Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Role of faculty reviews debated

Evaluations written by students should be public, some say

December 26, 2005


One professor is a metal music fan. Another is a 'hottie' of the balding Midwestern professor type. And then there's the one who 'is angry at the world.' offers hundreds of reviews of Kansas University faculty. But such Web sites get their own mixed reviews from faculty and students at KU where the issue of student evaluations and how to use them is a source of debate.

"I think that student evaluations of classes are terribly important," said David Holmes, a KU psychology professor. "We should make the ones that the university collects public. The university is very resistant to doing that. Students are paying for their education. We're providing a service. Our performance should be public."

KU surveys students about courses and generally uses the information to aid in decisions regarding promotion and tenure. Some, like Holmes, think the results of those surveys should be available to students. But others disagree.

KU surveys

While students can be the right people to ask about whether faculty are accessible, clear, timely or challenging, there is more to teaching, said Daniel Bernstein, professor and director of KU's Center for Teaching Excellence.

Bernstein said students are probably not the right people to answer questions about whether the work is well-informed or whether the content is intellectually at the right level of challenge.

Bernstein also takes issue with broad survey questions that ask what students think of a class or instructor overall. He said they are an invitation to responses that have little to do with a teacher's quality. He said he would like to see the surveys revised to be better indicators of teacher quality.

But Bernstein is not a proponent of making the survey results public.

"I personally think that that's a violation of the normal privacies and confidentiality of the workplace," he said, adding that the same spirit of the law that bars faculty from posting students' scores on their office doors would apply in the public posting of such student surveys.

Online ratings includes reviews of faculty at many institutions. It allows people to rate professors for their easiness, helpfulness, clarity and "hotness." Faculty also get scored for overall quality.

"I never take them too seriously," said Jason Garden, a KU sophomore. "My favorite class this semester was a class that everybody I talked to hated."

Garden said classes appeal to him because of the subject matter, not the professor.

But a professor's personality and approach can make even a seemingly dull subject exciting, said Anastasia Kolobrodova, a KU sophomore, who checks the online ratings to gauge how others have viewed professors.

"If the professor can't engage the students, then the class becomes worthless," she said. "If (the rating) says that the professor is terrible and horrible and hates everything, then I won't enroll in that section of that class."

Craig Martin, a KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been reviewed dozens of times on

"It's a bit silly, but I don't see any harm," he said. "I don't think it's all that serious. It's a popularity contest."

Bernstein said the online reviews could be used solely for humor. He said it's impossible to know whether respondents actually took the courses they claim or even to know if they're students at all.

"I do not look at them at all," Bernstein said. "I don't know if I'm rated or if my colleagues are rated, and I don't care. They have no professional value at all."

Student attempts

Martin said he takes KU's student evaluations seriously, particularly when a student is upset about something. In those situations, he said, the evaluation drives him to be more careful.

"I don't want them to necessarily like me, but I don't want them to think I'm horrible," he said.

Negative or brutal evaluations sting, Martin said.

"They always hurt even if they're few and far between, which they are," he said.

KU's students have developed online surveys by students for students. But the program has been plagued by poor participation.

Student Body President Nick Sterner said the surveys evaluate courses, not professors.

"We wanted to make it something that was driven by learning outcomes and work accomplished," he said.

But the problem is students aren't required to participate, so response rates are low, Sterner said, noting that he hopes to have changes in place by spring that will encourage more participation.


Shardwurm 12 years ago

"Students are paying for their education. We're providing a service. Our performance should be public."

I agree 100 percent.

Furthermore, an evaluation system of public school teachers should be implemented which involves parents and students...and some of their pay raise should depend upon the results.

Pay the performers. Ditch the losers. What is the flaw in that concept?

canyon_wren 12 years ago

I don't think evaluations should be made public. I DO think that the university should at least look them over and glean some idea of the kind of job faculty members are doing.

