As Gonzaga’s Faculty Senate continues a decades-long effort of drafting a new faculty handbook, there is speculation that student’s opinions of their learning experience in each class isn’t going to hold as much weight as they have in the past.
Student evaluations used to be one of the many pieces of data that are used in reviews to determine whether or not professors at GU get promoted and receive tenure but with results of recent gender and ethnic studies, GU has looked into alleviating the impact of the student evaluations.
Implicit biases are something that tend to be inevitable when people are set with the task of evaluating one another.
Societal and cultural expectations on appearances and what has been deemed as normal or comfortable take precedence over the value of teaching.
Faculty Senate president and Associate Professor of biology, Marianne Poxleitner, is one of the many people facilitating this new faculty handbook.
“Student evaluations are one piece of evidence that we use to assess teaching effectiveness,” Poxleitner said. “The problem with the evaluations is that there have been studies that show there’s a tremendous amount of implicit bias shown toward women, people of color and professors with different nationalities.”
The questions that make up the current survey produce results that hold lots of biases and those biases could be holding professors back from advancing in their careers.
Questions pertaining to clarity of presentation, specific aspects of teaching that could improve and overall quality of the teaching of a course are currently leaving a lot of room for professors to be victims of unfair judgments and biases.
The goal is not to get rid of student evaluations entirely, but to adjust the questions, approaches and amount of weight these student evaluations carry.
Assessing the student perspective while creating a more robust and holistic evaluation parameter is the goal of the drafting process for the assembly, Poxleitner said.
There is no way to rid the assessment of all implicit biases but there is a way for the results to not have as big of an impact on the future of the careers of professors as it’d be unfair to allow the judgment of someone’s gender or ethnicity be the reason for a halt in their teaching career.
The new faculty handbook is going to heed the guidance of other schools' evaluation processes such as Saint Mary’s College of California.
Michael DeLand, an assistant professor in the criminology department and member of the Faculty Senate, is one of the many people working on creating a new guide for the ways professors can best serve the university.
DeLand’s academic subcommittee is in charge of the “bigger picture thinking in the entire reconstructive process and has their main goal of the semester centered around student evaluations.
“We do not only want quantitative feedback for the new faculty handbook,” DeLand said. “There’s very compelling data that shows professors with certain genders and ethnicities systematically score worse.”
Student feedback at the end of each semester is crucial for GU to maintain its high standard of education and they are important in continuing to provide quality education for students but, the answers that are provided by the current evaluation form don’t attest to the effectiveness of the professors.
“What we’re looking at is to determine if the students’ evaluations give results that answer the question ‘Are these good indicators of how good of a teacher they are, or is it a popularity survey’?,” DeLand said.
GU faculty and staff value the voices of students but concurrently, they need to be useful in effective ways that will ultimately benefit them as well as their professors.
Student evaluations are still important to the administration that reviews them but there are things that the faculty needs to re-evaluate before they feel comfortable letting implicit biases decide whether or not GU professors are well equipped for their teaching positions.