Policy will put professors to the test

Jeff Sandefer wants you to grade your teachers.’

The notion of students as consumers dovetails nicely with the idea that the customer is always right.’ As anyone who has held a minimum wage job can attest, that is not necessarily so.

‘Many of us question whether this is an appropriate model for higher education,’ David Weissenburger, president of the Texas Council of Faculty Senates, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Sandefer serves on the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think-tank advocating free-market ideals.’

In May 2008, Gov. Rick Perry invited regents of various Texas universities to attend the Governor’s Higher Education Summit in Austin, conducted by TPPF. One of the strategies outlined was use of student evaluations to determine professors’ pay and bonuses.

‘Research has shown that students are excellent judges of the learning that takes place in a classroom,’ TPPF said in the agenda.

However, UH French history professor Robert Zaretsky questions the validity of that statement.

‘If one of the class’ ‘deliverables’ is an emphasis on critical thinking, what do we do with those students who, at semester’s end, still confuse opinion with analysis – and, as a result, conclude their professor failed to deliver the ‘deliverable’?’ Zaretsky wrote in an editorial in The Houston Chronicle on Sunday.

The idea of anyone’s salary depending on the rationality and objectivity of 400 freshmen in an 8 a.m. class is a horror story.’

The initiative also aims to further link salary and tenure to productivity. If a professor presents more material to more students, they could earn more. For those of us who have endured large classes, the idea of this as ideal is laughable.

‘Students can get a quality education in large classes,’ Dirk Mateer, lecturer at Penn State University, said in the agenda. ‘Large class lecturers have, as economists like to say, high marginal revenue products.’

Required introductory courses are frequently taught to 300-person classrooms across Texas universities.

‘A low six-figure salary divided by 1,000 students per year works out to a cost of a little more than $100 per student per course,’ Mateer said.

This thinking further commodifies education, reducing it to a numbers game instead of a pursuit of knowledge.

‘We are to measure our effectiveness by the sheer number of students, our worth in the number of chairs filled and our value to society in terms of syllabi printed,’ Zaretsky said.

The problem with large class size and ‘efficient’ teaching isn’t a retention of facts. Class size, however, can be a determining factor of whether students achieve critical thinking skills through their courses.

‘When it comes to the attainment of higher-order academic skills such as problem solving, written expression and critical thinking, students in smaller classes do acquire more of these skills than do students in larger classes,’ Richard C. Schiming of the University of Minnesota said.

Students who perform better prefer smaller classes and translate them directly to the perception of a more effective education.’

While students do not penalize more or less effective faculty members for large class size, there is a cost for faculty who are more middle-of-the-road.

‘The larger class sizes do somewhat penalize those faculty members whom students rate in the ‘fair’ to ‘good’ range,’ Schiming said.

For an institution whose prestige has already been established, any perceived reduction in educational quality will be offset by public relations.’

UH however, will be measured by the strength of its product – the more complex applied knowledge we gather from our faculty and peers.’

Shaista Mohammed is an anthropology freshman and may be reached at [email protected].

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