In general, I think college students would give "high marks" to certain faculty members just because they are "flashy" or "controversial, while the most knowledgeable but quieter teachers wouldn't get as strong recommendations. I don't know if statistics would bear this out, but I suspect that the students who are inclined to be disgruntled in general would be more apt to contribute to the evaluation process than those who are pleased with what they have received in class, which would skew the results unfairly.

I think a lot of students are not mature enough to be able to evaluate what constitutes good teaching.

Evaluations are probably really valuable, but I don't think they should be made public, turning higher education into a even more of a popularity contest than it already is.

Brian Laird 12 years ago

I think that posting the student evaluations would be a good idea, if it were possible that the students grade in the course was posted along with the evaluation. I think that the evaluation from a student who got an A or B in a course would be much more valuable than from someone who got a D or an F.

The evaluations should also have a section where the professor could rebut erroneous information in the evaluations.

One always has to take anonymous evaluations with a grain of salt, but they can be quite useful taken as a whole, but often the number of students who respond to sites like ratemyprofessors is often small relative to the size of the class, so it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions.

Terry Bush 12 years ago

Before I start, let me caveat my thoughts with this. I love learning and school and had no problem with any of my KU teachers (let alone most teachers). I also got my graduate degree without a glitch. Heck, if I could earn a living at being a student, I would. So it's not a bitter drop out or hater of school who is talking.

I also think it is shocking how little teachers are paid in comparison with other professionals (including the administration level of schools!). We give the schools a most important job (educating our future) and expect them to do it for less than a good plumber makes (not to put down plumbers). It's no wonder to me that homeschooling is catching on.

In this day & age, schools (especially college level) should be aware that they have competition. If they want to survive, they may need to make sure that in order to sell their product (education) they must learn to better market themselves to the end customer. And evaluations of teachers (public or not) is only one way to do that.

While there still are employers who place (in my opinion far too much) weight on a person's holding a sheepskin, more and more people with hiring power are realizing that a degree only proves you survived and could pay the fees (or borrow it).

Evaluations are only one way to grade and find the best (and worst) teachers. After all, student evaluations could become mere popularity polls.

I have heard talk of a system of "contract teachers". Give every child/person a share of the tax dollars allocated to teach them, and let them (collectively or individually) find the persons most suited to teaching what they need/want to learn. And let the bargaining begin.

The teachers who are good (not just in giving high grades, but in actually teaching thesubject) would be in high demand and well paid. Those who didn't rate would need to find new work.

In every other profession the really skilled individuals make more money and are able to set their own prices (market price). They can advertise and they can promote their product/services. Why not teachers?

You get what you pay for.

lori 12 years ago

p> is the high school equivalent to the site that rates professors. In most instances, the student ratings are a very accurate reflection of the teacher's actual teaching abilities. Even students who don't like the teacher will in general differentiate between a teacher who personality-wise sucks, but does a good job teaching, and the teacher who everyone likes but who doesn't teach well.

Despite the sometimes prevailing stereotype, in general students appreciate a teacher who respects their intelligence, challenges them and expects a high caliber of work from the kids. This is typically reflected in the reviews of these sites.

And think back to your own childhood. There may have been teachers you didn't like, but you could tell they worked hard and really did want you to learn. Then there were teachers who were total slackers, who didn't care about students, and who apparently forgot that they were an adult. Some of them might have been fun, but did you have any respect for their class?

Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Even my own elementary school aged children gravitate towards the demanding yet respectful teachers, disliking the ones who are fun but fluffy. My oldest has a teacher who has a reputation, as she puts it, for being very strict. But everyone likes her, because she has really high expectations of both herself and the kids. For the most part, the kids appear to recognize and respect that.

Confrontation 12 years ago

Making these public is a bad idea. Students would/do take revenge on teachers who don't give them the easy A. In today's "dumbing down" of education, everyone wants a good grade handed to them. If they don't get that grade, then the reviews are horrible. Teachers who make students really work for decent grades are those who are rated at a lower level.

