End-of-semester course evaluations can impact instructor pay, administrators say

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Brian Ly/File

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As the semester comes to an end, students are asked to complete course evaluations — the results of which can impact an instructor’s career advancement and pay, according to Benjamin Hermalin, vice provost for the faculty.

The required end-of-semester course evaluations, completed either in class or online, not only provide feedback for the instructor but are also reviewed by supervisors. The evaluations are used to help determine promotions, pay and class assignment. According to Hermalin, the evaluations play an important part in the “performance review” of professors and GSIs.

“Poor teaching can and has led to faculty receiving smaller pay increases than they otherwise would have or even being denied promotions,” Hermalin said in an email. “Excellent teaching can and has been rewarded by faculty receiving greater pay increases than they otherwise would have.”

Celeste Langan, English professor and board member of the Berkeley Faculty Association, or BFA, said professors are given clear instructions on how to conduct the evaluations. She added that although the procedure is not uniform across all departments, students are ordinarily granted 15 minutes to complete evaluations in class or asked to answer questions online. According to Langan, the instructors do not see the results until the following semester.

“I always wait until I am in a good mood,” Langan said. As everyone knows, at a research university, research is primary, but I don’t think people understand to what degree a weak record in teaching can have effects on advancement for tenure. In short, (the student evaluations) are very important.”

Langan stressed that the evaluations are useful to see how the students’ perception of the class compares to that of the instructor. The feedback is also shared with the department chairs and becomes part of an instructor’s permanent record. Every two years, the course evaluations are incorporated in a professor’s self-evaluation, which is part of an overall merit review.

According to Fiona Doyle, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate Division, all GSIs must receive student evaluations as well. Combined with the supervising professor’s feedback, the students’ assessment of their GSI determines whether departments rehire the instructors and can result in GSIs being “held back professionally,” Doyle said.

GSI Xander Lenc said he is not nervous about the results and looks forward to receiving feedback from his students. His concern, shared by other faculty members, is that the move away from in-class paper evaluations to online questionnaires will result in less useful responses. According to Lenc, some evaluations even require students to submit negative feedback, biasing the results. Langan also added that the BFA has taken a stand against online course evaluations, which she called a “detriment to evaluations.”

“There is concern that people will say something that they won’t necessarily mean, because they will otherwise not be allowed to turn (the evaluation) in,” Lenc said. “That makes (the evaluations) less helpful.”

Campus sophomore Camille Moore said she tries to take the evaluations seriously and finds it a good way to offer constructive criticism.

“(The student evaluations) have some positive effects,” Moore said. “But I am also not sure how much of an impact my opinion has. It is not really explained to students.”

Contact Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.