NIU lacks transparency with course evaluations

By Kaylyn Zielinski

NIU needs more transparency when it comes to how course evaluations are handled so students can understand what kind of impact they have.

At the end of the semester, students are asked to evaluate how they think their professor performed throughout the semester. The course evaluations arrive in the classroom encased in a manila folder and eventually end up back in that same folder disappearing out of the classroom and students’ minds. Students should know what is going to happen to the evaluations and how the evaluation will affect the professors.

Erica Ogunleye, senior corporate organizational communication major, said she was not sure what happens to evaluations once they are completed.

“I want course evaluations to be handled seriously,” Ogunleye said. “I don’t know what they can do about negative [evaluations.]”

It is the responsibility of those engaged in personnel decisions to recognize the values and the limitations of student evaluations and to use them only in conjunction with all other available indicators, according to NIU’s website.

Tenured and tenured-track faculty will receive a merit score — one of the components of a merit score is the professor’s course evaluations. The merit score can then be used later on to decide whether a professor will be rehired, promoted and/or possibly get a raise, said Michael Day, First Year Composition director.

NIU should make this information available to students; the current description on the NIU website is confusing and so many students may not understand that their evaluations are part of a professor’s merit score. While NIU’s website was a bit unclear as to what specifically happens with course evaluations, it was much easier to find at the University of Illinois at Springfield’s website.

The University of Illinois at Springfield has established policy requesting and using the opinions and input of students in the evaluation of faculty for personnel reviews, including reappointment, promotion and tenure, according to the first line of Policies and Procedures – Faculty Course Evaluations on the University of Illinois at Springfield’s website.

NIU Testing Services receives the course evaluations after they are finished by students. Testing Services Director Gregory Barker was unavailable for comment.

“[Course evaluations] are an opportunity to learn more about our students experiences of our classes so that we can continue to improve them,” Day said.

The way course evaluations affect faculty is different depending on the department, said communication associate professor Kathryn Cady.

“I think that [course evaluations] provide an opportunity for students to give feedback in a way that can be frank and open. Hearing that always helps up think about how the course is working and if the course is confusing,” Cady said.

If students were made aware of the effects their evaluations had on their professors, they may take them more seriously. The university should make it clear as to how student input will be used and how it will affect their professors they are evaluating.