Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Unthinkable - Well, Not Really, Someone Thought of It, and Soon Many More Will - Early Thirsty From The French Professeur.

So, the end is nigh and finals are about to happen. I just checked with the departmental secretary to see how many students have completed the teaching evaluations, and there's like six-seven out of twenty students who have not done them yet (and likely will not).

I, on the other hand, have a nice stack of passwords that, just idly speculating, I could take to one of the computer labs and use to give my evals a boost.

Now, this would be cheating. But in my school, students cheat by grabbing papers from the internet, lying about ill or deceased relatives, or by claiming to have homework-eating pets; my colleagues cheat by using travel funding for personal tourism, stopping research after they get tenure and, I am pretty sure, filching office supplies; and the administrators cheat by making empty promises, raising their already inflated salaries and proliferating like rabbits on Viagra. The only decent people around seem to be the janitorial staff.

Q; Now, the question: would you do it? If you were certain that you couldn't get caught, would you use those passwords and give yourself the best evals ever? Would it be an act of rebellion against an inane system, or, by giving away all decency, signal the ultimate submission to that system?


32 comments:

  1. If you did it, you would lose all credibility when bitching about how dumb it is to prioritize such a pointless exercise. My vote: it'd be submission to the system. And therefore not worth it.

    Gardez votre juste dédain, cher Professeur!

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    1. I would lose credibility ... in a conscience-based system of ethics. I am more a shame-culture person :P

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  2. From a purely selfish point of view, it wouldn't be worth the stress.

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  3. You know, if I were going to be compensated/rehired back based upon those numbers, and knowing how unfair the whole system is, I might do it. That is your livelihood on the line there, and you can't help it that the system prioritizes such stupidity.

    IF I were sure I would not get caught. Like Proffie Galore, I'd worry and worry myself to death over it, which would make it not worth it. I was never a cheater, probably not completely out of virtue but at least partially out of fear of getting caught.

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    1. Student evals mattered to me back in the time when we could control when students filled them out (now with the online system they can do it any time up to the last day of classes). I admit I used to do them early, and hold off on returning those last big assignments until AFTER I had them fill them out. I spoke with colleagues who also did this, and we even admitted that just prior to the evals, we'd grade a little easier. Return some little purposefully easy quiz. Do our most popular (over the years) activity. And of course, bring snacks. Were we gaming the system? Yes we were. Were we capitulating to the way the system puts so much unfair emphasis on those damn evals? Yes we were. Do I feel a lot of sympathy for my colleagues who cannot do this anymore? Yes I do. It completely sucks that we can no longer control when they fill out the eval. Completely sucks.

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    2. You are totally right and, as a matter of fact, I do not need good evaluations anymore. As a matter of fact, those of us with tenure should strive to have low teaching evaluations, so those in tenure track are above average.

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    3. Same as Bella here: back when we did paper evals, I would time them carefully, including giving them out when the number of students present was under the minimum for tabulation. I have so little respect for student evals in lower-div classes (they don't measure anything, except self-debasement in search of popularity), I had no problem with gaming them in the ways she describes.

      Now they're online, so I can't do that. But they have even less credibility, for other reasons: the overall response rate at the U has been under 25%, leading to pitiful messages from the provost. In my most recent class: under 50% (guess which half answers), potentially including the two students who effectively (but not formally) dropped the class a long time ago.

      As for the main question in the OP: too much work and angst in service of (or submission to) a system I have no respect for. No problem with seeding my page on Ridiculous Site, though (but it doesn't matter, all my positive reviews are flagged and taken down.)

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  4. I have to believe that one day we'll all just say, "Fuck Evals." I welcome any Dean, Provost, VP, President etc. to visit my class daily. I truly don't give a fuck. Let someone who I work with or for evaluate me. Not the children, come on.

    And no, I wouldn't evaluate myself. I'm afraid I'd get charged for sexual harrassment!

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    1. "I welcome any Dean, Provost, VP, President etc. to visit my class daily. I truly don't give a fuck. Let someone who I work with or for evaluate me."

      I agree.

      When I was in the army (admittedly not ALWAYS an appropriate comparison) ALL training was subject to inspection by my chain of cammand ANY time. OK. Training isn't education, but the principle still stands for me. Stop by any time and see for yourself.

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    2. Kimmie:

      While I was teaching, visits by the dean, or even my department head, were apparently supposed to be seen as disciplinary actions. If I had "behaved" myself (i. e., given the kiddies what they wanted--namely high marks for doing nothing), they wouldn't have had to come.

      I remember one time when the dean made such a threat. I replied in a memo that I would be pleased and honoured to have him come by and I meant it. If things were falling apart as they alleged, I wanted them to see the wheels coming off.

