UBC Faculty Association has a bad week: part 1

Two items of interest from the UBC Faculty Association this month. See above post. Sources from the Faculty Focus (click!) newsletter.

Teaching evaluation ire

The Association has called upon the university to put an immediate moratorium on the new teacher evaluation system to be implemented this term. The new system would see “modular” forms filled out by students. Some modules would be available only at the professor, department, or faculty level, while one module (the “university module”)would be published and available to students university-wide. Instructors would give their consent before the university module for their courses would be posted.

The six University Module questions are HERE. Have a gander and see what you think.

This evaluation system has gone through a lengthy committee process at the university’s Senate (a body that makes all academic decisions), and was finally passed last spring. It’s generally thought that a greater amount of public accountability for teaching will increase the culture of excellent teaching at UBC. The AMS has been supportive of this evaluation system. Not so the faculty association. In their September issue of the Faculty Focus newsletter, Faculty Association president Brenda Peterson wrote an open letter to UBC president Stephen Toope, calling upon him not to implement the new system. The process and speed of implementation, the online posting mechanism, the questions themselves (which were deemed too focused on the student’s “learning comfort”), and the availability of the data were criticized. Essentially, the claims are that any publicly available evaluations would infringe upon their members’ privacy, become a popularity contest, and encourage high marks and grade inflation.

Not all teachers think that though. At my lab’s Thanksgiving dinner, my supervisor Dr. Curtis Suttle, associate dean of science, said to me that he had no problems with the new system. “I think it’s fine. There’s no reason why the information shouldn’t be out there” he said (in between bastings of the magnificent turkey). “For science, it’s not that different from what we already do. It might be a bigger change for others.”

Personally, I think that the faculty association underestimates students. We aren’t vindictive. We aren’t brats. The teacher-student relationship is a relationship like any other: it demands respect and fairness from both sides. Students are perfectly willing to give good teaching scores to the instructors of challenging courses if those instructors were clear, organized, engaging, and willing to help – yes, even if they only scraped a C.

Lots more background on this:


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