By GARY KNOWLES
Debra Schleef, the assistant provost for Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness, initiated a motion to change how student evaluations work at the end of each semester. Currently, not all classes are evaluated at the end of every semester. If this proposed addition to the faculty handbook is approved, then students enrolled in credit courses will be given an evaluation form for those classes. Meaning that all courses would be evaluated starting next semester even courses that do not normally get evaluated.
The College of Business and the College of Education are currently the only colleges at the University of Mary Washington that require evaluations for all courses. The College of Arts and Sciences follows an informal policy that sees that tenured professors are evaluated on rotating schedule. Therefore, the tenured professors do not get evaluated each semester.
There are some exceptions to the evaluation requirement. Courses that provide credit for participation on an intercollegiate athletics team, private music lessons, undergraduate research, guided research, senior projects, individual studies, internships and practicum classes, do not fall under this policy. A few other exceptions were noted for courses with five or fewer students, summer courses (unless the professor requests an evaluation) and experimental courses by tenured faculty.
This type of feedback is important in helping the professors improve how they teach their students in the future. This motion would be beneficial to students as well.
“A broader culture of understanding about evaluations and how they are used would help everyone but especially students,” said Schleef. She wants to promote a culture of solidarity around the evaluations by extending the evaluations to cover tenured faculty and non-tenured faculty. The change is motivated to improve teaching for the student body at UMW.
Craig Vasey, professor and chair in the philosophy department, does not believe the motion will have an impact. According to Vasey, the rate of return on these evaluations is less than 40 percent.
“I do not think it will make any significant difference if this change is made,” said Vasey. “It is undeniably unusual –considering the national norm—that courses would not be evaluated every time they are taught.”
Schleef provided some details on why the system of evaluating courses on a rotating basis was implemented in the past. According to her, the current system of not evaluating tenured professors every semester started in the mid-90s in order to cut costs. This issue is no longer a concern, however.
“The reason for that no longer exists, since the process we use costs the same to evaluate 900 courses as it does to evaluate 660,” said Schleef.
There appears to be no reason to continue evaluating tenured professors on their current evaluation schedule. However, it is unclear whether this amendment would bring dramatic changes in teaching styles across UMW. Schleef and Vasey both mentioned that almost all universities evaluated their professors every semester and the motion was created in order to follow that practice.
The change has not been approved yet and the concept of it has faced mixed reviews.
“There have been some faculty who are opposed to the handbook change and others who like the idea,” said Schleef. “It’s a faculty decision to make.”
Despite the motion’s implications for that professors are the deciding factor, the results will rely on feedback from students.