Archive for Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Heard on the Hill: Study says students lie on teacher evaluations; KU website ranks high for access for visually impaired; man offers hugs for free on campus

December 15, 2010


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• ‘Tis the season, not just for holiday tidings, but also for teacher evaluations. And, according to a Des Moines Register article, about one-third of students were found to have lied while filling one out. (found via Inside Higher Ed)

That’s important, because the evaluations factor into tenure and promotion decisions. And — as the research from the University of Northern Iowa shows — students occasionally lie in favor of professors they like, but more often, they say professors they didn’t like were worse than they actually were.

I’ve often wondered how seriously professors themselves take these things, especially after tenure is granted. One of the things I remember most about interviewing the late KU economics professor Harry Shaffer after he retired was when he took me to a desk in his home and pulled out a big stack of teacher evaluations. We sat at his coffee table, and read a bunch of them, both positive and negative, from across his career. I put some of the best ones in the story.

Is there anyone out there like Harry, who saves these things? Why? Feel free to share a few student comments if you’d like (no need to use your name, of course), or just offer a few general thoughts on the whole process. I can’t imagine the problem of students lying on the forms is unique to Iowa.

Comment below or e-mail me, and if I get good stuff, I’ll see if I can include some responses in an upcoming post.

• I’ve read enough filings from lawsuits alleging workplace discrimination to know that it’s hard to know what the truth is while only hearing one side of things. In fact, it’s usually hard after you hear all sides, too.

I don’t envy the jobs of the attorneys and judges who have to sort these things out.

That’s largely because of passages like this one, which I found while reading the discrimination suit being filed by former KU IT administrator Dilawar Grewal. I’m sure everyone immediately dove into the court documents right after reading fellow cube mate George Diepenbrock’s story. But for those of you who didn’t, I present the following from Grewal’s allegations against KU.

To set the scene, Grewal is referring to a meeting with KU administrators leading up to his eventual dismissal.

I’m just going to pass this along without any other comment:

“[Grewal] was told there had been 'complaints' by employees about his 'menacing looks,' and that some employees were frightened to the point of developing 'eating disorders' because they had to work with someone who 'looked like a terrorist.'"

KU officials have called Grewal’s claims “unfounded,” and, again, I’m glad I’m not the one who has to sort all that out.

• KU’s website placed 21st in the country (and second in the Big 12 Conference) for its accessibility for students who are blind.

Jon Gunderson, coordinator of assistive communication and information-technology accessibility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reviewed sites at 183 institutions and ranked them on several different criteria.

KU scored well overall, but its lowest ranking was for how it formatted information tables on the site. It got highest marks for its overall website design. More information is available from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

• A quick welcome to Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who appears ready to step into the AD's office at KU.

Like any plugged-in job searcher these days, it looks like Cunningham has a LinkedIn profile. The profile isn't very complete, and he only lists one person he's connected to, and I don't have a premium account, so I can't see who the connection is. It must have been a doozie.

• I heard that there was a fellow in and around the Kansas Union Tuesday with a piece of cardboard offering “Free Hugs.” Makes me wonder if he was affiliated with this campaign, or just trying to help others overcome some finals week stress. Anybody spot him?

• I only give hugs to people who e-mail me tips for Heard on the Hill. Once you send them to, we can set something up.


hoshi 7 years, 6 months ago

I ask the students to write constructive critiques. For the most part the students do a good and offer sincere evaluations. Over the years it has helped me adjust as students change to read their comments. For example, if a cell phone goes off in the class, we joke about it but I am strict about it if it occurs too often. I am very strict about texting in class and about use of laptops for anything other than taking notes or following the class slides. We talk and discuss what is appropriate classroom behavior up front so that everyone knows the rules. I also set rules for my own behavior in the class and for exams etc. I find that if you set clear guidelines, students are happy. If I mess up with a class, I expect to be critiqued but I also expect the students to offer constructive comments. I ignore those that are just mean spirited or hateful. I cannot help those students. I am reminded of a quote from Buck O'Neill, "I never learned to hate, hate eats you up." So students, be critical, it helps be me be a better teacher. However, please be constructive in your comments.

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

Hoshi: I'm curious why you (and many other instructors) care whether a student texts during class. It seems like rampant paternalism to me. I don't, for example, expect anyone to tell me I can't text at a movie, restaurant, play, concert, or anywhere else, so why do some instructors feel they have that power (or want that responsibility)? I tell my students they're adults who have paid their tuition and can choose to learn or to text, sleep, or work a crossword - so long as they don't disturb anyone else. Again, I'm not attacking you, and I know many instructors go crazy at the thought of students texting in class, but I just don't get it.

Vinny1 7 years, 6 months ago

This is a great point/question.

As a student I will say this - If you/your class is interesting I will be paying attention. If it is not interesting you will find me texting/playing games/surfing the net/not coming/etc.

