WKU students finish each semester with a written evaluation of each of their professors, and while some students might doodle on or disregard these surveys, several faculty members say students should take them seriously.
After all, they can affect faculty tenure decisions and influence the way professors teach their courses.
These evaluations, called Student Input for Teaching Effectiveness, or S.I.T.E., surveys, consist of questions about the instructor and the course and are “used to enhance course quality and as part of the promotion, tenure and merit pay evaluation,” according to the Counseling and Student Affairs department’s website.
Eric Bain-Selbo, head of the philosophy and religion department, said that the student evaluations are very important in deciding whether a professor receives tenure.
“We aren’t a Research I Institute, so we hire faculty to teach,” he said.
Tenure means a faculty member’s positions is essentially permanent.
He said he doesn’t see the actual surveys, but he receives the data and comments for each professor in his department.
The forms are sent to the Office of Institutional Research, where the Scantron portion of the evaluations are analyzed and the written comments are typed, he said.
“We look at consistency in reviews and comments,” Bain-Selbo said.
He said many students don’t take the surveys seriously, but there’s no way to tell the difference between a serious survey and a survey that isn’t.
“We don’t throw any out,” he said. “It just goes back to consistency. If it isn’t consistent with the others, it isn’t really an issue.”
Bain-Selbo said that students should take the surveys seriously because they have an impact on tenure, but they’re also a chance for students to be heard.
“Students should use the empty space for comments,” he said. “That’s the space we give students to let us know what they really think.”
Michael Ann Williams, head of the folk studies and anthropology department, also said the student evaluations play a role in decision-making when it comes to tenure.
“There are several criteria for tenure,” she said. “Teaching is obviously an important one, but not the only one.”
Williams said the student evaluations are an important part of the teaching element of tenure.
“Over a period of time, you get a good sense of how people are connecting with students and whether there are specific issues that students feel are problems,” she said.
When faculty members are evaluated for tenure, the S.I.T.E. reports are submitted as part of their tenure portfolio, she said.
Williams said that as the department head, she looks for consistency in comments, too.
“A lot of students will complain about too much reading and things like that, but I think if there are certain issues that appear over and over again, then that is a warning signal,” she said.
She said there are also positive things she looks for in the evaluations.
“When students consistently comment positively, the faculty member is connecting with those students,” Williams said.
Darlene Applegate, a tenured professor in the anthropology department, said that the student evaluations are important.
She uses the feedback from the surveys to help her develop as an instructor as well as plan her core content, she said.
Applegate said that she prefers to read the written comments instead of the standardized, multiple-choice questions.
She agreed that student should take the evaluations seriously.
“If a student doesn’t complete a survey, then they shouldn’t complain about instructors,” Applegate said. “The surveys are a major way students can affect change.”