On Teaching Evaluations, Part 2
Rich Gibson

I have already written about the Policy Council and the evaluation process at greater length than many people enjoyed. Those who missed that, here is a link: http://www.pipeline.com/%7Erougeforum/TeachingEvaluationsMarch04.htm.

I will not add to that much, since not much has changed. I will sum up, though, with one word, and a brief explanation. The word: No.

I have no problems with the honest desires behind the construction of this rubric, as a conversation starter or even a final product. However, once a rubric enters the real world, electronically or in any other form, I am quite sure it will be misused, just as many honest people participated in the creation of standards for history, literacy, etc., only to be surprised that racist high-stakes tests were immediately attached to them. One necessarily follows the other. It is incredibly naive, at best, to think otherwise.

As I predicted, against the insistence of members of the Policy Council, the electronic evaluation experiment did not work well, to say the least. Now I am hearing that the students will be forced to evaluate in order to get grades. That is like forcing people to vote. People have a right to choose not to vote, and many of them do.

The explanation about the evaluations, electronic or otherwise: This evaluation rubric is like all the rest; metaphysical, static, separating processes of teaching and society which must be connected. Why, we should ask, is this prestigious group of people on the Policy Council spending dozens, maybe hundreds, of work hours over this, when other matters are so pressing?

The economic context of the college of education and SDSU demands that we discuss, and completely redesign, what we are and what we do. Instead, we witness this endless perseveration over evaluations which can only be viewed on the grounds that the Governor's aide made clear to the faculty about 18 months ago, ie., faculty in colleges of education have no rights of academic freedom and must submit to the demands of the state, regimenting curricula and methods of instruction, aligned with the shabby California standards and high stakes tests which produced, and are reproducing, one of the worst educational systems in the US. . The teaching evaluation is part of that.

That is not merely a political maneuver, but is a move required by an economy which is driven by the promise of perpetual war and rising race-coded inequality. A society openly promising its youth and the world perpetual war is going to make peculiar demands on schools, and teacher education programs. Any rubric, or any other evaluation tool, is going to be used in that context. Pretending otherwise is just braiding one's own noose and building the scaffold.

It takes no courage whatsoever to participate in the construction of one's own, or others, oppression, contrary to statements made in earlier minutes of the APC.

We might come at this from another angle. What exactly is the practice in this committee? Last academic year, the members of the committee agreed, to a person, that the current evaluations are neither valid nor reliable. Then they voted down, overwhelmingly, a motion that said, "we understand the current evaluations are neither reliable nor valid."

Then the APC members concluded-against my objection--- that while the evaluations are individually neither reliable nor valid, taken as a whole they can be reasonably used for purposes of faculty promotion and retention. In other words, the professional researchers in this group said that while each evaluation is worthless, if we collect a pile of the worthless documents, then they become good barometers of teaching effectiveness. Clearly, something odd, at the very least, is afoot in the Policy council.

From another perspective, just exactly what is it that causes a person to pass from one arbitrary boundary on this chart to another? At the end of the day, it is likely to be the same benchmark takes place in most universities: Do we like you? The answer to that question here and in most universities is settled by questions of class, race, access to informal networks, etc., not by science. Science would demand samples of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, before the boundary lines could be made clear, distinct. This counterfeit evaluation process will be about power and social control, and only marginally about teaching effectiveness, if at all.

The evaluations create an improper student vote on faculty performance which is connected to employment matters. I commented about this, in detail, earlier. I believe students should evaluate profs, and some things can be learned from their comments. I was one of the people who fought for these evaluations from the outset. However, to give those comments the weight of a decisive vote on employment matters just sets up students as bargain shoppers in academia, an outlook sdsu the administration is promoting, and which is inimical to a community of scholars.

The majority of the Policy Council members clearly understand that the student evaluations are skewed by matters of class and race. Racism and anti-working class attitudes are powerful influences on SDSU and the COE, as the demographics of the campus (growing worse if one favors affirmative action as I do) demonstrates.

Giving significant weight to student evaluations, treating them as votes, just pits faculty against students in the manner that is reflected on the RateYourProfessor web site, where the key question is: Is this class easy?

However, while the administration insists on giving great weight to student evaluations for questions of promotion and tenure, life determining issues, the administration is clear about the limits of student voting, and demonstrated their outlook by overriding the student vote against fee and tuition hikes. That vote was shut down, obliterated. When voting contradicts the interests of the bosses, they call it off. But when the students want to contribute to their own oppression, as in voting in favor of the racist Monty Montezuma cartoon-character reincarnation, the administrator bows to the vote. Racism is valuable to the SDSU administration-if nothing else through racist alumni donations.

From another angle; just who is it that votes? Let us look at the shining light of what SDSU likes to tout as one of its more prestigious departments, the Chemistry Department. Let us look at the person who led the May 28th, 2000 graduation procession in flowing robes beneath a gold honors' card, the woman who was the summa cum laude graduate in chemistry--murderer and methamphetamine addict Kristin Rossum. She voted on professorial work with teaching evaluations. Good chemistry. No ethics.