      I don't think he expected me to call his bluff because he never showed up.

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    3. Kimmie makes a good point: department heads and assorted administrators have been making statements about my teaching for over a decade, without ever visiting my classes. You know why? Because they know they wouldn't find anything wrong (indeed all visit reports by faculty in three departments over the past few years only had good things to say, and were ignored.)

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  5. I wouldn't do it because at this point I have nothing to gain. But long ago, in my old position, when I worked with a total asshole who wanted me fired (he succeeded), I definitely would have done it if I knew I wouldn't have gotten caught. Every damned semester.

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    1. It sounds like we might have been at the same place.

      My last department head, and the assistant, were trying to get rid of me, basing their campaign solely on student evaluations. Anything that was written in my favour was disregarded as being a fluke or completely fabricated.

      On the other hand, I read what was written about me on the site that shall not be named. I'm sure that those two were responsible for some of the comments.

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    2. I hear you. I think it is amusing when poor comments are taken more highly than comments like: "I learned and succeeded for the first time in hamster breeding." But comments like: "the professor doesn't tell me what answers she wants" are taken as a sign of bad teaching.

      If I could hack the evals, I would put excoriating comments on the dept chairs evals. Since the chair is tenured, it wouldn't affect anything.

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    3. Gauss:

      Exactly. It was through such situations that I finally realized that teaching was more about personal politics than about conveying knowledge or skills.

      I already knew that professors weren't always cordial or civil with each other. During my first year of grad studies, I was grad student rep at the faculty meetings. Some of them became so heated that I expected to see them end in fistfights.

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  6. No. Even if I knew I wouldn't get caught. It isn't ethical. Even if the eval system is canted and unjust (it is), it is ethically suspect to try to "game the system."

    Aren't we trying to teach the flakes not to do this crap?

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  7. Now, another interesting proposition. Use one of the passwords, take it to the public library for untraceability and write an evaluation. In the comments section, declare my lusty attraction towards the French Professeur, and describe the things I'd do with/to him. Later, when I receive the evaluation, go to Human Resources, claim that my school is enabling sexual harassers, and demand that from now on evaluations are traceable.
    Note: I have tenure, so I could raise a stink without fear of retribution. And, for the discussion above, I do not really need amazing evaluations at this point, I'll go for full on research.

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    1. If I were not already married (work married and real married), I would marry you right now.

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    2. Just make sure the library doesn't have a surveillance camera (and/or sign-in/i.d.) system, and that you really *want* to spend your summer in meetings with administrators worried that somebody (you, an unknown student, both) is going to sue the school. For me, the prospect of such meetings would be the greatest disincentive of all (and would presumably interfere with the writing up of the research you mention).

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  8. The fact that this question has been asked makes me want to get drunk(er).

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  9. In my present situation (reasonably secure job, renewals/reviews take into account but are not entirely dependent on evals), I'm definitely with BurntChrome: I wouldn't do it because it isn't ethical; administering the evals as directed is part of my contracted duties, and I'm willing to work within the system as I have agreed to do. I'll admit that the prospect of getting caught is also a deterrent -- one I hope I don't need, but, realistically, it plays a role (can you tell that I have, on occasion, stared at the envelope that students left in the room rather than taking to the drop-off point as they were supposed to, and at least thought about it?). Because I believe it would be unethical to tamper with the things; I'd also be very much ashamed to be caught doing so (and hence, yes, very much worried about the prospect). So I guess the internal and external surveillance systems are working together.

    I hope I would say (and do) the same if I were in a more vulnerable situation (such as the one Stella describes), but, at the very least, I'm not willing to condemn someone who made a different decision in a different situation unless I've walked the proverbial mile in their shoes.

    I've also never been very good at "gaming" the darn things, even in innocent ways like bringing cookies, even when we did all-paper evals (we're currently in a transition state, with some classes paper and some online -- and apparently stuck there because the online ones get abysmal response rates). There's just something in my temperament that can't quite pull off the implicit, cheerful "wasn't this fun? aren't we a team? you scratch my back/I'll scratch yours" message of such gestures. I don't think it's wrong; I just don't know how to do it, and am not very interested in learning. This low level of interest in class interpersonal culture/dynamics is probably one of the reasons my evals tend to be on the low side of respectable/acceptable; I can get very excited about ideas, and helping students encounter others' ideas and develop their own, but I don't entirely get the social aspect learning that is important to so many people. I learn best on my own, with occasional contact/exchanges with other people, and probably design classes and assignments that work best for people with the same temperament (though I've noticed that, when I incorporate group work, the groups usually take on characters of their own, depending on the needs of the majority of group members -- which often track quite closely with majors -- and that groups of very different characters can produce equally good work.

