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Issues and Concerns

brought by the Faculty Senate RTP Committee

October 8, 2013


Dear SRI Task Force,

The Faculty Senate RTP Committee would like to present a series of concerns regarding the usage of SRI narratives in the faculty evaluation process. The committee began discussing these concerns in the Faculty Senate, the inclusive leadership voice of the faculty, in early February 2013. With the formation of the SRI Task Force, we wanted our concerns documented and thoroughly discussed.

1) The intended spirit of the evaluation portfolio is to a) showcase the faculty member’s best cumulative work, and b) eliminate the overload of extraneous material. The committee feels that over twelve hundred student comments per tenure portfolio is extraneous material. Student narrative comments can be optionally included as a teaching artifact, at the faculty member’s discretion, to highlight student feedback.

For a single faculty member going up for tenure, the sheer quantity of student comments will average 1,250 (250 students/yr for 5 yrs). Multiply that by ~40 tenure and early tenure portfolios per year and we are looking at 50k comments per year to be read by three non-supervisory peer committees. The comments will also have to be reread with each new level on the career ladder. This will necessarily lead to selective reading of comments to confirm an already established opinion - confirmation bias.

2) Narrative student comments should be used for immediate formative feedback for course improvement and to serve as the check/balance in the supervisory chain (Chair, Dean, and Provost). The supervisory chain has always had access to student comments before the faculty member, and should continue to monitor student feedback. The formative use of student comments can be used to immediately evaluate and correct the path of a new or underperforming faculty member. Nobody is suggesting the narrative comments be removed from the supervisory chain.

However, narrative student comments are ineffective and potentially damaging, years later in the summative evaluation RTP/PTR process. People are more likely to remember negative rather than positive information and this information becomes more salient over time.  In addition negative information is usually deemed more credible than positive information (for a full explanation, please see Baumeister, Bratlavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs (2001). Bad is Stronger than Good. Review of General Psychology.  

The numeric data in the Student Ratings of Instruction shows the trends over time more accurately and succinctly. Nobody is suggesting the numeric data be removed from the faculty member’s portfolio.

3) Peer review is a separate part of the evaluation process, via formalized peer observations, during the faculty member's tenure track and promotion process. Expecting faculty peers (every committee member at every level [dept, school, Faculty Senate, University PTR]) to read outdated student comments is voyeuristic busy work. A negative bias is formed by even a single negative comment. Digital Measures as the tool is not the problem; we feel the problem is the peer access to years-old student comments.

4) Students themselves do not feel qualified to evaluate faculty teaching, but prefer to provide feedback on a course (evidence: SGA Simon Ayesse spoke at Faculty Senate – 2/6/13). Student comments are often about technology issues, scheduling problems, unpopular course content, or the faculty member’s personality, rather than their teaching capability. Students may not even realize what they have learned in a course until years later.

5) Potentially libelous student opinions make the University vulnerable to lawsuits if a faculty member is denied a career opportunity over a student opinion. Student comments have been quoted in official letters of review.

6) The FS RTP committee has serious concern over the implementation of this policy. There have been consistent communication problems between Provost's Office, the Deans, and finally down to faculty. Our unanswered questions about implementation include: a) Who scans the pages in (work study students, HR, OIR, IT)? This concern is of access, privacy, and security. b) How long will these narratives be archived? Is there a “statute of limitations” for these student opinions? c) Will faculty members have a specific appeals process if student comments will be used against them years later?

7) The representative body of faculty, the Faculty Senate, has voted AGAINST the inclusion of narrative SRI narrative comments in the evaluation portfolios by a margin of 71:1 at the February 6, 2013 meeting. (evidence: “The Faculty Senate resolves that the written SRI comments stop being included in review portfolios and that all future handbook changes be put through the Handbook change process.”

8) The SRI narrative issue was also discussed at the Handbook Committee on May 15, 2013, for recommendation to the Board of Trustees as a Handbook change. There was a vote of 4:2:0 in favor of recommending the Handbook change. The Council of Chairs, voted against the recommendation despite being voted unanimously in favor by the LAS chairs (evidence: “Senator Grady-Willis, African and African American Studies, commented that this topic was brought up to LAS Department Chairs and there was unanimous opposition which was convened from the LAS Dean to the Provost.” [Senate minutes 2/6/13]). The recommendation to present this issue to the BOT was declined by Dr. Jordan.

Thank you in advance for considering every angle of this serious faculty issue.



The Faculty Senate RTP Committee


Lisa Ortiz , Chair                              Lesley Hathorn
Diane Davis                                     Jeff London
Grant Denn                                      Letitia Pleis
Madison Holloway

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