From the National Association of Scholars’ 100 Great Ideas for Higher Education
Many colleges and universities today use student evaluation questionnaires to evaluate a teacher’s performance. The origin of this seemingly benign tool has much to do with its abuse as a weapon of conformity. The student protesters of the 1960s demanded greater “participation” in the life of the university. Administrators saw an opportunity at appeasement that also translated into a mechanism for oversight, which in the long growth of university administration means the production of ever more information about everyone and everything. Students could be part of the process of “democratically” supporting or opposing such decisions as tenure and promotion.
The result has been granting permission to students to offer anonymously any kind of opinion they want to express, however inane or cruel. Of course, teachers ought to be able to take it, but consider how profoundly the reversal of fortune now is: it was once expected that students ought to be able to “take it,” that is, to respond to tough standards, to hard lessons, to failure, to anything that might contribute to the building of character. Now, the students must be treated carefully, and the teacher has been put into the dock. To improve teaching, abolish student evaluations of teachers.
Jonathan Imber is the Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and the Editor-in-Chief of Society