At the end of every quarter, students have the opportunity to act like Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul or Simon Cowell when it comes to rating their professors.
While these evaluations rarely lead to an outright dismissal of professors, student input plays a big role in how professors decide how to teach classes in the future.
David Wehner, the dean for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, indicated that there was a legitimate purpose in requiring students to fill in bubbles and write short answers before the quarter is done.
“They’re done every quarter with faculty who are developing their teaching program and are in the promotion and tenure process,” Wehner said.
Associate vice president for academic personnel, Michael Suess, noted that such evaluations are required under the Faculty Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“They’re used as one point of information regarding how well a faculty member is performing his or her teaching responsibilities,” Suess said.
In other words, collective bargaining is a contract between the Board of Trustees and the California Faculty Association.
Wehner explained that there was risk that courses would not be evaluated on a quarterly basis, especially if they’re taught only once a year. Therefore, he said that new faculty should receive feedback on a regular basis.
He thought that evaluations give students a better quality of education and lead to better professors in the classroom.
“Those ratings are used when we evaluate faculty in terms of how they’re doing,” Wehner said.
The structure of organizing and compiling data from these student evaluations vary from college to college. In the case of the College of Agriculture, a student within that field has to answer 28 questions related to the course.
Wehner described several types of questions asked during the evaluation. These types include formative, summative and general questions.
“There are questions that are global. For example, rate the instructor and the course,” Wehner said. “There are questions that are formative, and they ask about how well a faculty member is prepared for class.”
Wehner assumes that most students take the evaluations seriously. However, the bubble sheets and written responses are processed differently, given that student input has higher priority.
“The comments that the students would handwrite are sent back to the instructors,” Wehner said. “The statistics, the average and the mean are seen by the faculty member, the department head, the committee reviewing the faculty member and myself.”
Suess said there are many advantages to having students evaluate professors at the end of every quarter.
“They get feedback from the students; they can compare how their teaching compares with other faculty members in the department; it can help them improve their teaching effectiveness; it can be used to help validate their teaching performance,” Suess said.
The faculty member usually distributes the student evaluations during the last week or two of class. The professor then leaves the classroom, and the completed forms are collected by a student who later takes them to the department chair.
“This protects the integrity of the system,” Suess said. “Then they are evaluated by each question with the number of responses provided by the students.”
All written responses from the students go into the professor’s permanent folder, which is referred to if the professor wants to earn tenure or promotion in the future.
“It plays a major role, but it’s not the only role,” Suess said. “We also look at their syllabi and their grading purposes, exams and evaluations by faculty peers.”
Based on the evaluations he filled out, English junior Colin Gillan felt it was beneficial to “shed light” on teaching strategies that worked. He also thought evaluations benefit both the students and the professors.
“I play a part in the education of this school,” Gillan said. “When a teacher is willing to allow students for input, it allows them to grow as a teacher.”
Gillan indicated that he filled out evaluations in an honest manner, no matter what opinion he holds of his professors.
“Honesty can improve the way your class runs,” Gillan said. “(The professors) are in a place where they could make the class better.”