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Evaluating Faculty: Discuss

How does your college evaluate faculty members for continued employment or promotion? You will find a variety of approaches out there, but no consensus on anything that works perfectly.

Have a look at Matt Reed’s article on the subject, in Inside Higher Ed. As usual, his insights are thoughtful and based on abundant experience at a community college—where good teaching, not research, is the primary goal. The evaluations process is tough to standardize, to put it mildly.

Supervisors can use student evaluations in part, but everyone knows about inherent flaws in these instruments. Some studies point to gender and age biases with student evaluations, and rigorous classes are often less popular with students.

Peer evaluations have never seemed to gain traction at community colleges, even though professional colleagues who teach at the same school learn very quickly if a particular faculty member is not performing well. As Dr. Reed points out, “rock star” teachers may or may not have earned their status through excellence in instruction. Perhaps their students simply get high grades and word gets around. Students have a way of seeking the path of least resistance, often with the help of unofficial online ratings and comments.

Supervisors often observe teachers personally in class, especially with recently hired instructors. This is okay as far as it goes, but it’s sort of a snapshot rather than a systematic evaluation of pedagogy. Then there is self-evaluation, based on stated goals and the degree to which they have been achieved each year. Experienced teachers tend to view such exercises casually—or just as something to be tolerated.

With part-time instructors, supervisors have much more discretion. New hires are usually examined and evaluated carefully. With experienced and effective teachers, supervisors learn not to mess with a good thing. And some colleges have so many adjunct instructors that it may be impossible to evaluate them personally every semester.

With some disciplines such as nursing you have state examinations that are quite specific about the knowledge and skills students need to possess, which presumably reflects upon the quality of instruction. But such specificity doesn’t translate very well across the curriculum.