Texas A&M to Revise Controversial Faculty Rewards Based on Student Evaluations

October 12, 2010

Changes are in the works for a controversial program at Texas A&M University that relies on anonymous student evaluations to award professors cash bonuses of up to $10,000.

While the program is systemwide, the changes would apply at the flagship campus, in College Station, only.

Professors there got a preview of the proposed changes at a Faculty Senate meeting on Monday. Among the tweaks, according to The Eagle, a local newspaper, are much smaller cash awards and a new name: the Student Nominated Appreciation Program, instead of the Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence program.

Officials hope the changes will ease concerns raised by some professors that basing the awards on student evaluations made them more about popularity than excellence in teaching.

Jason D. Cook, chief communications officer for the Texas A&M system, confirmed that the program was being revised at College Station, but he said in an e-mail message that the changes were not yet final because students were reviewing the proposal and had not yet provided feedback to university officials.

Still, Robert Strawser, speaker of the Faculty Senate at College Station, said the changes "appeared to be pretty much a done deal."

Under the proposed revisions, students would answer only two questions about their professors: Who was your best instructor this semester? and Who has been the best instructor you've ever had at Texas A&M University?

That focus, instead of the previous 16-question form, underscores the "student-appreciation" thrust of the proposed new program, said Mr. Strawser, a professor of accounting. According to the university system, 593 faculty members have received $2-million in award money since the program started in 2008.