Shared Governance Part Three: Current Use of SRIs by UVU Administrators

Letter of Faculty Concern Regarding Current Use of Student Evaluations by UVU Administrators

September 24, 2021

Despite claims that UVU’s administration employs a “holistic” approach to evaluating teaching effectiveness, recently, numerous faculty complaints have been made about upper administration’s emphasis on using Student Ratings of Instructor (SRIs) as a primary means of judging faculty competence. Recommendations from Retention, Tenure, and Promotion (RTP) committees, chairs, and peers have taken a backseat to students’ comfort with and enjoyment of a particular class. The university’s overreliance on student evaluations in determining faculty effectiveness undermines the goals of having a diverse faculty, the ability of faculty to teach difficult and challenging subjects, and the ability of students to learn. It is especially troubling that these practices have become even more pronounced during the past year, a year when faculty were assured that the special difficulties of teaching in a pandemic environment would be factored in to any faculty evaluations.

In defense of the administration’s overreliance on student evaluations for purposes of tenure and promotion, Dean Clark, current Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, maintains that customer satisfaction surveys are “ubiquitous” and that UVU should be no exception. However, this assertion fails to acknowledge the important distinctions between public universities, which are public goods, and for-profit businesses. For instance, unlike public universities, private businesses exist to maximize profits. Therefore, ensuring that customers are always comfortable and satisfied is a primary concern. Public universities are public goods that serve their communities by producing graduates who possess the critical thinking skills necessary for engaged citizenship and to excel in the professional workforce. A university cannot simultaneously provide students with a sound education and guarantee that they will not be made to feel uncomfortable by challenging curriculums or controversial topics. Student evaluations may indicate the degree to which students enjoyed a given class, but they are not reliable indicators of student learning. Additionally, university administrators frequently dispute the accuracy of the student ratings on the grounds that they are too high to be meaningful. In essence, they accept the lowest rankings as meaningful but the high averages as inflated, a process demonstrated by CHSS’ recent concern with quantifying the average scores into septiles and asking for explanation from the “lowest achievers” even if their average is above four on the five-point scale.

Moreover, Dean Clark has asserted that student evaluations are effective means of “documenting” faculty malfeasance. This assertion ignores the fact that the surveys are anonymous and the individuals who complete these surveys are not accountable for the accuracy of their claims. Thus, any data gathered from student evaluations is hearsay. Of course, not all hearsay is false, but it needs to be corroborated with more reliable forms of evidence. For instance, if student evaluations consistently indicate that a professor is an “unfair grader” or is chronically late for class, these unsubstantiated allegations could warrant further investigation by the faculty’s department chair or the administration. UVU administrators to this point have made no distinction between personal learning preferences and complaints about rigor on the one hand and serious red flags on the other. As mentioned above, the administration has a record of denying applications for tenure and promotion based almost entirely on hearsay.

The administration’s unilateral decision to make student evaluations the primary method of assessing teaching effectiveness also violates the norms of shared governance and is not in the best interest of our students. The AAUP (American Association of University Professors) maintains that, although there should be shared governance between faculty and administrators, faculty, who are experts in their fields, should be primarily responsible for evaluating subject matter and the curriculum. An overreliance on student evaluations tacitly encourages faculty to decrease the quality and rigor of their courses in exchange for positive ratings from students. Thus, by substituting its judgement for the judgement of the faculty, the administration is adversely affecting both the subject matter and the curriculum as well as infringing on what the AAUP maintains is “…the right of faculty to teach and of students to learn…”

In any discussion of student evaluations of instructors it must also be noted that, in numerous scholarly sources, student evaluations have been shown to be biased against women, racial minorities, foreigners, and ethnic minorities. In short, an over-reliance on student evaluations undermines the goals of having a diverse faculty and providing students with a sound education. Therefore, the David R. Keller Chapter of the AAUP and the UVU Chapter of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) call on the administration to collaborate with faculty to develop means of assessing teaching effectiveness that are truly holistic, accurate, fair, and encourage best practices in the classroom.

 

Sincerely,

 

The leadership of the American Federation of Teachers at UVU & the leadership of the David R. Keller Chapter of the AAUP at UVU are submitting this open letter in support of our members’ expressed concerns.

 


Rick McDonald 

Interim President AFT at UVU

 

Alex Simon


Out-going President AFT at UVU

 

Lydia Kerr

In-coming President AFT at UVU

 

David Knowlton

President David R. Keller chapter of the AAUP at UVU

 

Mark Lentz

Vice-president David R. Keller chapter of the AAUP at UVU

 

Elaine Englehardt

Treasurer David R. Keller chapter of the AAUP at UVU 

 

 

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