Professor calls for change to faculty evaluation process

Story by James Turner, Contributing writer

Murray State has used the same teaching evaluation system for 25 years, but one professor said it is time for a change.

A Faculty Senate meeting was held in the Curris Center on Nov. 7. Brian Clardy, an associate professor of history and the vice president of a faculty senate, is the author of a resolution to create a committee to assess how the university evaluates teaching in an effort to reduce bias. The resolution for the committee passed and will consist of seven or eight individuals. There is currently no information on who will serve on this committee.

Clardy has looked at professional literature, Chronicle of Higher Education and different news reports that questioned the effectiveness of teacher’s evaluations since the early 90’s.

“Several colleagues that I talked to around that period of time pretty much agreed that the system of evaluations, especially the University of Washington instrument was sort of inaccurate and didn’t really reflect what it purported to measure,” Clardy said.

One issue revolves around a question that pertains to the clarity of the instructors voice that Clardy says could lead to bias.

Studies in popular and academic literature have demonstrated that evaluations tend to be biased against women, members of minority groups and international faculty, Clardy said. While getting rid of bias entirely is impossible, Clardy said the university needs something that is more fair and accurate.

“People’s lives depend upon the accuracy of those particular studies,” Clardy said. “Tenure decisions are made, promotion decisions are made and annual evaluations are made on the basis of that instrument. It would behoove us as an institution to go back and rethink the University of Washington study and come up with a more fair instrument.”

The proposal did raise some questions about the difficulty of implementing a new evaluation, what sort of financial strains could incur and how some measures could still lead to bias, all of which were legitimate concerns for Clardy.

However, these issues only pertain to the bubble page which is from the University of Washington. The student comment sheet is done by faculty and has its own issues

The comment sheets are where the students can put their thoughts into words for the instructor to read after the course has ended. While many see this page as invaluable, it is not without its issues.

Ihsan Alkhatib, an associate professor in the political science and sociology department, has been with Murray since 2010.

He said he sees the student comment sheet as indispensable for teachers to improve themselves and their courses. However, at times teachers will receive hurtful feedback. Although Alkatib never received any hurtful comments himself, he said he would toss any non-constructive evaluations in the trash and focus on those that further his own abilities.

“In assessing if someone is a good instructor or not, the feedback from the students is really important,” Alkatib said. “Definitely. We are a teaching institution, so ability to teach effectively is highly valued.”

Alkatib said the evaluations shouldn’t stand on their own. Other methods such as having colleagues in the class should also be considered.

“I think it’s important to keep an open mind,” Alkatib said. “I think we should look into improving whatever we do. We are a university, we believe in testing things and improving a product if it doesn’t work.”

According to the resolution draft, the new, permanent committee’s recommendations will be presented no later than March 2018 to the Executive Committee and the full Faculty Senate for consideration and a final vote on the findings for inclusion in the Faculty Handbook.