Do student evaluations carry too much weight and are they contributing to a dumbing down of college standards?
Business scholar Steven Maranville left a tenured appointment with the University of Houston to teach at Utah Valley University two years ago, but officials fired him after a one-year probationary period when they concluded his teaching did not suit their students.
According to a lawsuit filed Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court, Maranville’s lawyers allege UVU administrators justified the dismissal based on student complaints that his “capstone” course in business strategies was too rigorous and his Socratic style intimidated them.
“A number of students liked him a lot and said so. The brass came in and liked what he was doing. [Maranville] wanted students to get together in small groups and chew over the topics they were studying,” said his attorney, Robert Sykes. “They get him up here and toss him under the bus because some of the students wanted high school.”…
The lawsuit, which alleges breach of contract and fair dealing and state constitutional violations, touches on an issue that is raising concern in faculty groups nationally. Some believe universities’ use of student opinion in promotion decisions is eroding professors’ influence and creating incentives to make courses easy, lest they risk a torrent of negative evaluations. On the other hand, teaching-oriented universities like UVU aspire to be responsive to student needs and view them almost as customers.
Student ratings of instruction shouldn’t be the only measure, but they do provide insight into professors’ effectiveness, said Liz Hitch, Utah’s associate commissioner of higher education for academic affairs.
“Students are in the class every day. They know what‘s going on and know whether they are learning,” said Hitch, a former UVU provost whose dissertation examined student ratings. “If they consistently have poor evaluations, that generally is a problem.”
I view myself as a customer of my son’s college, but I am not interested in buying another high school experience for him.