SA’s boycott displeases faculty members

By Mark Moulitsas

Some faculty members have expressed displeasure at the Student Association’s methods of pushing for faculty members to release their teacher evaluations.

Robert Suchner, associate professor of sociology, said the SA showed a complete lack of understanding for the process many departments must go through before they can make policy changes, such as authorizing the release of teacher evaluations.

Suchner said the SA was wrong in imposing a deadline for the return of the teacher evaluation release forms.

He said the Nov. 24 deadline was laudable as an attempt to get things moving this semester, but was completely impossible for many faculty to carry out because of departmental policies and evaluation release dates of early January.

Suchner said many faculty feel, “If they (the SA) don’t know how the system works, how can I trust how they will handle the information?”

Suchner said he was not opposed to the idea, just the SA’s handling of the matter.

Robert Albritton, associate professor of political science, was similarly upset over the SA’s handling of the matter.

“I think that the faculty feels a little bit put out by the SA going ballistic over missing a deadline,” Albritton said. “If they had gone around and asked for a signature (consenting to the release of the evaluations), I would have been glad to do it.”

James Norris, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said most professors were not too worried about the threat of the boycott.

“Most faculty don’t live or die by their student evaluations,” Norris said.

Concerns have been raised by faculty members over the wisdom of publishing evaluations they consider skewered.

Albritton said that when evaluations are handed out, about half the class walks out, leaving only the people who really liked the class or really hated it.

“It’s a very skewered indicator,” he said.

Suchner echoed similar sentiments, “Faculty become very concerned of any method that may be taking a non-representational sample and making it seem like everyone thinks that way.”

Another problem facing the creation of a standardized teacher evaluation form for publishing is the creation of questions that would cut across disciplines, such as theater and biology.

“I don’t think it is comparable, since different departments use different (educational) methods,” Albritton said.

Suchner said, “If two courses are radically different in their goals, then I don’t want to compare them. To evaluate a course I have to know what the professor is trying to accomplish.”

Also, since every student has different expectations for the courses they are taking, it brings up the question on whether evaluations could reflect this.

“You can’t ask a question with the assumption that every student is expecting the same thing from a general education course,” Suchner said.

He said there have been cases where two students in the same class will write two completely opposing evaluations. For example, one student wrote that the professor paid too much attention to the text, while another wrote that the professor had not looked at the text enough.

These problems and concerns illustrate the fact that this is an issue that cannot be simply solved.

“In the past we’ve gotten very close to the implementation of an alternative plan of collecting data that would be published,” Suchner said. “We’ve always had the same kinds of problems. A lack of a plan and lack of persistence in implementing it.”

Albritton said, “The issue is a lot more complex than the students realize.”

The SA has called for students to boycott end-of-semester student evaluations as a way to pressure more faculty to release their evaluations to the SA.

The SA then hopes to publish the evaluations as a resource guide for students choosing their classes.