    Bottom line: I just don't care much about the things, and, unless forced to do so (i.e. the scores sink low enough that there are potential consequences), will continue not to.

    All of the above said, as I've admitted here before, I do occasionally add reviews of myself to The Site That Shall Not Be Named, sometimes paraphrasing actual students' written comments from the official evals, sometimes writing comments that tend toward advice for how to succeed in the class, and always entering numbers that add up to a tough but fair image. I know that students at my school do check that site (I overheard two of them doing it today), and I suspect that potential employers would, too (though they might not admit it), and I figure that's a matter of maintaining my public reputation/employability (and that anyone who relies on anonymous reviews on an internet site should realize that the source and quality of the data they're getting is questionable). I've never asked to have a review removed from that site, however, though I gather that that's fairly easy to do, and some professors do it regularly. It strikes me as a very different animal than the official evals, even though I question that either has much real value.

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    1. The reviews I've written about myself on The Site have been negative and critical. Why? I guess I feel a bit like the kid in Good Will Hunting when he says, "Because fuck him, that's why."

      Fuck those people who reduce the exploration of the mind and the emotions and all that is wonderful and awesome about the world to mere rubrics, scantron tests, minimum publishable units, and mind-numbing dullness. The pursuit of truth is more, even, than just a noble endeavor. It's the thing that drives me to drink, and it's the thing that distracts me from drinking.

      I'll get into the ring blindfolded if I want to know boxing better than Muhammed Ali, or strap 50-pound weights to my chest when I jump into the pool if I want to know things about swimming that Michael Phelps doesn't know. Fuck them.

      The Site is some strange combination of abusive and stupid and irrelevant. The critics in its fold, I give them the wrench... because fuck them.

      And when students and colleagues interact with Dr. Bubba, then they see me drunk, blindfolded, and bleeding, with one arm tied behind my back--and they realize that, even then, I know pedagogy and the hamster-fur Theory Of Everything better than they ever will.

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  10. Because I am mischievous, I would login as the students, but wouldn't write fake glowing reviews: "my" evals would be written about how lame and useless the student evaluation system is to show that students also find it useless and pointless. At this point though, who has time for that?

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  11. I can see how the temptation would be so great. But following through with the plan would just diminish you and reduce you to the snowflakes' level.
    "Everyone else was cheating/plagiarizing/using steroids."
    Rationalization is a dangerous habit. And you would cede the moral high ground, at least in your own mind, when you catch them cheating.

    Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.

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  12. I was tenured and promoted to full professor years ago, and have served as department chair more than once, and am one of the dwindling number of faculty in my department who are still active in research. I therefore have the blessed luxury of being able to ignore student evaluations. I just throw them into a pile behind a desk with a great, satisfying PLUNK, every semester. I remember well the chronic anxiety of my days as a contingent, far-too-desperate-to-please, Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, so it's SO great!

    Even if student evaluations did still matter, though, I still wouldn't do it. Much of what motivates me today is that, when I was an undergraduate, I had proffies who abused their tenure, coasting to retirement. They hadn't done any research in 20 years, and wouldn't you know, they taught us a whole bunch of stuff that was out of date. One of them was a real two-faced back-stabber, who ruined more than one who didn't deserve it, and tried to ruin me with a bad letter of recommendation.

    I resolved never to be like that. Life loves its ironies, of course: now that I'm a proffie, I have no shortage of students who squander the opportunities I knock myself out to make for them.

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    1. Frod (and French Prof): I can't help but feel a bit envious of people who work at normal places--where tenure, seniority and research productivity make one not a target for dept heads/administrators looking for an example of "yes, we can indeed harass you to the point of making you leave if we don't like your eval/retention numbers." Another reminder of what a weird place Bumfuck State is, how far the "values" of admins here have strayed from what is normal in a real R1 (which is what they claim to be.) I really should have gone to Bell Labs or the NSA, years ago.

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    2. Whenever my department head decided to make my life miserable, which happened frequently, he didn't just use student evaluations to justify his actions. We had a suggestion box just outside the office door, which meant that anybody could put anything into it. Many were hostile comments about me which he claimed were ample evidence that I was a lousy instructor.

      There's nothing like a haphazard method using anonymous unverified comments to make a case, is there?

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    3. Peter:

      Having worked in industry, I can say for a fact that there are other ways of harassing people to the point that they either leave on their own or react to it in such a way that firing them is justified.

      I found that moving from working in industry to teaching at a post-secondary institution was merely exchanging one set of miseries for another.

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  13. I bet this proffie thought he wouldn't get caught manipulating evals.



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