I've found that good interesting and engaging teachers don't have to make attendance mandatory or make/discuss dumb rules like no phones/no texting because they don't have to. If the class and teacher is interesting and engages well students will show up, pay attention and do well.

As for teacher evals: You can tell which ones take them to heart pretty easily. If they actually care about them they are pretty much open and willing to discuss stuff during the semester whether it be good or be criticism. The teachers who don't care about it then, don't care about it at the end of the semester, and you can tell.

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

"If you/your class is interesting I will be paying attention."

I see your point, but, while a good instructor will try to make the material interesting and relevant, he's not an entertainer. A student's educational experience is his responsibility, and sometimes the adult thing to do is pay attention even when you're not particularly interested. But, ultimately, its up to the student to choose to act like an adult or not - I'm not going to make him do anything he doesn't want to do as long as he doesn't disturb anyone else.

hoshi 7 years, 6 months ago

Good point but I found texting and non-productive activities on the lap top are disturbing and distracting to other students in the class. I remember a student who was Facebooking and all the students around him got involved. Also, we have seen texting as a possible way for students to share answers in exam and so the "no texting" rule just helps set the baseline. If you think that texting in at a movie, restaurant, or play is OK, I have some differences with you. That is just impolite and it is distracting to those around you regardless of how discrete you think you are.

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

I agree with your point about laptops: When I see several students looking at one laptop, then the laptop's owner is disturbing others and that's a problem. And I certainly wouldn't allow texting during an exam. But I don't agree that texting during a lecture disturbs anyone. In fact, I find many intructors' overreaction to texting to be much more of a disturbance than the texting itself.

Don't misunderstand me: Students who text probably won't do as well as students who pay attention, but that's the adult student's prerogative.

Michael Rowland 7 years, 6 months ago

It is just disrespectful to come into class and not pay attention to the instructor. If you don't think you can pay attention then: (1) skip it, or (2) reconsider signing up for it in the first place.

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

But WHY is it disrespectful? I don't feel disrespected if a student decides to text in my class. Feeling disrespected is a subjective experience. For example, some people think its disrespectful to wear a hat indoors but no one can tell me WHY they feel that way.

Honestly, I think its narcissism: Many instructors think nothing can be more important than what they have to say on their subject.

Michael Rowland 7 years, 6 months ago

It's disrespectful to wear a hat indoors just because that's the tradition. Men should wear hats outdoors, take it off when they come in or if their attention is on a lady or the national anthem's playing.

Here's why it's disrespectful: that hour is supposed to be on a certain subject. If you are not interested in said subject, then don't be there. Some classes have waitlists with people who want to be there to pay attention to that subject. By attending and not paying attention you are squandering an opportunity someone else would want. If there's a guest seminar on campus and you attend that one hour talk, you pay attention. I do not see why it should be any different.

It's not that instructors think there is nothing more important than what they have to say on the subject, in my experience many professors don't like to teach, they do because they're required to. Their own research is far more important to them. So if you aren't paying attention in class, you really are wasting their time. And yes, time is precious, wasted time can better be spent on their research. Funding is cut-throat and requires a lot of time to put together the best effort to obtain said funding. If a professor does not show good progress quickly, funding may dry up and then the professor's out of a job. And don't tell me that's a hyperbole, I've seen it happen.

And don't think of the classroom relationship as a professor and the class, but professor with student, professor with student, professor with student, ....

And lastly, professors should be respected. They're experts in their field. That's a lot of time an effort. Many people are quick to show respect when in the presence of leaders in other areas of life, but not professors?

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

As both student and instructor, I can say that very few departments care about student evaluations. Part of the problem is that many administrators are promoted from faculty without any managerial experience, and so can't or won't make difficult decisions regarding their former peers. The bigger problem, however, is that while many instructors have no problem delivering criticism, they can't stand receiving it and simply get defensive. Which is why assertions like "[students] say professors they didn’t like were worse than they actually were," are highly suspect. Most of the questions on an evaluation ask for the student's subjective opinion; it may be the instructor's opinion that the student's opinion is unfair, but no one can say it is a lie (i.e., that it is not the student's actual opinion).

Shardwurm 7 years, 6 months ago

It's all a racket. Doesn't matter what anyone writes. Which is why the Education Industry is the biggest scam ever. It wasn't until the economy collapsed and the insane cost of running these juggernauts became apparent that many people have learned how ridiculous it's become.

It's out of control and there is no end in sight.

hoshi 7 years, 6 months ago

Thank you. On zero tolerance, I wave that if the student alerts me ahead of time that he or she is expecting some critical text or call. And if the student does not alert me but gets a critical text or call anyway, they have the option of leaving the class quietly and I do not get on their case. There are always exceptions and you need to go with the flow. I am not sure if my rule can be called zero tolerance as I do allow exceptions. One just has to ask and then make sure that students around them are not overly affected.

