Student IDEA Surveys Play Vital Role in Faculty Reviews

CORRECTION: The PHOENIX incorrectly reported that student evaluations weighed in at 80 percent or more of the teaching metric for Quinlan instructors and lecturers. Rather, of all three faculty evaluation metrics (teaching, scholarship and service) the teaching component is typically weighted at 80 percent or more for these faculty groups, according to Steven Todd, Associate Dean of Faculty and Research at Quinlan.

The Quinlan School of Business uses multiple variables to evaluate teaching, including student evaluations and evaluations of engagement with students on research, consulting projects and case competitions, among other activities. Todd emphasized that faculty evaluations are done holistically. Arthur Lurigio, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean for Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences has been at Loyola for 27 years and a dean for 13.

Professor David Andrews has taught at Loyola for two semesters. He tries not to think about student evaluations when he teaches — he said they make him feel nervous.

Andrews’ nervousness might be justified. Course evaluations play a big role in determining whether or not an instructor is offered another per-course contract for the next academic year.

But there is a lot of uncertainty among faculty about just how much weight student evaluations carry in determining who to rehire, according to Andrews, a writing instructor.

Now, after two Loyola faculty groups — first, faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and second, faculty in the English Language Learning Program — voted to unionize with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, student evaluations may have an increasingly uncertain role in teacher retention for these groups.

There are three groups of faculty at Loyola. Tenured or tenure-track teachers, called professors, are expected to teach, participate in “scholarship” — conducting research or contributing to articles, journals or books, among other things — and provide service to the university through internal involvement on boards or clubs, for instance. They are formally evaluated on these three metrics.

Full-time faculty members who teach multiple classes but are not on the tenure track, called lecturers, may also be evaluated on the same three categories as professors. However, they are not required to participate in scholarship or perform as much service as professors. Lecturers typically have longer term teaching contracts with the university but are not tenured.

Instructors — sometimes referred to as adjuncts or adjunct instructors — are part-time faculty members who usually teach up to two courses per semester. Instructors are evaluated primarily on their teaching.

For all three faculty groups, teaching plays a major role in evaluations, according to Arthur Lurigio, Ph.D., senior associate dean for faculty at CAS.

“Teaching is paramount,” said Lurigio, who has been at Loyola for 13 years. “And so if we always look toward what really matters, and that’s the education of our students, then it’s always clear what our focus is, what our direction is and what our mission is.”

Lurigio oversees and approves all faculty staffing for the CAS and said the college evaluates teaching quality seriously through student IDEA surveys, which are distributed at the end of each semester. They also use self-reviews and reviews where department heads or other senior-level faculty will sit in on a teacher’s class.

The student IDEA surveys play a more important role in the evaluations of instructors, as they aren’t held to the same expectations as lecturers and professors.

Steven Todd, associate dean of faculty and research at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business, said student comments on the IDEA surveys are important for teacher evaluations.

“In general, we rely a lot on the student comments,” Todd said. “What students tell us is very important.”

Quinlan has its own set of specific guidelines when it comes to evaluating teaching, though it still uses the three core metrics of teaching, scholarship and service, according to Todd.

At Quinlan, student evaluations are weighted at 80 percent or more of the teaching metric for instructors and lecturers, Todd stated in an email to The PHOENIX.

While collective bargaining agreements will change the way contracts are negotiated with unionized faculty, Lurigio is optimistic that the focus on quality teaching from quality teachers will be unhindered.

“My hope is … that the union will be of the same mind as our leaders in the college,” he said. “[That means regarding] teaching as paramount and [ensuring] that all of our faculty who are in the union are still expected to be excellent in the classroom and are still expected to be available and effective mentors to their students.”

Patrick Boyle, senior associate provost, said he hasn’t seen any effects of unionization on hiring processes.

“I do not have a good sense of any consequences for anyone since we are just now beginning the conversations with SEIU about next steps,” Boyle wrote in a statement to The PHOENIX. “Eventually we will know a lot more, but we are not at that point right now.”

Until the effects of the union are fully felt by professors, evaluations are still stressful, said Andrews, especially because he doesn’t exactly know how student evaluations are used for retention purposes.

Other professors, such as lecturer Matthew Williams, Ph.D., are concerned that administrators maybe missing the full picture of a teacher’s strengths if they rely too much on student evaluations.

“The heavy reliance on student teaching evaluations for determining the performance of lecturers and adjuncts is thus deeply problematic,” Williams said.

Lecturers and instructors don’t have the chance to be evaluated by other metrics, such as research and service, as much as full-time professors do, he said. Williams used to work as an adjunct instructor in Boston and said he knows what it’s like to try to make a living as one.

“[Adjuncts] either don’t make enough money or have to put together an unimaginably large teaching load at a variety of schools,” he said. “While I’m certainly glad to have moved up from being an adjunct and to have something stable that pays enough to live off with benefits, it’s also not what I spent 10 years getting a Ph.D. for.”

While student evaluations may be concerning and stressful for some professors, others, such as adjunct instructor Alyson Paige Warren,  who has been teaching part-time at Loyola for nine years, think that evaluations should play a part in the staffing process.

“I feel that evaluations are crucial for all educators — be they adjunct instructors, non-tenure track professors, tenure track professors or tenured professors — as we may all grow and benefit from constructive criticism,” Warren said.

However, Warren, who has been employed by Loyola on a year-to-year contract, said evaluations do not adequately reflect all aspects of an educator’s skill in the classroom.

Students have differing opinions of the professor, and Warren said evaluation results should only be one piece of the larger evaluation puzzle.

“They shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of evaluating teaching,” she said.

Senior Michael Palarz, 21, agreed with Warren. He said student IDEA evaluations shouldn’t be the only part of a teacher’s review, though it should be an important part.

“I do think it’s important. I do think it carries weight in how a teacher … performs in the classroom,” said Palarz, an accounting major.

Palarz fills out all of his IDEA surveys at the end of each semester, and isn’t afraid to give bad teachers bad reviews.

“I do not inflate [a teacher’s] standings just so that they can stay here,” he said. “I believe that those reviews should be based off an actual belief about how [the teacher] did.”

Honest feedback is the key, said Palarz.

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