Evaluating the Evaluation

The Bell Tower

What’s all this hype about student evaluations? It seems that some collegiate institutions, such as Lee University, place a surprising emphasis on their student evaluations. For those of you not in the collegiate loop, professors are rated by their students each semester in a simple questionnaire administered close to the end of each term. For professors with tenure, this is no biggie, just a bunch of whiny kids who think you need to stop giving so many lectures because your nose whistles when you talk. For professors without tenure, or even worse, those looking to get a job, these evaluations are their only hope for success. If I’m not catering to the student who really wants an easy way out of his required Humanities course, then I’m in serious danger of getting the axe.

Now, you might respond that the proportion of these students is low enough not to constitute any risk to professors who want to keep their classes rigorous. And I would respond by saying, “You’re right. Except…” Except that Lee University is touted as a “Second-Chance Institution” where “Christ is King.” This proves to be a very lethal combination to those instructors wishing to actually use the hours of research they’ve slaved over in graduate school. Instead of having 10% of your students wanting to get their D’s and get out, you now have up to half of your class (and sometimes more) just wanting to mark this course off of their transcript for the rest of their lives. If a higher-up gets a sampling of evaluations from one of these courses, a professor who hands out extra-credit like peppermints at your grandmother’s church looks mighty good compared to the one who doesn’t believe in “extra credit.”

Am I saying that student evaluations are a bad thing? By no means. What I am saying is that in an institution like Lee University, they can’t be our primary mode of weeding out young professors who are normally forced to teach nothing but core classes. This approach will slowly weed out our rigorous professors and, as is normal in today’s society, pull the highest thinkers down to the level of the lowest for the sake of “equality” and “fairness.” It will drive out our best and brightest and leave the institution with an area of influence about as large as its buildings can reach.