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

In the classroom, that sort of noise would disturb others so I would nix it, but a lit screen wouldn't be noticeable in a brightly lit setting. And if a student complained to me that someone's no-noise, under-the-desk texting was distracting, I'd tell them to get checked for ADD.

Speaking of zero tolerance (and maximum paternalism), a Washburn committee recently considered a technological solution to block student's ability to send or receive texts while in class - until they realized the school's emergency information service is text based.

beatrice 7 years, 6 months ago

Snakefist, the reason teachers don't want students texting, reading a newspaper, sleeping, or doing other things not related to the class is that an environment for learning is important. Your not taking part sends the message to those around you that taking notes and paying attention isn't important. It only makes the teacher's job more difficult. That is why teachers don't like it. You aren't in class to send useless messages -- LOL! OMG -- but to learn.

Further, teachers are trying to help students to think deeply on a subject, not to just let their mind be pulled away by the least little distraction that comes up. The addiction to texting -- and that is what it is for many, an addiction -- makes learning nearly impossible for some.

Also, I agree with KRichards. You should know that the glow from your phone is annoying to others in a movie theater who are trying to watch the film. What could possibly be of such importance that you would need to text another person? Are you really unable to enjoy something for two hours without the need to interact with the bright and shiny object you keep in your pocket?

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

Yes, Beatrice, but we're talking about adult students. The instructor's job is to lecture on the subject in which he is knowledgeable, not force them to take notes or pay attention if they don't want to. I think there is a big difference between teaching children, in which case the instructor is "in loco parentis", and the teaching of adults who are paying for a service. I'm not going to play "daddy" to my adult students.

In fact, I've had 50 year old non-traditional students in my class; you're telling me they can't decide for themselves whether they want to pay attention or not at any particular moment?

Michael Rowland 7 years, 6 months ago

What I've noticed is that undergrads of the usual age are fairly undisciplined. College pretty much has become "high school part 2". Heck, as a GTA I usually describe what I do as "babysitting".

kusp8 7 years, 6 months ago


I worked for the Dean of Engineering for a while and I learned, amongst other things, that Professors don't receive their evaluations for a full calendar year. SO...if you evaluate a professor in Fall 2010 they won't receive them until midway through Fall's a joke.

hoshi 7 years, 6 months ago

That is not the case for most of us. We get access to our reviews as soon as grades are posted

SnakeFist 7 years, 6 months ago

Andy: That's been my experience as well.

Hoshi: Maybe your department is better about disseminating evaluations than other departments.

rubberband 7 years, 6 months ago

kusp8, as a recent graduate from the school of engineering, my understanding is that each department handles their own course evaluations. I don't think that was the case with all departments because I had one instructor that emailed all of their students a week or two after grades had been posted thanking them for their feedback, stated that running overtime was a frequent complaint, and promised to be mindful not to subject future students to the same. Of course, this professor is not yet tenured. Hard to say how much he will care once he's tenured. However, overall, I don't think the administration or most instructors give a rat's behind about evaluations. One particularly bad instructor has been consistently given bad evaluations semester after semester, year after year, and nothing changes.

seagull 7 years, 6 months ago

Hey Andy,

I like this column. Keep it up.

ahyland 7 years, 6 months ago

Thanks! It's been a blast, and I'm glad to see folks enjoying it.

equalaccessprivacy 7 years, 6 months ago

Accessibility at KU is a joke. Talk about paternalism and offensively patronizing people. Bunch of neanderthals who have the gall to approach and bother and inapproriately touch complete strangers in public on the basis of perceived physical limitations!

Worse than the TSA when it comes to molesting people if you ask me. No thinking person from the west coast deserves EVER to have to deal with such aggressive and frightening ignorance.

Accessibility means treating everyone the same and respecting people's brains, spirit, and independence. Kansas is right down there with Ole Miss when it comes to treating people like human beings.

equalaccessprivacy 7 years, 6 months ago

Talk about the level of professionalism and intercultural tolerance and acceptance shown by KU administrators based on the discrimination filing excerpt above! Ola Faucher and her great buddies at KU HR are wonderful about ignoring decent boundaries between public and private and sharing confidential, legally-protected information with the world in a completely demeaning way that absolutely screams DISCRIMINATION-- then blaming the victim for rightly calling them on being unethical and unprofessional and disrespectful of civil rights law. Retaliation must be KU's religion.

Bob Forer 7 years, 6 months ago

I have a suggested solution. Adopt the Socratic method of instruction, which is preferred by the better law professors. The late Ray Goetz of KU was a nationally known master, and was often referred to as "The Kingsfield of Kansas" (from the character played by John Houseman in "The Paper Chase." Were Professor Goetz confronted with a texting law student during his class, he would have undoubtedly responded by throwing his next question in the face of the offending student. End of problem.

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