Followup on Public Teaching Evaluations

My previous post about making my teaching evaluations public generated some thoughtful commentary, both here and elsewhere. Brian Coxall’s post on Prof. Hacker and the ensuing comments raised some key questions, and I’ve briefly responded there, saying:

[Regarding who owns the rights to the evaluations] …in my case I think that answer is easy: it’s the Commonwealth of Virginia, who has already made the quantitative part of the evaluations public (but very hard to actually access). As I mentioned in my original post, many other aspects of my job (including my salary) are already public information, so it makes since that my evals, upon which my salary is somewhat based, are too. Also, because the anonymous written comments are given back to me with no further instructions, I consider it a kind of “fair use” to make them public.

The possibility of degrading comments gaining a wider audience is something I hadn’t considered. I’ve been lucky that most of the comments I receive actually do pertain to my teaching (I’ve received the more personal comments about looks or clothing on RateMyProfessor). Still, an occasional personal attack is something I can live with and I don’t believe the public airing of it would give any legitimacy to the offensive remark. On the contrary, I’d see it as something to address in the reflective scaffolding I aim to build up around the teaching evaluations.

Meanwhile Julie Meloni writes about making her own evals public, from the perspective of a graduate student (who doesn’t want to be remembered as “that grad student doing weird stuff with her evals”). I’d hazard to say that regardless of one’s position — graduate student, visiting professor, adjunct professor, assistant, associate or full professor — there’s some risk involved with making your evals public. If your evals are outstanding, you might look like a self-serving braggart. If they’re awful, then everyone will know. But regardless of the actual scores, some of your colleagues are likely to be, at best, bemused, and at worst, threatened. My only response is that I don’t teach for my colleagues, I teach for my students. I realize that not everyone is in a department where my seemingly cavalier attitude (coming from a junior faculty member no less) would be tolerated, but luckily, I am.

Finally, in response to my question of how teaching evaluations could be remixed, George Mason IT and English student Aram Zucker-Scharff proposes turning the evals into more graphical visual representations of data. It’s a great idea and one I’d like to pursue as my dataset grows deeper.

1 thought on “Followup on Public Teaching Evaluations”

  1. Thanks for the mention! It’s interesting that you mention that the Commonwealth owns the rights to your evaluations. I’m not surprised that GMU makes the ratings information so hard to find (though I had no idea you couldn’t access it from outside of Mason), as someone who has worked with Broadside at GMU, I can tell you that Mason tends to err on the extreme side when it comes to any sort of information of this sort.
    You may be familiar with which notes that salary information, which should be available to the public since GMU is a public university, can only be found via FOIA request. The need for transparency in education in general, and Mason in particular, is important. I hope that, if you have the opportunity, you take your argument “that virtually all aspects of my job—what I earn, what I teach, what my students think about my teaching—should be transparent” to the top. Finding out basic information about professors, their courses, their syllabi, even their salaries, should not be as difficult as it is.

Comments are closed.