Calliope877 12 years ago

Posted by canyon_wren:

"I think a lot of students are not mature enough to be able to evaluate what constitutes good teaching."

I have to disagree. People must keep in mind that "non-trad" students like myself (independent students over 21) are becoming an overwhelming majority in the student population of many universities. I personally think a student can give an accurate depiction of how good a professor is by rating his/her level of clarity in explaining the material, and promptness in answering questions in a patient and professional manner -- both attributes represent how good a professor is at his/her job.

And for Bernstein isn't even listed on, so I guess maybe that's why he doesn't read them. And I think it's very arrogant and condescending for Prof. Bernstein to say "students are probably not the right people to answer questions about whether the work is well-informed or whether the content is intellectually at the right level of challenge."

We're the ones paying your salary a$$h0le, and if you're not a well-informed instructor who isn't challenging your students while making the material intelligible then you're clearly not doing your job well.

Posted by Confrontation (anonymous) on December 26, 2005 at 12:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Making these public is a bad idea. Students would/do take revenge on teachers who don't give them the easy A. In today's "dumbing down" of education, everyone wants a good grade handed to them. If they don't get that grade, then the reviews are horrible. Teachers who make students really work for decent grades are those who are rated at a lower level."

I disagree. Yeah, there's bound to be a few students that will try to "take revenge" on a professor for not handing them a good grade, but as I said before, many of them are "non-trad" who're likely to be mature about their evaluations, and even those students who're 18-21 are, as a majority, perfectly capable of giving a fair evaluation on a class they may've struggled in.

The possibility of official public reviews/evaluations being given by people who never took the course at an institution can be eliminated if the online site (if given online) requires a student ID number. The ID number and identity of the student should have the option of anonymity, and depicting the grade of the student should be an option as well, but not mandatory.

Godot 12 years ago

"I think a lot of students are not mature enough to be able to evaluate what constitutes good teaching."

But we let them vote. Go figure.

The students who get D's and F's who actually take the time to complete an evaluation are EXACTLY the ones we need to listen to. They are the ones who were not "taught," and, therefore, not well-served by the educator.

Ladylaw and Shardwurm, happy to see we agree on something!

glockenspiel 12 years ago

As a KU grad, most of my teachers have been good to excellent. There are, however, a few teachers that have no buisness teaching students. I don't give a crap what else they do for the university, if you can't learn from that teacher, they have no buisness teaching a class.

So Mr. Bernstein, you don't think students are the best people to evaluate a teacher? Crawl out of the hole you are living in. Do you think having an evaluator sit in on one class while the instructor knows that they are there is an effective way to evaluate a teacher? Why don't you take a class from a teacher you can't understand, and can't communicate material and sit through it for an entire semester and tell me that you wouldn't be the best person to evaluate a class. Sit through a semester of class when students correct their teacher several times per class session and tell me that it shouldn't be made public.

Confrontation 12 years ago

Okay, the students who are making D's and F's shouldn't be allowed to do reviews. When the rest of the class is making better grades, these few idiots are skipping class and/or not studying. Don't value their reviews, since they obviously are the cause of the problem, not the teacher. There's only so much a teacher can do to help these students who choose not to help themselves. They think they should be spoonfed, just like the treatment from Mommy and Daddy.

wonderhorse 12 years ago


I believe that is because there was no "hateful bigotry" shown, except by the so-called christians.

Godot 12 years ago

KU should highlight Confrontation's 12-26-2005 11:38PM post in their recruiting material, just so prospective students and their parents know what to expect. I'm all for truth in advertising.

Calliope877 12 years ago


In some ways your statement is correct: there ARE definitely students out there who expect to be spoonfed and who are unwilling to help themselves; however, I think they should still be allowed to give evaluations because not ALL of the D and F students can be categorized as spoiled rotten brats. There could be other circumstances surrounding why that student recieved that bad grave -- like maybe the professor wasn't very good at teaching the subject -- believe it or not, there are some lousy profs out there.

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