To the Deans of the College and members of the College Policy Committee:
The College of Arts and Sciences offers undergraduates an educational opportunity that matches those of the most prestigious programs in the country. Unfortunately, delivering a quality education is becoming ever more challenging. The campus project to uniformize, computerize, expand and publish student teaching evaluations (STE) will do little to alleviate these challenges or to improve the quality of educational opportunity. In fact it will exacerbate the challenges and create new ones. The STE project should be carefully reviewed from the perspective of the educational mission of the College.
Discussion: College faculty have differing views regarding the project; here are some of them.
1) There is a widespread belief that increasing the visibility and importance of STE will further exacerbate grade inflation and lead to decreased classroom expectations.
2) Giving STE the appearance of scientific validity greatly enhances the power of the biases of responders regarding such matters as gender and race. To be implemented, the plan for the project must include a clear description of means of minimizing and correcting for these biases in a scientifically sound way.
3) Increasing the impact of STE will give impetus for faculty to avoid teaching courses which are "high risk" with respect to evaluation scores. By what means can the College and University assure instructors that agreeing to teach these essential but challenging courses will not adversely affect their merit, tenure, and promotion reviews?
4) Providing a high quality college education is a collective effort that thrives on diversity, not only in the subjects taught but also in the teaching approaches of the faculty. Survey questions should not be of a style that works against that diversity by emphasizing and encouraging a bland but student-pleasing uniformity.
5) The project entails the creation of a database that contains detailed results from STE. There should be a clear statement of precisely what statistical information will be extracted from the data along with documentation that the use of this information is statistically sound and not subject to misinterpretation. Furthermore, other uses of the data should be explicitly prohibited.
6) By publishing on-line results from the STE, the University is endorsing the use of these results by students in course selection, as well as the public's use of the results in assessing the quality of faculty. Many, if not most, faculty believe this is completely inappropriate; there should be no public release of STE data.
7) In the last 40 years, the use of STE has been the subject of a myriad of research studies. The plan for the project should include citations of studies that explicitly address the effectiveness of the use of teaching evaluations (in such matters as tenure and promotion review) in improving undergraduate education.
These are just a few of the many concerns expressed by College faculty; others range from faults in the individual questions to issues of the impact on faculty governance and academic freedom. As you solicit more input, you will discover that there are many more potential pitfalls in the project. An open, public review is the only way to ensure that changes in the form and use of STE will improve and not damage our educational undertaking.