U considers restricting access to evals

A committee is looking at making student comments on evaluations available only to that instructor.

Jamie VanGeest

The University’s Senate Committee on Education Policy might change who gets to see the written student comments on teacher evaluation forms.

Currently, members of groups dealing with promotions, tenure decisions and salary decisions may view the student comments, said Senate committee member Joel Weinsheimer.

The committee is evaluating whether to change policy so only the professors being evaluated will be able to read the comments about them, said Vernon Cardwell, a member of the committee and a professor in agronomy and plant genetics.

The committee brought in Raoul Arreola, an expert who conducts workshops on evaluations around the world and is conducting his own research on the validity of student comments. The Senate committee also is examining specific questions in the teacher evaluation, he said.

Arreola said using student comments is not a valid way of evaluating an instructor’s teaching performance, Cardwell said.

An issue of concern with student comments is that one negative comment could overshadow plentiful positive comments, he said.

“I am not willing to support written comments for general distribution because you don’t know the circumstances that led to those comments,” Cardwell said.

Weinsheimer, an English professor, said he has hesitations about limiting who is able to see student comments.

“Students are, at present, the only reliable judges of classroom performance and some people don’t believe that,” he said.

Also, limiting access to student comments will decrease the amount of information available to the people who determine tenure status and salary rates, Weinsheimer said.

If the new policy is instated, professors would have the option to show others the comments their student gave them, but it would be at each professor’s discretion, he said.

It’s up to the professor to decide what to do with students’ comments, Weinsheimer said. They can use them to become a better teacher or think the comments are, for example, part of a conspiracy against the professor.

First-year neuroscience student Sannaz Etemadi said student comments should continue to be seen by those other than the professor because it’s one of the only ways students can comment on professors anonymously.

Bhrunil Patel, a first-year genetics student, said he felt the same way.

“I don’t think it’s OK for professors to be the only ones to see student comments,” he said.