Shift power back to professors
Towson University has the well-deserved reputation of having the best teaching of any Maryland university.
Unfortunately, this reputation is under threat. Fortunately, Towson has an opportunity to defeat that threat.
Within the past few years Towson University has lost more and more shared governance.
The provost for those years centralized teaching evaluations and in doing so expanded them to accomplish a number of matters irrelevant to good teaching, took away excellent evaluation items (such as “Overall, the instructor was effective” and “Overall, the course was a valuable academic experience”) and made them more invalid as teaching evaluations than they have been in decades.
It will take a long time to undo the significant hurdles erected to interfere with good teaching and good teaching evaluations, but I believe we are heading in the right direction.
Upon becoming president this year, President Maravene Loeschke made one of her most important observations concerning the administration of any good university, but particularly Towson University. She said, simply but profoundly, we must remove obstacles to good teaching.
One of the most egregious changes — although the above hierarchical control is bad enough — is that there has been more and more attention to administrative matters relating to teaching rather than the quality of content of said teaching.
In some departments there has been the effort to homogenize teaching through control of syllabi, losing in those departments the individuality that makes teaching so effective and vibrant.
Differences in teaching provide more diversity, and creative diversity at that.
Does X faculty member have sufficient number of assignments? Does he or she grade by empirical measures? All this ostensibly to stem student opportunities for complaints (syllabus rhetoric in the faculty handbook includes strict recommended definitions “so that students cannot question the grade”), as if students cannot complain about evaluation of the work regardless.
The faculty handbook requires listing in courses “what the percentage/numeric value is for each assignment…” The requirement that each and every professor have a rigid mathematical formula for grading that some instructors find philosophically objectionable and pedagogically destructive should be removed.
Colleges and departments that emphasize bureaucratic control to the detriment of faculty freedom slowly but surely destroy the diversity of faculty teaching and grading practices that enrich the great teaching tradition of Towson University.
Finally, on the earlier issue of teaching evaluations, control of teaching evaluations should be returned to faculty, and the attempt to make them be all things to all people must be stopped.
The students who fill them out must be more representative, and that can be accomplished by returning evaluations to the classroom, not allowing the evaluations to be filled out electronically.
There are many confirmed reports of small, unrepresentative percentages of students filling out said evaluations – primarily those who feel strongly negatively or positively about the instructor.
The saving of money that has been claimed to be in the scores of thousands of dollars by having evaluations done online is but a fraction of one percent of the university budget.
*Richard Vatz has served on the University Senate for 33 years and is the winner of over a half dozen teaching awards.