Be honest? An opinion on evaluations

I know I’m not alone when I say that I’ve had some difficult professors. Miscommunicated homework, miscalculated grades and near-impossible assignments have ravaged the schedules of most students.

I took a class last year that was particularly unorganized. Most of the students were utterly confused by the assignments, and asking the professor to clarify questions only made the directions foggier. Classes were often silent, with little discussion and no lecture. When we filled out evaluations at the end of the semester, I was honest and voiced my frustration.  

After the last class, I walked back to my car with another student and was floored to find out that she didn’t give the professor a bad evaluation because she felt sorry for him.

Why would you pay thousands of dollars for a class and then not give your honest opinion in an evaluation? I am writing this to ask you  to beg you  to take evaluations seriously. Professors can’t see them until after grades are submitted, so speak your mind.   

“When faculty are considered for tenure and promotion, they have to provide evidence of effective teaching, research and service,” Susan Awbrey, senior associate provost, said. “It’s in many cases a portfolio.”

Can you guess what’s used as evidence for the “effective teaching” portion of the portfolio? Among other things, a compilation of student evaluations. Good or bad reviews can affect a promotion or dismissal.

“There is usually a different compilation for each class a professor teaches,” Awbrey said.

Having another faculty member observe the class also affects the effective teaching portion.

The entire portfolio is reviewed by a committee within the school or college when a faculty member is eligible for tenure or a promotion.

“You really get people who understand the discipline,” Awbrey said.

After that, a committee of faculty from different departments analyze the portfolio.

Finally, the provost looks through the recommendations by both committees and talks to the dean of the school or college for input. They make the final decision.

Evaluations are helpful even if a faculty member isn’t eligible for tenure or promotion, according to Pat Piskulich, associate professor of political science.

“We get some really good advice,” Piskulich said.

Although professors aren’t required to look over the evaluations, Piskulich said he doesn’t know any professors who don’t care what students have to say.

“There’s a customer service to what we do,” he said. “We have an obligation to be transparent.”

Many things affect how a professor is evaluated, Piskulich said, including the professor’s personality and when the evaluations are administered. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what evaluations measure.

Not every department and college hands out evaluations at the end of the semester. Some have students do them online on their own time. Political science is one of these departments. Piskulich said they have a very low response rate. Only students who have strong feelings bother to fill them out.

“Who is that small portion? Are they really happy or really angry?” Piskulich said.

It shouldn’t only be impassioned people. It should be everyone. Students have a voice, and they should use it. Terrible professors shouldn’t be teaching, and good professors should be recognized.

So be honest. Be thoughtful. And if evaluations are done outside of class, take the time to fill them out.