Field of Science

Voting your professor out of the university

Zounds!  Here's another terrific idea for improving a university education: Let students vote "poor" professors out of the university. In other words, fire professors who get low teaching evaluations from students. What political party does this legislator represent? Anyone?  Anyone? Not having done the homework, the class simply waits for the answer to be given. TPP moves on. A hand is raised, a question posed, "Well, which party?" Ah, yes, well, you were able to get that from the article (see link above) you were assigned to read. Bing, dropped a tenth of a point right there. So many fallacies and misunderstandings are presented in this article TPP checked to see if it came from the Onion, but no, the Chronicle of Higher Education. Close. So where does one begin? Let's just take the most obvious. This hawk-eyed  legislator thinks 18-22 year olds are qualified to make such decisions because they are spending thousands of dollars for this instruction. Who is spending the money?  Mostly parents.  OK, TPP has 40 years of teaching evaluations that argue students really aren't qualified to determine what is and isn't good teaching. They know what they like and what they don't like. High on that list of dislikes is working to learn, studying. Many students end up in your classroom with the attitude that it's your job to educate them no matter what. And even if they make little or no effort their failure to learn is your fault. "I was so turned off by his attitude that students needed to work harder that I didn't learn nothing." And even in a low-stakes contest of determining faculty raises, in which teaching evaluations play some factor, some faculty shamelessly pander, and lots of students just eat it up. The highest teaching evaluations TPP has ever seen were "earned" by a colleague who was very entertaining and very, very easy. When team-teaching with this colleague my own evaluations suffered in comparison, and when teaching the same material without this colleague, my evaluations jumped up more than a whole point on average on a 5 point system. As an undergrad, TPP had one professor who was an arrogant SOB, a difficult and demanding teacher with an insufferable manner, but after a few years, TPP recognized that the man was simply a brilliant teacher who was way ahead of the curve in science education. He'd give you instructions for a lab, which of course we didn't read. There was a problem to solve. He'd walk into the lab, smile, and say, "Any questions?"  Nobody asked anything, so he'd say, "Good, good." And he'd leave, checking on the class at intervals. Some students simply got up and left too. Some of us decided to finally read the assignment. When we finally had decided what to do, discussed how to proceed, and finally had some questions, he was quite helpful. If students had used today's system of evaluations, no telling how low his evaluations might be, but his teaching influenced my own teaching for a whole career.  Now don't get TPP wrong, there are poor teachers and there are discerning students who recognize it and pandering when they see it. But they aren't the majority particularly in those larger lecture courses. You know maybe if 18-22 year olds voted in greater numbers this legislator wouldn't be so eager to put his fate in their hands. And there's much more that could be said about this legislator's misunderstanding of higher education, e.g., his failure to understand the role of research and scholarship in teaching, but TPP just recently touched upon this issue. Oh, yes, another suggestion from the party fixated upon improving higher education, the GnOPe.

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