIAL that the student voice is finally heard, ultimately having an impact here at Bryant.

  6. Alumni 89'

    Students may have no say on professors’ performance, but alumni do. I will not be donating this year, along with many of the members of my class that I’ve spoken too.

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