It’s often said that professors can be neatly divided into two categories – those who are esteemed in their field, and those who are esteemed in the classroom. University professors did not fare well in a recent study conducted by Academic Analysts, a research coalition that ranks professors solely based on publishing record. The University’s disdain for these external ranking systems is understandable; we all know publishing record is no indication of teaching skills. But the problem is larger than that, centering on the lack of student involvement in demanding and maintaining a culture of teaching excellence.
The downfall of student-initiated course evaluations may be that professors are often placed at the mercy of apathetic students. Sadly, few students will heap praise on an exceptional professor; most are content simply to darken circles and dart. This lax attitude is a shame, considering the pretty penny students pay for tuition. It works to the disadvantage of students and faculty, both of whom seek to ameliorate the University’s academic climate and raise the bar to offer strong classes in all departments.
The advent of yet another rankings index provides the University with an opportunity to critically re-evaluate how it rates professors. Every student who has been subjected to the hour-and-a-half-long monologues of some internationally renowned scholar who cannot impart a shred of coherent information would agree that rankings based on publishing record and conducted by outside analysts hold no real importance. Teaching ability and the capacity to publish prolifically don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Any system of evaluating professors must do so accurately and meaningfully so as to guide future students.
The system that is currently in place – scantron questionnaires that assume an entire semester can be summed into darkened bubbles labeled 1 through 5 – does little to foster a culture that encourages students to voice critical feedback about their professors’ performance. Many of the current course reviews seem to disappear into the void of administrative bureaucracy, while the students with real complaints turn instead to external websites like www.ratemyprofessor.com.
An ideal solution would be an independent review agency on campus that systematically creates, updates and reviews student evaluations of professors and courses. The results would appear in a comprehensive website that details not only the nature and effectiveness of a given instructor’s teaching style but also the difficulty of homework and exams. But while the University can develop a more authoritative, holistic system of evaluation, no system can work without students doing their part. By filling out evaluations thoroughly and accurately students must take up the burden of developing a more meaningful professor review process. Student involvement should not be mandated from above – students shouldn’t have to be compelled to serve their own educational interests.
An internally monitored and student-led professor-review system would enable the University to shrug off the damning influence of quantitative rating systems once and for all, and would fulfill two important functions – developing a remarkable research faculty and fostering quality education for students.