Students have the power to determine the course of a teacher’s career at the end of each semester, and they may not even know it.
Student course evaluations, given out at the end of every semester to gauge a teacher’s performance, are a key factor in determining whether a faculty member is worthy of promotion to a higher level of tenure. Roughly 49 percent of SF State’s faculty members that are in tenure track, or have full tenure, stand to benefit from larger salaries, health care and retirement if they receive positive student course evaluations.
“Student course evaluations, both the quantitative responses as well as the qualitative and written comments, are taken very seriously at every level of review in the process,” Sacha Bunge, dean of faculty affairs and professional development, said.
Though student course evaluations are key to faculty members advancing in their jobs, Geoffrey Green, a fully tenured professor at SF State, finds that students don’t take the evaluations as seriously.
“The purely quantitative comments are more troublesome because it’s not always clear to students the effect and the use of the data that’s being made,” Green said. “Often students have a tendency to take these evaluations lightly as one more thing that’s wasting their time.”
Natalie, a senior psychology major who declined to give her last name, has been through four years of student course evaluations and feels apathetic about them.
“I don’t really care about student evaluations,” Natalie said. “It’s just something I have to do. I fill in the bubbles and get it over with.”
When going through student course evaluations, Green finds less value in the multiple choice section of the survey, and more in the comments that students can leave about the courses they have taken.
“Most valuable would be those comments that actually are thoughtful and contain suggestions,” Green said. “I’ve always considered those suggestions seriously, and many times have taken them to heart and implemented them.”
Thunder Aung, a first-year international studies major, is one of those people that takes student course evaluations seriously.
“I’m going to keep writing really critical ones,” Aung said. “The teachers that deserve (to get good evaluations) should advance, and those who don’t do as well, shouldn’t.”
Student class evaluations, recommendations from fellow faculty members, proof of teaching effectiveness, professional achievement and growth, and contributions to campus and community are stored in a working personnel action file that tenure track faculty members must submit yearly.
There are six-year gaps between assistant professor, associate professor and full professor positions, with pay raises at each level happening when a tenure-track faculty member is promoted. Numbers compiled by Education News say assistant professors stand to make $71,681 annually, whereas associate professors make $81,445 and fully tenured professors make $98,510.
Lecturers, who cannot advance to a tenured position, are said to make $62,605.
According to Marc Anderson, assistant professor of chemistry, there are less applicants for lecturer positions at SF State, as compared to tenured positions that the school offers.
“As a lecturer you’re definitely lower level, your job is less secure and you make a lot less money,” Anderson said. “Everybody wants to have tenure in my department. When we advertise for a new position 300 applicants apply, it’s kind of hard to get a tenured job off the bat.”
Anderson takes a lighter approach about receiving bad evaluations from students.
“In the department, a couple bad evaluations aren’t a big deal,” Anderson said. “Here and there students can be a bit vindictive, you know, the people that are like ‘I failed my test’ — you know that guy. If you’re persistently bad, it’s going to look bad on your file.”