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Evaluations help follow faculty retention steps

December 9, 2011

It is an end-of-the-semester ritual for students at UW-River Falls: filling in bubbles on evaluation forms to rate a professor’s performance throughout the term. A motion recently approved by the Student Senate calls on University administrators to consider student input, such as evaluation forms, when deciding whether or not to retain faculty members.

The motion, which was moved by Shared Governance Director Jayne Dalton and Student Association President Tyler Halverson, was approved during the Nov. 15 Senate meeting. It requests that all departments on the University consider student input when deciding to retain faculty members, and that the Senate will continue to “promote measures to ensure student feedback” is taken into account.

“This motion is meant to remind administrators that students are here and need to be listened to,” said Dalton. “It’s the students who pay tuition, and we should get what we paid for.”

Impetus for the motion arose from two recent faculty recommendations in the College of Arts and Sciences, including the recommendation by the political science department not to retain Assistant Professor John Evans, despite “strong support among students,” Dalton said.

One supportive student is Jessica Schwinn, a political science major at UWRF. She was among nearly a dozen students who wrote letters to the Student Voice in mid-November in support of Evans.

“I wonder how many student evaluations are actually used to better the school and professors,” wrote Schwinn in an email statement. “I would hope that the evaluation forms are taken seriously by the school, because they are one of the only ways students have input in the way classes are taught.”

The faculty retention process has four steps, according to the Faculty and Academic Staff Handbook, a yearly document outlining policy and procedure for UWRF faculty.

First there is a voting process conducted by tenured members of a department to create a recommendation on whether or not probationary faculty within that department should be renewed. This recommendation is then passed by the department chair to the dean of the college that contains said department for review. The dean has the option to amend the recommendation before passing it on to the provost, who will review and amend it in turn. Finally it is sent to the chancellor, who makes the final renewal decision.

Recommendations for renewal are based on three considerations: personnel needs within the department and college, the probationary faculty member’s professional experience and a set of performance criteria, according to the handbook.

According to the faculty handbook, the most important of the performance criteria is effectiveness of teaching, but professional involvement and contribution to society and the community are also considered. Student evaluations fall under the effectiveness criterion, along with peer evaluations and the faculty member’s teaching portfolio. If “a supportable, severe deficiency in any or all” of the performance criteria can be found, it creates “a reasonable cause for non-renewal,” according to the handbook.

Following the approval of the Senate motion, copies were sent to Chancellor Dean Van Galen, Provost Fernando Delgado and the deans of all the colleges at UWRF, including College of Arts and Sciences Dean Brad Caskey, Dalton said.

“I appreciate your input,” wrote Caskey in response to the motion. “Please note that student evaluations have been, and will continue to be, one key component concerning the evaluation of teaching effectiveness.”