By Adam Zielonka
Dr. Karen Walton was in her office one Friday afternoon reading course evaluations, before the system was converted from paper and pencil to digital, and a particular comment caught her eye.
“Someone was complaining about an instructor, and this person said, ‘But I know that nobody ever reads this and nobody cares, and my telephone number is such-and-such,” said Walton, the provost and vice president for academic affairs. “So I called that telephone number on a Friday afternoon and said, ‘Hello, this is Karen Walton. I just read your evaluation… [and] I’d be delighted to speak with you right now.”
Fifteen minutes later, the student came to Walton’s office for a productive conversation about the professor and course in question.
Years later, the notion persists among much of the student body that course evaluations – known as CoursEvals since fall 2010 when DeSales began using an online-based system – don’t carry much weight. So who reads our CoursEvals, and when?
As Walton explained, faculty and administrators at several levels have access to CoursEvals every year. An instructor can read his or her CoursEvals at the end of every semester once grades are submitted and finalized. Each department chair has access to the evaluations for all instructors in that department. Dean of Undergraduate Education Dr. Robert Blumenstein can read all CoursEvals for undergraduate courses, and likewise, Dean of Graduate Education Rev. Peter Leonard, OSFS, sees all grad-level evaluations.
Finally, the rank and tenure committee read an instructor’s evaluations when that instructor applies for tenure or a promotion, and Walton herself can see every single evaluation.
Students who may be interested in the termination of a particular professor’s contract should note that the rank and tenure committee looks at more than CoursEvals when making their decisions. Committee members receive a dossier that includes not only all available CoursEvals, but also full reviews in three areas: teaching, professional growth and service.
The teaching review includes not only evaluations, but also how the grades an instructor gives compare to the average. Professional growth considers a professor’s research and publications as well as if they are studying for an advanced degree, and service looks at whether someone has volunteered as the adviser of a club or as a committee member.
As far as CoursEvals, students can rest assured that they are read – Walton herself reads several thousand a semester. The best thing to do when writing comments on these evaluations is to avoid extremes.
“When I am talking with especially new faculty who haven’t gone through this process,” said Walton, “I say, ‘Disregard the ones that say you can walk on water, and ignore the ones that say you’re the devil incarnate, and look at the 98 percent of the rest of them.’”