Well, crap

Updated on June 24, 2010.  Updated section is bolded.

That’s what I have to say about these higher education policies being advocated by Texas A&M people:

Texas A&M is implementing reforms pitched by a conservative think tank that advocates holding tenured professors more accountable, viewing students like customers and universities like businesses, and reining in spending to become more efficient.

This next statement is bullshit in my experience and it’s not clear why this guy thinks so:

“Higher education today isn’t focused on serving its customers,” said Bill Peacock, the foundation’s vice president for research. “It’s focused on serving the institution.”

And this part is especially upsetting, as anyone who has been on the receiving end of student evaluations can tell you:

One of the most compelling reforms — rewarding instructors with awards of up to $10,000 based on anonymous student evaluations, called “customer satisfaction” — has already been rolled out at all A&M campuses, starting at the flagship College Station campus and two others in fall 2008. It has been met with faculty resistance, but McKinney assured regents he will boost participation, which has been sparse, in the voluntary program.

No matter what you do in a class, some students will not like you.  If you push them, ask more of them than they want to give, especially in a class they don’t prioritize or see much value in, there are, inevitably, a section of your class that will not like you.  You can work your ass off, put in way more hours than you get back, and you may just not get the rating you are expected to get to qualify as a “good” teacher.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.

What this boils down to is a fear of liberals (oooohhhh, there’s that scary word) on campus, infiltrating the minds of vulnerable children and convincing them that the welfare of others matters (that’s the problem with us, right?).  At least, that is how I read this next quote:

“It’s time for the Texas Legislature to stop writing ‘blank checks’ to our state colleges and universities for tenured professors to spend as they please,” Sandefer wrote.  “Instead, all state higher education funding should be directed to scholarships, so universities once again will have to answer to the people who pay the bills. That’s the only way students, parents, and taxpayers will ever regain control of our universities.”

Because what control is he talking about?  Who have they lost it to and why?  It’s all very vague and ominous, which is a basic way to get people to rally behind you nowadays.  Make them fear something.

Really, the idea that your tenure would be attached to getting across-the-board favorable ratings from your students is crazy and scary:

It calls for most tenure appointments to be given to teachers who have taught “on average three classes per semester and thirty students per class for the seven or more years that a teacher is on the tenure track,” and for student satisfaction ratings to determine teaching effectiveness. Average teacher ratings, the reform states, must be at least a 4.5 on a 5.0 scale.

Stanley Fish tackles this exact issue in this New York Times piece and I, for once, agree with him.  He makes great points, including this gem:

But when, as a student, I exit from a class or even from an entire course, it may be years before I know whether I got my money’s worth, and that goes both ways. A course I absolutely loved may turn out be worthless because the instructor substituted wit and showmanship for an explanation of basic concepts. And a course that left me feeling confused and convinced I had learned very little might turn out to have planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding. “Deferred judgment” or “judgment in the fullness of time” seems to be appropriate to the evaluation of teaching.

This makes me sad because I have always thought that A&M would be a great place work.  It’s so close to Austin, is a major university, etc.  But now, I don’t know.  I just don’t know.

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2 thoughts on “Well, crap

  1. Jessica, obviously the A&M policies are absurd, and like most universities, they’re becoming a corporation. But it’s just crazy for you to say: “No matter what you do in a class, students will not like you. If you push them, ask more of them than they want to give, especially in a class they don’t prioritize or see much value in, they will not like you. You can work your ass off, put in way more hours than you get back, and they will not like you.” This just isn’t true. Why such a fear of students? I’ve taught a bunch and found most students are indifferent at worst, and most often pretty fair. Treating them fairly and like individuals goes a long way, as does being honest and helpful. One student even thanked me once for being a hard-ass. Some students need to be soothed, others need to be yelled at. But if you just assume they all hate you and you don’t matter, you’ve already lost. Where does this hostility come from? Did you get some bad evals once? TA evals don’t count–those are for killing the messenger.

  2. Actually, I almost always get across the board good reviews, even as a TA. But still, despite that, it’s hard to pull a 4.5/5, especially when you have a 300-person class. I am going to change the entry to better reflect what I actually meant: that no matter what you do, there will always be *some* students who don’t like you. One semester as an SI, I had people praising me left and right, but there was this hard-core group of lazy asses who lamented the fact that they had to go to SI session or my office hours to get SI help. They hated me for it. They gave me 1s. I mean, what do you do about that? I think the problem with the idea of relying on student evals to determine job security is that people will dumb down, stop pushing, inflate grades. Because no matter what, you would have to fear the 4.4/5 rating.

    Thanks for reading my blog and responding!

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