• April 18, 2014

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

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.


1. lost_angeleno - October 13, 2010 at 02:44 am

Good start. It's time they stopped using students as surrogates to intimidate faculty.

2. wdabc - October 13, 2010 at 06:26 am

The Student Nominated Appreciation Program implies popularity. Teaching Excellence implies quality teaching. Regardless of the title, what effect does the recognition have on retention and tenure? We all know that high student evaluations are correlated with many variables. Sometimes, one of those variables actually has something to do with the ability to transfer relevant knowledge.

3. reinking - October 13, 2010 at 08:40 am

It is disconcerting to me that an institution that supposedly values research would ignore the research suggesting clearly that student evaluations of faculty have unacceptable reliability and thus are not valid indicators of teaching effectiveness. But this would not be the first time that researchers are ignorant of or ignore the research that applies to their own professional lives.

4. sitepsu - October 13, 2010 at 09:01 am

Student Ratings research does not actually indicate that student ratings are unreliable as the 3rd comment suggests. Many of the problems with student ratings are with how the results are interpreted, not with the student rating instruments.

5. archman - October 13, 2010 at 10:27 am

This policy did not originate from the Texas A&M University faculty, but from a political thinktank with strong ties to Governor Perry (and thus all of the Board of Regents members he appointed).

The majority of ridiculous (and highly unpopular) budgetary, teaching and research "initiatives" now plaguing the Texas A&M system can be tracked to this thinktank.

6. cwinton - October 13, 2010 at 11:13 am

The problem these folks are evidently wrestling with is that the questionnaires given to students during or at the end of a course are not assessments in any meaningful sense. It would be more accurate to term them opinion polls. They have their value, especially at the extremes, but have little to do with actual evaluation. Politicians apparenlty assume teachers should act as they do, manipulating opinion so that the opinion polls rise in their favor. We all want our students to have a good opinion of us as teachers, but an opinion poll is an easily manipulated snapshot that minimally informs as to the value of either a course or its teacher.

7. getwell - October 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

Response to archman: Do you have valid proof of your allegations? Or are you playing smear games leading up to November elections?

My opinion about the student evaluation approach is that this is an attempt to generate enthusiasm among teachers and students. At least someone is trying something to combat student apathy and teacher burnout:)

8. archman - October 13, 2010 at 01:23 pm

To getwell, there is no "smear" at all. This is well documented (and reported) throughout both Texas news, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. In fact, there was a multi-page piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education (this site) detailing this just a few weeks ago. It has been mentioned in the Houston Chronicle, Austin American Statesman, and the College Station Eagle as well.

The thinktank is called the Texas Public Policy Foundation. For anyone following Texas higher education news over the last year, the thinktank is *quite* well known.

9. 11126724 - October 14, 2010 at 11:55 am

The questions are indicators of student satisfaction, NOT quality teaching or teaching effectiveness. These students are methodological garbage, a strange manifestation for a school with a reputation for quality research methodology. Why not ask a few questions about TEACHING?

10. 11126724 - October 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

Wrong word in previous post. Should have said: " These student evaluations are methodological garbage..."

11. 49k95 - October 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I bet that the most popular teacher was the one that curved the grades the most. Some of my colleagues have averages in the 50% on exams and heavily curve the grades. I do not know what this has to do with quality teaching?

12. campusgypsy - October 14, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I'm a Graduate Assistant Teacher at A&M. Just to clarify something, the SLATE awards were based on a different evaluation than the end-of-semester class evaluations. I understand all the pitfalls associated with student evaluations, but in the case of my department, student evals are all we have. I'm currently in my 4th semester of teaching undergrads. No one from my department has ever set foot in any of my classes. Not for a single minute. Besides me, the only people who have any earthly idea what kind of teacher I am are my students. Does that tell you something about how important teaching is here?

13. 11186108 - October 14, 2010 at 06:47 pm

#6 points it out- if we define "evaluation" or "assessment" in any reasonable way, then the forms filled out by students seldom meet the definitions.

IMHO, it would be a major clarification if we called them what they are - "Student Ratings".

14. dziuk - October 17, 2010 at 09:32 pm

One of my "colleagues" specificially told the students what to write and then confirmed the student reports by censoring them and correcting them. He was "rewarded" by several teaching awards. I have little confidence in student evaluations given at the end of a class. Wait about ten years and then ask which teacher had the most good and bad influence on their real education.I have been teaching for 55 years and over 180 classes. After seeing that teaching awards were given to what I considered poor teachers I decided that I would not be a hypcrite and be eligible for a teaching award.

15. lost_angeleno - October 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

The student surveys used to be called "opinionnaires." They should revert to that old label, to correctly identify what they really are.

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