Paul L. Caron

Monday, January 12, 2009

Texas A&M Faculty Protest $10k Bonuses Based on Student Evaluations

Texas A&M faculty are protesting plans to give $2,500 - $10,000 bonuses to the Top 15% of faculty solely on the basis of student evaluations:

The chancellor of the Texas A&M University System wants to give bonuses worth up to $10,000 to some instructors, but so far, many aren't interested. "I've never had so much trouble giving away a million dollars," Chancellor Mike McKinney said, laughing. ...

But faculty members have voiced concern about the program's fairness, worried that it relies on a single evaluation method and could become a popularity contest that wouldn't serve students. Many instructors haven't signed up to participate; the faculty senate passed a resolution opposing the program. ...

"I don't think faculty are going to pander to students for a few thousand dollars," said Traci Carte, an associate professor of management information systems.

UpdateFaculty Pay by "Applause Meter" (Inside Higher Ed)

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Everybody who has taught for a while knows how to maximize ratings: be amusing during lectures and give easy grades.

If the university signals clearly that they want more of that, they will get more of that behavior.

Students are very poor at rating their professors. (I get very good ratings, but I pay little attention to them, because the students - mostly - don't care and they don't put any effort into doing the ratings.)

Posted by: RJ | Jan 13, 2009 4:19:03 PM


thanks for the info

Posted by: anon | Jan 13, 2009 4:03:21 PM

I was faculty at TAMU and this is one of several spams the campus is experiencing as new initiatives are being introduced, raise the rankings of the university and somehow placate the whims of the Texas legislature and governor.

The basic rule is that student evaluations do not help you in merit or promotion decisions, but they can harm - or at least provide fodder for the nasty world of academic/departmental politics, which I'm sure many here are familiar. No doubt part of the opposition is that, lower ranked faculty teach more sections and so would have more evaluations upon which to be judged. It is very common for some senior faculty to buy out their sections rather than teach, especially for the lower level classes and that would automatically preclude them from this bonus pool. A modification to the original plan is that at least faculty will be competing from the same college, not across the colleges. There are already university teaching awards with special watches, etc - but these are all at the associate level or higher. It is very common for faculty to "forget" about distributing the evaluations - since there are no repercussions for their submissions - or be very choosy in the day that the evaluations are distributed: an awful section or student from hell, well you hand them out when most are absent; a great section of the best students ever, you want as many of them there as possible. Optimally, the evals would be delivered uniformly on the same day(s) (taking into account M,W,F and T, Th classes) and not given by the instructor of record. I was never clear on how the written comments would be handled.

Evaluations are a scantron of 20 or so questions with written comments on the back of the form. They are delivered to the faculty (at all levels: grad student teachers to full professor) and usual procedure is to hand them out w/ 5- 10 minutes of class remaining and ask a reliable student to hand them in to the respective department's office. Some questions are mandated for inclusion for all sections and consequently are seen be all students; other questions are specified by the colleges or departments at their discretion. So the scantron forms in the College of Liberal Arts can and will differ from the College of Engineering.

For or against? I'd sign up - it's a shot at free money and my evaluations tended to be fairly solid.

Posted by: Tony | Jan 13, 2009 11:59:09 AM

For the "anonymous" poster above griping about "law professors" objecting to the evaluation mechanism: please be aware that there is not a single law professor to be found in the Texas A&M system. By the actions of the Texas state legislature (filled with many graduates of Texas Law, or Baylor Law, or even SMU Law), there can be no College of Law at Texas A&M. A&M has tried for years to add one, but has always been roadblocked.

This is about short-sighted professors from all disciplines. However, I agree with the other poster about the student's side of the input--it seems little has changed in the 20 years since I graduated. The evaluation forms were a joke then, too. I like the concept, but the implementation needs to be improved on both sides.

Posted by: Alan Stephens | Jan 13, 2009 11:08:23 AM

In my eleven years as a fractional time professor in a professional program at Wayne State University in Detroit, I spent the first three years trying to objectively react to my student's reviews.

