$10K for great student evaluations?

Is it this simple?  In a small course, you contract with your students – they get 6K for the evaluations and you pocket 4K.

Wait!  That would be wrong.  Still, read on, from the Houston Chronicle:

The chancellor of the Texas A&M University System wants to give bonuses worth up to $10,000 to some instructors, but so far, many aren’t interested.

I’ve never had so much trouble giving away a million dollars,” Chancellor Mike McKinney said, laughing.

The voluntary pilot program being done at Texas A&M University along with the campuses in Prairie View and Kingsville will award bonuses from $2,500 to $10,000 to instructors based on end-of-the-semester critiques by students…

But faculty members have voiced concern about the program’s fairness, worried that it relies on a single evaluation method and could become a popularity contest that wouldn’t serve students. Many instructors haven’t signed up to participate; the faculty senate passed a resolution opposing the program.

Still, it meets the administrator’s goal of a quantitative measure.  And who could dismiss that?

What do you think?

13 thoughts on “$10K for great student evaluations?

  1. Thats part of the UK university evaluation. At the end of each course, students are asked to fill out a sheet rating the course, tutors and lecturers. A poor review won’t get you fired but its good to see if there are specific issues your students (customers) have.

    Strange that they didn’t have this particular idea before..

  2. Cash for comment scandal in precisely as long as it takes for a teaching staff member to pick the wrong cohort to offer the deal.

    I can’t see anything good with turning a device that was originally designed for self appraisal and personal development into a cash prize based scoring exercise. Particularly since those of us in the trade already know how to manipulate the scores (soft essay marks, good exam hints, murderously difficult exam marking rubrics to avoid being detected by the bell curve, copious pre-exam hints, and the old favourite – censor the scores by carefully assisting the process of filing the paperwork.

    All of these things when it’s just a number out of 5 or 7. Add a cash prize for the creatively ethically misguided, and it’ll be a disaster.

  3. Definitely a terrible idea. I’m a phil. undergrad at the moment, and can honestly say that the professors with the lowest student approval ratings are the most informed, dedicated, and helpful instructors. Unfortunately I think that kind of excellence is hard to reward beyond granting tenure and research leave when requested but… I agree with the concern that such a system would result in a meaningless popularity contest.

    Maybe a better system would be one in which the quality of the work created by the students would determine whether or not the prof got a bonus? I mean, here, some professors consistently urge their students to submit to conferences, apply for scholarships, etc. It obviously couldn’t be the only factor taken into consideration, but it seems a heck of a lot better than letting a lecture hall full of freshies be the final world. Because general education classes always have the most students…. There are usually 100 or so people in Logic 110, but Ancient Chinese Philosophy had a whopping 7 people..

  4. i don’t think that folks who are willing to write on their evaluations that their female professors are lesbians and “cunts” (!!1!) should determine whether said professors get to keep their job or what they get paid. i believe that there have been discussions (at least amongst feminist academics, and academics of color) about trying to re-weight evaluations to account for such prejudice.

    and actually, as amalthea thoughtfully points out, these are obviously not such great criteria for determining professional ability or worth in the first place. perhaps different criteria can be suggested, such as student progress? and even then, since growing is sometimes painful, some of my students still resent me for it!

  5. If the administrators want to promote better teaching, it might behoove them to use that money for pedagogy training or reducing the number of part-time staff in favor of full-time staff.

    Bribing professors, hah.

    Though, I do wonder about what this implies about the way the administrators think about the faculty at Texas A&M.

  6. I wonder why Bret B thinks part-time staff are worse teachers. What’s the evidence for that?

    I also wonder whether the folks at Texas A&M did any research (isn’t that what universities do?) before asking for 12 million from the public purse. Is there any evidence that teachers are not sufficiently motivated by the various existing incentives to teach well, and will do better if they are bribed? In particular, does being liked (as evidenced by evaluations) motivate less than the combination of being liked and being paid for being liked?

  7. There’s lots that is wrong with this proposal, but I think I have to disagree with Jean:
    Is there any evidence that teachers are not sufficiently motivated by the various existing incentives to teach well, and will do better if they are bribed?

    I think I’ve met some people who care very little about teaching and care mostly about research. Bribing them might be good for their students. Also, I’ll be blunt. I need a raise, badly. I’m very motivated to teach well, but I can barely afford to teach on what I’m being paid. If such a bonus system were instituted, it might be the kind of thing that allowed me to stay in the biz. (My guess is that I’ll do a better job as an employed philosopher teaching than an unemployed philosopher making coffee, but this argument assumes that my efforts at teaching do not do more harm than good.) Not great evidence, but evidence.

    I agree with your point about the effectiveness of evaluations, however. I think good evaluations alone are bad evidence of good teaching just as bad evaluations alone are bad evidence of bad teaching. That being said, they can be part of an overall picture. (If someone gets consistently low marks from students with comments like ‘Prof. never shows up to office hours’, ‘Prof. discriminates against everybody!’ that’s important. (Yes, I’ve met someone who received that second comment on an eval.))

  8. Clayton, But wouldn’t those “don’t care” folks stand a very, very small chance of winning the bonus? If you’re even in the running I should think you’d have to already care about teaching quite a bit. And then if you do care and do well, you’re probably already getting rewarded with “I love yous” in evaluations. Would you work even harder for love PLUS money?

    But don’t get me wrong. I’d be happy to be subjected to such an experiment. I need the money too. I’m just not sure the great state of Texas should be spending public money this way, if there’s no research backing up the link between good teaching, good evaluations, and financial rewards. I’d be happy to be a guinea pig in such research.

  9. Jean,
    (Jean K?)

    Good point about the “don’t care” crowd.

    Speaking for myself, I _would_ work harder for the love plus the money. With the chance of bonuses, I wouldn’t have to pick up extra teaching gigs +/or work weekends waiting tables, making coffee, etc… so I’d have more time and energy for the courses I’m teaching now. I wouldn’t constantly be scared about finances.

    Speaking for others positions similar to mine (i.e., heavy teaching load, light pay), we can’t keep doing what we do forever. To get into a position that pays a real salary (I’m not greedy, just something with a 4 in it somewhere), it seems the most rational thing to do is work on research and hide from my students. But, if there was a way of getting more money by excelling at teaching, that gives me incentive now to shift priorities. It might also (this is a stretch) give me something on my CV that I can show to other teaching institutions that I have been recognized for my teaching efforts. Right now, I can really only add research lines to my vita.

    But, like you, I think that what Texas ought to do is throw money at all of us and see what happens.

  10. Yes, with a K. (Hi!) OK, I can see how there are special situations where more money would improve teaching. I was picturing this proposal as pitched to tenured and tenure-track folks. For all I know it actually is, as many perks just go to them… sad to say. I’m not sure you’d get better teaching out of a lot of those people by rewarding them with money for great evaluations. But maybe…

    Naive person that I am, I actually think all instructors should be fairly paid. People who are full time should be paid a living wage. It they are part-time, the principle of equal pay for equal work should kick in. It ought to be assumed that very junior people are basically post-docs or “visiting professors” who have things they need to be doing besides teaching. It’s strange that in supposedly idealistic institutions, these ideals are ignored. It shouldn’t be that people need bonuses to avoid having to moonlight, etc etc. As you can see I really am naive.

  11. Michael Huemer has a critical review of student evaluations comprising nice summaries of the high and low points found in the literature. Implicit bias is discussed in section 5.

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