23 Apr Solidarity on Use of Student Evaluations
- UIC recently announced that faculty will have a choice of whether or not to have student evaluations from this semester included in their merit and promotion reviews.
- Given the already imperfect nature of student evaluations, and the further disruption to teaching caused by the pandemic, UICUF has discouraged the use of student evaluations as tools to evaluate faculty, now more than ever.
- While individual faculty have the option to use or not use evaluations, we believe discussing this choice with your peers at the academic unit level is warranted, and encourage faculty to make this choice as a group where possible.
The Current Student Evaluation Policy
To briefly summarize the current policy, UIC will give faculty the option of whether or not to use student evaluations from this semester in their merit or promotion considerations. While this policy is far from perfect (unit heads and chairs still have access to evaluations even if they are not technically allowed to use them), it does acknowledge how evaluations this semester may be skewed by radically altered teaching conditions.
The policy as it was published, however, doesn’t explain how faculty should go about making this declaration. This leaves open questions about the process, which in turn open questions about the implications of faculty members’ choices to exercise their options.
A Time for Collective Decisions
Since no details on implementation are explicitly laid out, it is likely that they will be made by each academic unit or college separately. If there is an opportunity to make recommendations through shared governance, we highly recommend faculty to engage in this option, and for units to include all faculty, including NTT faculty, in that decision-making process. More broadly, however, we want to encourage faculty in each academic unit to have a frank discussion with your peers about how to proceed, even if not in a formal shared governance context.
We recommend group decision-making on questions of when and how to opt in or out of using student evaluations so that no one, especially our more vulnerable members, can be singled out for their choice.
Questions to Consider
Certain questions may come up as critical points when discussing how to respond to the new policy:
- When must a decision be made: should faculty make this decision before, or after, seeing their evaluations? Is there a deadline for such a decision to be made?
- How should your decision be communicated and to whom: While a broad decision made through inclusive shared governance would be optimal, we recognize that may not be possible in all situations. If faculty must make this decision individually, what steps must be taken and who must be notified?
- Opt-in or Opt-out: Are evaluations assumed to be usable for merit and promotion reviews, or are they presumed to be excluded? If you have influence over this question in your unit, we strongly encourage a presumption of exclusion of student evaluations, to minimize stigma against those who wish to exercise the right not to use them.
- Can your unit decide as a group: as mentioned earlier, group decisions protect more vulnerable members from making decisions that could be stigmatizing. Even if you do not have the opportunity to recommend policy through shared governance, we highly recommend seeking a consensus among colleagues in your department.
UIC United Faculty’s staff are on hand to help you think through your options, or to organize a discussion or forum on these important questions within your academic unit. Email us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com if you would like assistance!
A Brief Word on Impact Bargaining
To quickly update you on bargaining related to the impact of COVID-19 on UIC working conditions, we are still discussing a variety of issues with Administration. We have, in particular, had productive conversations about releasing professional development funds to be used for purposes beyond conference attendance and travel.
It is the union’s stance that these funds should be open to any use mutually agreed upon by a faculty member and their academic unit. Moreover, we’ve proposed that these funds should be automatically approved for any traditional professional development use, including hiring assistants and purchasing technology relevant to your work. While Provost Poser has signalled an agreement-in-principle on opening these funds, we hope that next week the administration will agree to put this in writing so that faculty can make full use of the funds to which they are contractually entitled.
We issue regular updates via email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on our website. We encourage everyone to like and follow us on social media. If you want to contribute your story, pictures, video, or other content related to the activities of the union, email us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com. With your support, we are making UIC an even better place to work and learn!