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Grade inflation and tenure

July 7, 2006

I argue that grade inflation is directly tied to the current state of tenure and adjuncting. It is in the direct interest of faculty to leave a given class with happy students. It makes everyone’s lives much easier.

How so? Deans and admins (Dean Dad can tell me if I am wrong on this), it is supposed, do not look at student evaluations for hiring. That is the going conventional wisdom. But few faculty believe that. Faculty, tt, tenured and adjunct alike, all feel in the back of their career that making a happy student will make for an easier life.

And they are correct.

Wise readers, am I wrong on this?

  1. Teri permalink
    July 7, 2006 5:01 pm

    I don’t know much about the tenure process elsewhere, but at the large public institution here, student evals are included in the process, but count for much, much less than research does. In fact, I know of a tenure-track faculty who was given awards for being a great teacher who was denied tenure because of a lack of published research.

    The flip side? Students generally feel like the evals are worthless, and most put no effort ito them.

  2. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    July 8, 2006 4:53 am

    Teri, you make some good points…that evals shouldn’t count.

    But extending the logic, why are they still used? If tenure committees overlook them, or put them way down the list, and students don’t give them credence, why use them at all?

    Looking at it from a systems point of view, they are used because they serve a function. OK, lets ignore tenured and t-track for a moment. They are then used to keep adjuncts in check–aside: how does the admin check up on adjuncts…by visit, complaint and evals.

  3. Inside the Philosophy Factory permalink
    July 8, 2006 10:49 pm

    Where I teach, once you are tenured you don’t have to do any class evals… For non-tenured faculty, while they don’t compile scores for evals, they do seem to use them to spot trends.

    The other correlation between grade inflation and tenure comes with what has been called the “student/teacher non-agression pact” — in which the prof gives mostly Bs and As and in return the students don’t bother them for help or protest the grades… this allows the prof to get more research done and get tenured.

  4. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    July 9, 2006 10:42 pm

    IPF touches on another aspect…to which I see two important points:

    1. The use or non-use of evaluations to affect job status depends on type of institution. By type I mean Research I, Land-grant, Ivy, CC, etc.

    2. with a mutual appreciation society built into the curriculum, it seems that everyone benefits: students get higher grades than they might otherwise (dare I say “earn”) and profs get sorely needed study time in order to achieve or maintain the nirvana-tenure… It seems like a victimless crime.

    Until business steps in and complains about the “quality” of applicant and the need for them to invest in training, better and deeper recruitment, etc.

  5. Dean Dad permalink
    July 10, 2006 1:12 pm

    Of course we use them. Why wouldn’t we? Students see entire courses; deans or chairs only see one class period a year, when we do our formal observations. And anybody can have an unusually good or bad day at any time.

    The trick is to use them in context.

    At my previous college, in addition to student evals, I also got grade totals by instructor. That way, I could see who had earned respect but still held the line on standards, who bought love, and who couldn’t even buy love. (It’s a myth that anybody can buy love. I had a few instructors who gave 90% A’s and still got eviscerated on student evals. Those instructors didn’t last long.) It was useful information. Much faculty fear of student evals, I think, comes from looking at them in a vacuum.

    I’ve been pressing at my current school to get that same information; for reasons I can’t fathom, nobody else seems to want it. Hmmm…

    Admittedly, different types of institutions will assign teaching different weight. At a research U, most of the time, you get promoted or not based almost entirely on research; your teaching just has to be just good enough not to get fired. At a cc, teaching is what we’re about, so it counts a lot more (and research a lot less). If we say we value teaching, we have to evaluate teaching. If you don’t want us to consider what students say, what do you want us to consider? It’s easy to find fault with systems if you don’t have to specify alternatives.

    We could go to pre-tests and post-tests, but students don’t take those seriously. We could pervert ‘outcomes assessment’ to measure the impact of individual instructors, but the experience of Texas’ public high schools should show us the fallacy of that. (Soon everybody would ‘teach to the test,’ cheating would run rampant, instructors would try to poach the best students and get the worst to drop out, etc.)

    So I’ll ask. If you don’t want to consider student input, what would you consider?

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