I don't share Dr Fearn's apparently anti-working class idea that students are worse than welfare recipients when they oppose fee hikes, but I will be interested to see how he applies that logic to this situation. He favored taking away the vote from the students on the one issue, how about another? (See Fearn to the Daily Aztec Spring 2004).

Again, student comments can be valuable, but when given the weight of determining employment, they are a problem--not a collegial instrument but a management tool of command

I believe that the Policy Council is engaged in a process which constitutes an unfair labor practice, ie, the PC is engaged in de facto bargaining over an issue that is rightfully in the purview of our union-bad as that union is. An instrument like this should be part of the bargaining process.

I write this in part to create a legal record showing that one faculty member, at least, made this objection, as well as underlining my earlier comments that this process takes place inside an atmosphere that is so poisoned by nepotism, racism, incest (internal hires), and inaccessible informal networks (the usual underpinning of bullying) that it amounts to a hostile work environment. I hope this record will be useful to people in the future who may choose to bring legal action against SDSU.

The SDSU college of education has plenty to worry about in regard to academic policy as does SDSU as a whole. As hard as some may be trying, it will be impossible to beat Phoenix and National University in the race to the bottom in passing out pseudo degrees. Other concerns range from the reprehensible rate of black students on campus (truly an academic problem in classes), to the treatment of black faculty and students, to the fact that the College of Education systematically denies students the right to author MA theses, fosters ignorance and racism in the academically bankrupt blocks, and rarely advises some faculty members-like me-- what their teaching schedule will be until four or five weeks into the semester. These are serious academic concerns. This teaching rubric is a petty diversion.

If the members of the Policy Council insist on going forward with producing an evaluation instrument, which I reiterate is wrong in itself, I have argued in previous writings that any evaluation must include a student self-evaluation (which is a key pedagogical method itself) , and an evaluation of the circumstances of the class itself, and the opportunity for faculty rebuttal.

For example, I have worked for eight weeks now in Adams Humanities. For the first three weeks of the semester, I was assigned a room that was too small for the two classes. My students and I had to go collect chairs and sit in them in conditions that most fire marshals would sanction.

We moved to another AH room in the fourth week-thanks to Elaine Elias' hard work. But by then the entire building was filthy, disgusting. The floors of the rooms were unclean, garbage flowed out of trash cans in the hallways and the classrooms. Last week the area in the front of my classroom was covered with brown liquid. I did not investigate exactly what it was, just slid around in it. The restrooms, especially the womens' restrooms were, and are, appalling. My female students took me to them to show me.

I called this to the attention of administrators in the fourth week of classes at the same time I made complaints about the completely bungled move from the old COE to the BAM building, now 19 months in the making, unfinished, and what is finished is of such poor workmanship it should be begun again. I asked repeatedly just who it is that is responsible for this BAM fiasco--which could easily be repeated in the next proposed move to Alvarado. No answers have been forthcoming about the condition of my AH room, nor the move.

My hat is off to honest administrators like Skip Meno and Margie Kitano who took the time to really investigate the situation at AH, now in its 8th week-1/2 the semester is gone. I am still in the same vile conditions. There is nowhere for my class to go. I had scheduled informal meetings of my class and SD school board members and the Peace Corps. Shall I do that in these conditions? Does this not disrupt my class planning?

So, for at least ½ of the semester, my students and I functioned in a building and classroom that threatened our health and safety, and an environment that demeaned every aspect of the educational experience. That is a fact that will, without question, influence teaching evaluations.

While this example may seem extreme, it is not. It is common experience for me to have to fight for adequate classroom space. I have had to do it nearly every semester I have been at SDSU, four years. The off-campus facilities, serving the blocks, are as bad.

There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the economic crises which underpin the steady deterioration of scholarly life at SDSU (underway with the full cooperation of most of the university administration and most of the faculty) is going to improve soon. All the evidence says it will get worse. This will mean sharpened restrictions on academic freedom, as Aschcroft's comment, "Watch what you say," spills into academia.

I want the social conditions (including the steady eradication of the presence of black professors and students on campus) that set up the evaluations included, for example: What was the class size? What do you think it should have been? What was the condition of your surroundings, ie, the building and the classroom? What was your access to the SDSU campus and the library like? Have you taken classes in the UC system or in Carnegie Research universities? How would you compare the conditions of SDSU to that? Do you believe your previous academic experiences fully prepared you to take this class?

In addition, I want the evaluations to include conditions like the work speed-up that now is in place in the COE, abolishing research time, adding classes and supervisory responsibilities to course loads that were already over the top. I believe that professors should be able to attach rebuttals to every class' evaluation as well.

Do what you will with this rubric, and while you do it, perhaps someone will go home to their woodworking shop and make a nice sign for the BAM building (how shall we evaluate that bungled move?) which should say: "Abandon Autonomy, All Ye Who Enter."

To that I respond: No. Not with my help, you won't.

October 20 2004
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