I finally began to realize that they were being used as a tool to intimidate and undercut me with the administration. At that point I never read them again as they were excursions into character assasination.

Oddly, I was elected twice after that as the outstanding faculty member in the program by the students in the program.

I finally resigned the job (at a loss of 18 G a year for a part time job) when administration started changing grades upward to "clear students out" of the program and allow the requisite National Competency exam that followed graduation to "weedout" those who were unqualified.

Passing students forward in some twisted version of social promotion was the ultimate disservice to the student, my profession and myself -- I refused to play along.

Billy Bob

Posted by: Billy Bob | Jan 13, 2009 11:08:23 AM

That is not a very effective measure of deciding who gets a raise... I think that should definitely be considered, but shouldn't be the only criteria on whether or not they will qualify for a bonus.

Posted by: Michael | Jan 13, 2009 5:07:12 AM

Better the students than the guild.

Posted by: Brett | Jan 13, 2009 5:07:12 AM

I've wondered how best to consistently rate a professor's performance. Perhaps assessing the average salary of all of his or her recent students for their first two years would be the way to go.

The more valued (successful) the graduates, the better their professors should be rated and compensated.

There's some lag in the feedback loop, but that shouldn't be a problem as long as we keep it on the order of a handful of years.

Posted by: Gavin | Jan 13, 2009 5:07:12 AM

I am currently a student at Texas A&M and I can tell you that the evaluations are a joke. While I think that student feedback is important and can be of great value to the professors, the format of the evaluation and the way in which it is administered is flawed. The evaluations need have more depth than A,B,C, or D and they need to transfer some of the burden over to the students. I sit in far too many classes where the students walk in, take out their I-pod ear buds and then expect to sit and be entertained by the professor. They don't want to contribute to the discussion or participate in any type of exercise that may make them actually think. I think the first question on the evaluation should be...What could I have done as a student to make my experience in this class more meaningful and interesting?

Posted by: Gig'em Ag 09 | Jan 13, 2009 5:07:12 AM

law professors complaining about a system of evaluation that determines rank and eventual compensation becuase its based on only 1 test?...oh the irony.

Posted by: anon | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:38 PM

Goodness knows that an evalution method focused on the students certainly doesn't serve the students. Fools.

Posted by: Dave | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:38 PM

law professors, saying that a system of evalutation (which determines eventual ranking and then eventual compensation) should be based on more than 1 test!

oh the irony of it all

Posted by: anon | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:38 PM

I don't know the proportion of cowards to snobs here, but they obviously are afraid of student evaluations. But what do you expect of academe?

Posted by: Ellen | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:38 PM

Ha!" 'I don't think faculty are going to pander to students for a few thousand dollars,' said Traci Carte, an associate professor of management information systems."

Either she hasn't been there very long, she doesn't know all her colleagues or she doesn't know her colleagues all that well. I have had colleagues who have pretty obviously pandered to students for way less than a few thousand dollars.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:37 PM

People really think that a professor wouldn't pander for a few thousand dollars? I'm quite sure they would. But more than that, you might have a "good but tough" professor start second-guessing that "tough" part. Perhaps thinking twice about the really difficult essay he'd always required at the end of the semester...

Really though, it is a tough call for the school. Performance-based bonuses are a great idea, and the students ARE the customers. I guess perhaps the bonus could be based on some kind of matrix based on student surveys, but not based solely on "I like this guy".

Posted by: constantine | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:37 PM

Bonus based on Performance rather than Seniority, what a concept. This wouldn;t have stood a chance in CA, the unions would have shot it down.

Posted by: Greg | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:37 PM

Pandering? Popularity contest? How about incentivize them to be interesting and engaging--and actually make their course material interesting for the students? Sad it was received the way it was--but predictable.

Posted by: Jason McClain | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:37 PM

How about a payout based on the parent's evaluation?

Posted by: jsallison | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:37 PM