Mr. Edison’s take in the Nov. 6 issue of The University Star, that students should be involved in the granting of tenure to faculty, does not take into account the complex process involved, nor does he consider that students are not adequately equipped with the judgement required to make this decision.
Students barely even submit their online course evaluations for their instructors. According to the American Association of University Professors, there are multiple issues with student evaluations—the biggest of which is low response rate. Since moving primarily to an online format, only 20-40 percent of students actually turn in their evaluations. A quick perusal of many Texas State courses’ student perceptions confirms this. If Texas State students can’t even fill out a short form about the quality of professors, why should we trust them in a tenure review?
Another problem the AAUP cites when it comes to student evaluations is bias. Students tend to rate female faculty and faculty of color poorly. Research published in August of this year in the academic journal Sex Roles found that students set higher expectations for minority professors, which are then more difficult for professors to meet. Students also expect female faculty to grant more special favors, and react negatively when this expectation is not met. Evaluations include various assumptions based on race and gender—there’s no ‘sweet spot.’ If a female professor is too serious, students perceive her negatively, and if she is too friendly, she is not seen as serious or knowledgeable.
Students are also often asked to evaluate aspects of courses they generally just don’t understand. Students don’t know if a textbook is appropriate for a course. The majority of them have no idea about how courses are planned and formatted to meet the standards of the university. If they think it’s hard, or if they get a bad grade, they tend to blame the professor, not themselves. This is evident on sites like RateMyProfessors.com, where students only leave a review on the site if they had an overwhelmingly positive experience or an overwhelmingly negative experience.
Faculty and administrators have input on who gets tenure and who does not because they understand the teaching process. Whereas students have a personal experience with their professors, having their work evaluated for a mark on their transcripts, faculty and administrators are able to take an objective view of tenure candidates’ performance and skills. Students also don’t tend to have experience with their professor’s research outside of the lecture hall. Faculty have other things to offer Texas State University than whether you get an A.
– Toni Mac Crossan is a biology senior