In the Faculty Caucus meeting last Wednesday, the organization voted to not consider student evaluations in the yearly performance review of faculty members, partially due to COVID-19. 

In a close vote of 14 to nine, with one member of the caucus abstaining, the faculty caucus decided that student evaluations will not be a required part of the yearly productivity evaluation. Typically, the committees that evaluate faculty performance require two factors, one of which being the student evaluations from the year. 

Student evaluations will still be conducted, but they will not be required to be included in the yearly performance review for faculty. Instead, the faculty member can elect to look over their reviews as a part of their evaluation or for personal professional development. 

"To change things mid-stream is disruptive and counter-productive and I don't think it would play well outside if students learned that their opinions don't count this year when they probably have strong opinions they want to express," psychology professor Adena Meyers said. Meyers did argue that there should be a greater discussion about the validity of student evaluations overall.  

As presented by caucus senator and philosophy professor Christopher Horvath, student evaluations can be unfair, and sometimes are harsher to women, LGBTQ faculty, faculty of color and faculty members with accents. Those who analyze that data, Horvath said, predict that those reviews will be even worse for disproportionately impacted faculty members. 

However some members of the caucus argued in the meeting, that the potential dip in evaluation scores doesn't mean student evaluations should be thrown out altogether. "We should hear student voices, even when it's positive, or less than positive," Spanish professor Jim Pancrazio said.

"The student voice is still essential," professor Tracy Mainieri said. "I think it's important for us to have student voices, especially right now."

Mainieri voted against the action item. Professor Kee-Yoon Nahm, the single faculty member who abstained advocated for continuing to collect student evaluations and allow for faculty members to use them on their own. 

"This data will be there,"  Nahm said. "We're just not applying them to the [evaluative] process."

Professor of biomechanics research Michael Torry argued that his scores would dip due to unfair circumstances. He said that in one of his high-level classes for the university, he continued instruction in person because of the course's laboratory setting. By the third week of the semester, 13 out of his 23 students had tested positive for coronavirus, as well as Torry himself. Since then, the class has gone online.

"My students have a preconceived notion of that class and their illness associated with my ability to teach online," Torry said. "Classes that were face-to-face where students got sick, there is a bias based on they got sick in the class."

"I should be able to say, 'I don't think this should be considered' list my reasons," he continued. 

The decision is a part of a long dialogue about student evaluations, according to one of the faculty members in the meeting. Academic Senate Chair and English professor Susan Kalter mentioned previous discussions on student evaluations from the previous semester. 

The Faculty Caucus is a part of the Academic Senate. Unlike the Academic Senate, it is compromised only of faculty members, and the group discusses appointments, promotions, tenure and salary among other things. The student evaluations are a part of a long list of potential work professors can submit in their yearly performance reviews. 

ELIZABETH SEILS is Editor in Chief of The Vidette. She can be contacted at Follow Seils on Twitter at @SeilsElizabeth 

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