New teacher evaluation system less than priceless

In a recent push for greater faculty accountability, Texas A&M began drafting a new analysis system for evaluating whether or not its university professors are remaining profitable for the 11-university system. Cleverly titled “The Texas A&M University System Academic and Financial Analysis,” the plan seeks to provide a simple method by which the administration might prove to the public that its faculty is indeed pulling its financial weight.

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The accounting itself appears far too rudimentary in its evaluation of educational capital to be of any intrinsic value. To judge individual professors using this analysis requires only the calculation of the money they generate from hours spent teaching — the tuition being transacted between the students in the seats and professor standing at the blackboard — and the amount of external research funds they haul in.

With all the recent fuss about grading teachers in Los Angeles, I’m beginning to wonder how much outside evaluation is too much to subject our professors to.

Frank B. Ashley, the vice chancellor for academic affairs for the A&M System, said to The Eagle, the official newspaper of Texas A&M at Brynn-College Station, that there are several immediate benefits to implementing this plan.

“I think the first thing this will show is that pretty much every university in the system, pretty much every college, pretty much every department, is pulling its weight,” Ashley said. “There might be one or two departments that are running in the red. [But] overall, we’re operating in the black.”

But this analysis cannot be considered an adequate evaluation of individual professors any more than basing faculty pay off anonymous student evaluations can be considered a foolproof reward for good teaching.

Coincidentally, another plan offering awards between $2,500 and $10,000 to faculty members based on student opinions was pitched to the Texas A&M regents in May 2008; a version of which was then implemented across the A&M system. The correlation between the professor’s actual value as a knowledge provider and whether their students’ tuitions can afford them cannot be examined so easily.

The model only accounts for a fraction of the things professors are rumored to do. A faculty member can only teach 10 hours a week for a total of seven units a semester, but to judge their work solely on this is to ignore all the hours they spend grading papers, in office hours and actually organizing the materials they teach.

Another factor that should be taken into account is the appropriation of research funds.

Most professors do quite a bit of research in their various disciplines outside of teaching. This research tends to not be directly profitable to the university because it pays for the majority of the labs; money the university spends should not be counted as the professor’s deficit. The university wants the best professors it can hire and the professors want the best salary, research, grants and environment they work in. It doesn’t make sense to discount that research.

The implications of this analysis process trouble me. If a professor is in the red under this evaluation system, then his response is obviously going to be to try to make the university more money. And how does he do this? By putting his research on the backburner and dropping some of the mid-range level, more intimate classes to take on heaps of circus-sized intro lecture courses. Overworking the faculty and forcing professors into teaching useless courses surely will not add much to the students’ educational experience.

The most interesting and engaging classes in my experience are not the ones where we sit twiddling our thumbs, squished in like sardines among a mass of bleary-eyed students while a vaunted professor paces the front of the room and monologues for two hours. Rather, they are the more intimate classes where a raised hand might actually get answered before the next theory of the universe has been pulverized to its exhaustive conclusion.

I’m okay with the financial analysis system for the time being. Texas A&M can pull whatever gimmicks it wants to to ensure that it continues to receive taxpayer dollars for educational purposes — just so long as it doesn’t degrade the actual education it is providing in order to do so.

“As being partly paid by the public purse, I believe we owe the public some degree of accountability — I don’t have a problem with that at all,” said Peter Hugill, A&M chapter president of the American Association of University Professors, to The Eagle. “What I have a problem with is silly measures.”

Jacob Copman is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering and international relations.