Harry Murray’s recent lecture on professor evaluations sparked discussion about the implementation of a colleague evaluation system. His suggestion that student input be more carefully scrutinized, however, was dismissed by Western faculty members.
Faculty members claimed student evaluations are often arbitrary, based mostly on the grades students expect to achieve or their personal vendettas. While this may be true for some students, it seems closed-minded to assume most students would rate their professors on such a superficial level.
Murray suggested faculty evaluations could help reflect a professor’s competency more accurately. It’s likely, however, that professors would consistently rate each other highly, protecting one another from the consequences of a bad review. Even if a professor did attempt to write a fair evaluation, basing it on a course outline and the attendance of only a class or two doesn’t realistically reflect the performance of the professor throughout the year.
Since university students pay for their education and are thus presumably a school’s priority, it is surprising that some faculty members are hesitant to treat their feedback as legitimate. Professors who genuinely care about their students and put effort into their lectures should feel confident about receiving a positive review. Most students are also mature enough to give a fair review regardless of the marks they receive.
In addition, students are rarely aware of their final grades in classes at the time of evaluation, as most courses save large essays, assignments, or exams for the end of the semester. To address professors’ concerns over angry students with low marks, asking students on evaluation forms if they believe they have been marked fairly would provide better insight on how grades affect evaluations.
However, if professors insist on some other method of evaluation, then perhaps an outside reviewer, rather than colleague reviews, would be best. An expert on education with no ties to professors could give objective feedback on lecture and evaluation techniques and help the professor communicate with his or her students.
The results of these evaluations must carry some weight to be effective. Incorporating evaluation results into consideration of faculty awards or achievement of tenure would motivate professors to create engaging lectures and gain a rapport with their students. These incentives would also protect students against professors who are concerned primarily with their own research or who recycle tired lectures.
Though any supplementary review and evaluation of professors would be helpful, student evaluations are a valuable and necessary part of faculty improvement and should not be undermined. These reviews can bring important issues to the foreground, and give professors the “nudge” needed to seek improvement in certain areas.