As part of my duties here as a tenured full professor at an average state uni in the northeast, I do in-class evaluations of instructors as part of the tenure & promotion committee.
I do this happily. I've often picked up great teaching ideas, and I love being able to keep up with the younger faculty.
Likable Lou, up for tenure, was my visit this week. I know him outside of class, and know his reputation as a very popular proffie. He's a great guy. I have fun with him; he's a gas at faculty meetings, and I've always heard that he's a great teacher.
So for an hour yesterday I sat through a maddening and mystifying "class" with him and 25 sophomores and juniors. It's a class I teach myself, but I really couldn't prove that we were endeavoring to do the same thing.
It started with 20 minutes of "free time," where the only requirement was that the students had to be in groups, and they had to be "lively." It was a clusterfuck of chatter and nonsense, and the only time students ever talked about the reading for the day was the 90 seconds Lou spent leaning over their circles.
The rest of the time Lou spent with his phone.
Then the class really began. Students stayed in groups, about half of them facing the windows or the back wall, and Lou talked about his crush on Maria Menounos, his love of green chili, a few things about an upcoming test, how the basketball team did last weekend.
He'd often say, "It's all connected, right? How we think is how we stink!" It was a mantra of some kind that the students knew and they all hit "how we stink" with him with great glee. (I've changed the mantra. The real one is just as stupid.)
The last part of the class featured students talking about their own personal experiences as it related to the chapter reading which was about social constructs. They talked about their sororities and frats, those parties, what their high school friends did if they didn't go to college, the economy, climate change, and how cold it was.
Never did Lou try to wrap these ideas into anything resembling the chapter in question; never did he try to show a connection between the discussion and the point of the reading or the class.
At the end of class, about 10 students gathered around him. Everyone chatted excitedly about something. Then two young men took turns doing a protracted hand shake with Lou, tugs and whistles and high and low 5s! And it was over.
I waved as I left and started to my office. The department chair, to whom I write my report, came up alongside me.
"Oh, did you see Lou's class? My God, those kids love him. It's a shame we have to go through the charade of the promotion, because he's clearly going to get it. Just write up a couple of paragraphs and give them to me later."
Obviously people like to be liked, even professors. Adjuncts and part-timers, of course, have a lot of their value tied up in a set of friendly evaluations. But how on earth is Lou (tenure track, almost sure to be given tenure) helping his students, besides providing a nice clubhouse for an hour two times a week?
Q: Do you have someone like Lou in your department? What would you do with in my situation?