Letter to the Editor: Faculty senate meeting misrepresented

The article reporting on the Faculty Senate discussion of on-line teaching evaluations (“Faculty senate approves online prof evaluations,” March 14) had several inaccuracies and seriously misquoted me. The article stated the vote was unanimous to go to online evaluations, but, there were four votes against and two abstentions. In addition to that minor error was the major mischaracterization of my remarks during the debate. The factual errors referencing my comments had the effect of making it sound like I was on the opposite side of the debate than the one I actually was on. The News reporter wrote I said there was a 15 percent response rate from students on existing evaluations, thus implying that I was in favor of going to online evaluations as an improvement. I said no such thing and was never approached by a reporter after the meeting to ensure that my comments would be accurately reported.

In actuality, I was responding to a statement by MJ Paradiso, vice president for academic affairs for the Student Government Association, who had tried to reassure the senate that online evaluations would be valid because he believed student leaders could generate at least a 50 percent response from students. I said a 50 percent response was not adequate when using student evaluations for any important purpose. The reporter translated my 50 percent to 15 percent and reversed the “present system” with a “future online system,” thus totally changing the characterization of the point I was making.

Normally, I would let a mistake like this pass without writing a letter. However, I would like to use this opportunity to assure students that your voice is heard in teacher evaluations. In the College of Business Administration, we take your input very seriously and use it for making tenure, promotions and merit raise evaluations, in addition to modifying our course materials and policies to meet the concerns you express in your comments.

I know this to be the case in most other colleges as well. To use the data, we must be able to trust the validity. There are numerous pedagogical studies that verify the validity of student evaluations when the participation rate is very high. Rather than 15 percent, I would estimate that we have a participation rate closer to 90 percent under the present paper system.

My major fear is that going to online evaluations will have the unintended effect of diluting the input of students rather than giving students more of a voice. The new evaluations will not be used to really evaluate and judge professors if participation rates are not high enough to trust the data.

The Faculty Senate voted to switch to online evaluations without knowing any of the important details as to how this will actually work. We were told that the present system is broken, without being given evidence of how it is broken other than there is not enough funding. During the Senate session, senators continually reported their constituents were worried about taking this step without further study, yet these senators proceeded to vote for online evaluations, without requiring a pilot test be conducted to measure validity.

The vote is done. My side lost, so I will now try to be part of the process, ensuring the participation rates are high enough to trust the new evaluations. I’m not a computer Luddite; I know the future is in online evaluations, but I think they would only be an improvement over the present system if each student has the ability to do an on-line evaluation in the classroom in real-time, rather than being asked to remember to evaluate their professor on their own time.

On another note, I would like to apologize to each student who was in the Senate for the unfortunate comments made by some of my colleagues regarding student drinking behavior. While we are all concerned with excessive alcohol consumption by students, the Senate was no place to make joking comments about students not taking evaluations seriously because they might be drunk. I could see that the students in the room were shocked and uncomfortable with those comments, and I can assure them that most of the faculty in the room were appalled as well.

– Sharon M. Bruns is a professor of business administration.

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