Statement on administration’s Spring 2016 course evaluation plan

On March 18, teaching and clinical supervisory faculty received an email from the registrar about Spring 2016 course evaluations, announcing that “course evaluation forms will be available for students to complete for all courses with more than 3 enrolled students.”

This means that student rating data will be collected for every section of every course taught this semester. This constitutes an administrative violation of Article 16 of the Agreement:

Article 16§4: “Student ratings shall be conducted in each class taught by a bargaining unit faculty member in at least one semester of each academic year (to be determined by the faculty member).”

In other words, Article 16§4 ensures that you decide which class section is evaluated in a given semester and that you decide the semester in which each class is evaluated, period. If you teach multiple sections of the same course, you need only have one section evaluated per academic year. According to the contract, if you already taught a course and had it evaluated in the fall, you are not required to have the same course evaluated again in the spring. Unfortunately, the administration is choosing not to honor the contract language this semester.

Language regarding the frequency of evaluation data collection has been in the contract for 35 years, and for the past 14 years, the faculty’s contractual right to make these decisions has been stated explicitly. (A timeline for how this language came to be in the contract and how it has evolved over the years is available here.)

It is the union’s job to defend the contract and protect faculty rights. Every single right and benefit in our contract is in there because faculty who came before us fought for it, won it, and had to give up something to get it. That is the nature of negotiation. Therefore, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, in consultation with the WMU-AAUP Association Council, voted to reject the proposal to conduct evaluations in all sections of all courses this semester when it was presented to us. We could not in good conscience agree to make a concession regarding language that has been in our contract since 1981.

WMU faculty are rightly proud of the top-quality instruction we provide to our students and deeply invested in receiving substantive feedback from them. The WMU-AAUP is equally invested in helping our faculty colleagues access reliable, useful feedback that is free of the kinds of racial, gender, and other bias that unfortunately many colleagues have experienced firsthand in their ratings and that has been well documented in the scholarly literature on student ratings.

These are problems that our 2011 and 2014 negotiation teams raised at the bargaining table. Both times, the administration refused to engage in conversation to try to solve them.

We value the time and energy that the members of the joint committee brought to this project, and we share their disappointment in the outcome. In collaboration with the Executive Committee, our 2014 bargaining team envisioned a process of brainstorming to generate creative solutions to improve course evaluation response rates and develop evaluation instruments that minimize potential bias, and we are still optimistic that this can be achieved without faculty conceding any contractual rights.

But given the growing body of research into bias in student ratings, it would have been irresponsible for the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee to agree to the expanded use of a flawed rating instrument or to allow a negotiated contractual right to be circumvented in the process.

In order to preserve as many of your rights under Article 16 as possible, you may choose not to release your Spring 2016 ratings data to your chair and dean. In this way, you will at least have the right to decide which data from Spring 2016, if any, are used in tenure and promotion decisions.

However, this does not mean that the administration’s plan to require evaluation of all sections of all classes taught in Spring 2016 does not violate the contract. It does.

The WMU-AAUP Association Council will discuss the faculty’s options for responding to this contract violation at the Council meeting scheduled for Friday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m., in room 210 of the Bernhard Center. All bargaining-unit faculty are invited to attend this meeting. (All Association Council meetings are open to all members of the bargaining unit.)