Let’s Abolish Student Evaluations

From the National Association of Scholars’ 100 Great Ideas for Higher Education 

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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.

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Jonathan Imber is the Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and the Editor-in-Chief of Society      

Jonathan Imber

Jonathan B. Imber is Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Abolish Student Evaluations

  1. Good idea, but I think you have to replace with something better, don’t you, and not just jettison the idea of critical evaluation?
    Research has the decided edge over teaching nowadays. That may be for good or ill in the big picture, but I don’t think it is good for the teaching side, or for students in the long run. There are a lot of reasons for this tilt, but one of them is that research is easier to measure than teaching. But that’s no excuse, really.
    Sure teaching is harder to evaluate, but peers and supervisors are the ones that need to try: harder, braver, more critically, more transparently and more honestly. Dropping student evaluations should not be an occasion for caring even less about the teaching mission.

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