Universities Ignore Students at their Peril

February 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm  •  Posted in Education by  •  0 Comments

How are University faculty evaluated when it comes time to make tenure and promotion decisions? Who receives awards for faculty excellence?

At major research Universities it’s all about publications in key journals (the ones with the lowest number of readers seem to be considered the highest quality) and research grant funding. At “teaching” Universities where professors are ostensibly focused much more on students they are still required to publish a few articles in obscure journals in order to demonstrate ongoing scholarly activity and, thus, qualifications to continue on faculty. In all cases it’s professors evaluating professors to decide whether or not they are good professors. By the way, the journal articles are all reviewed by other professors as well through a ridiculous gauntlet of editorial bureaucracy that kills off any truly creative ideas early and often.

When you teach a class you do receive student evaluations. This is the one opportunity that students have to make their voice heard. But, so far as I can tell, these evaluations are given almost no weight in the tenure review or promotion decision. I could be wrong on this but I can say with some confidence that students have very little say in who succeeds or fails as a professor.

This morning I received an email from the Colorado State University-Pueblo Provost Office calling for nominations for faculty awards. As a part-time Adjunct Professor I’m not eligible to receive such an award – and I don’t deserve one – but that’s not why I mention it here. What I noticed in the email that made me cringe and think to myself, “No wonder we have an enrollment problem!” And the problem certainly isn’t limited to my hometown University; so no wonder the entire Higher Education landscape is faltering.

Here is the nomination process for the annual “Award for Faculty Excellence”:

Nomination Process

These guidelines provide a common set of procedures for nominating deserving individuals:

  • On or before February 25, guidelines will be sent by the Provost to tenured and tenure-track faculty, chairpersons and deans inviting nominations.
  • Each nomination must consist of: (1) completed Nomination Form; (2) a nominating letter that details specific contributions and accomplishments; (3) a current curriculum vitae; (4) a letter of support from the nominee’s chairperson; (5) 1 to 3 letters of support from students, staff and/or faculty colleagues (optional).
  • Any one may nominate, including self-nomination.
  • All activities used as examples in the nomination must be dated to ensure that they occurred within the last three calendar years.
  • Complete nominations should be sent to the nominee’s dean by March 11.
  • Each dean selects one nomination per category (i.e., teaching/student learning, scholarship/creative activity, advising/mentoring, service) to forward to the Provost by March 18 and adds a letter of support from the dean.
  • The Provost convenes a committee, whose majority will be composed of past award recipients, to recommend an awardee for each of the four categories.

Selection of the award winners will be made before April 1, 2014.

Notice anything ironic? The last piece of the nomination packet that must be submitted is “1 to 3 letters of support from students” etc. But that little tidbit is listed last and designated as “optional“, so obviously not central to the award decision. Does anyone else find it strange that input from students, the raison d’être for an institution of higher education, is considered peripheral?

This may irk some hard-working professors. I don’t mean to criticize individual professors because I know 99% of them care deeply about students and work tirelessly on their behalf.

The problem is the system they engender ignores students and student outcomes.

That system is what needs to change.

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