Cal State Fullerton provost Carolyn Thomas rejected a decision made by the Academic Senate to allow faculty to exclude student opinion questionnaires, also known as SOQs, from their performance evaluations for the current academic year.
The agreement, approved by the previous provost, Pamella Oliver, will only apply to the spring 2020 semester since faculty had to quickly adapt to a new teaching environment.
“By all accounts, that one-time exception was based on the fact that in March everyone had to pivot, suddenly, moving courses from in person to virtual,” Thomas said. “Instructors had no time to prepare.”
Provost Thomas said she gave the senate's proposal careful consideration, but ultimately felt that faculty’s current circumstances are far different from the one they were in months ago.
She had read the research detailing how the questionnaires can be problematic and biased toward women and people of color, but that it wasn't the only aspect of a lecturers’ personnel action file, the provost added.
A 2019 CSUF student opinion questionnaires committee report showcased the negative impacts that the evaluations could have. The report questioned the overall validity of the questionnaires.
One study suggested that students believe faculty of color who discuss racial inequity are biased. Another study showed that Black and Asian faculty were more negatively evaluated than their white counterparts when it came to characteristics of quality, helpfulness and clarity.
The report also showed that student opinion questionnaires are biased based on language, age and physical appearance.
In an email to the Daily Titan, provost Thomas said the majority of email responses from faculty were positive.
“We cannot justify continued special allowances to remove elements of the agreed upon personnel process. SOQs, like the other elements of the package, should be considered just as they would be in any other instructional semester,” Thomas said in the email.
Thomas said that there is a six criteria evaluation process for professors that includes but is not limited to policy compliance, a conductive learning experience and an effective implementation of a course syllabus.
Peggy Shoar, a child and adolescent studies lecturer at CSUF, is one of the two members of the Academic Senate who represents part-time faculty. She said regardless of whether a lecturer is full-time or part-time, the commitment to students is the same.
Shoar said she was completely in favor of the spring 2020 agreement but was against extending it to for the current academic year because of the extensive amount of training opportunities provided over the summer for professors to adjust to virtual instruction.
Shoar said that even though the evaluations are not the only way faculty are reviewed, they have carried a lot of weight in the review process, rehiring process and renewal of contracts in higher education. She added that as necessary as the questionnaires are, they should be deemed less important during virtual instruction.
“Regardless of whatever training we were provided over the summer, transitioning to virtual learning is definitely a big big change,” Shoar said. “Unfortunately, many use SOQ’s as a way to determine the quality and effectiveness of an instructor and they are not, they are absolutely not, they are one part of a puzzle that you're trying to put together.”
Gregory “Chris” Brown, criminal justice professor and chapter president of the California Faculty Association, said he has had racist comments written about him on his student evaluations during his career.
Brown said the questionnaires are not appropriate to use during the pandemic for lecturers’ evaluation. He said he wants faculty to be given the choice to use or exclude it in their evaluations rather than removing them entirely.
Brown said he teaches from his kitchen and that he faces various problems during virtual instruction. He said that faculty have risen to the occasion during this difficult time and as a result would like the university to support them by extending the agreement.
Brown said he feels that the majority of lecturers will still include the questionnaires in their evaluations regardless of the agreement.
“We understand too that we are in a different environment. Teaching virtual is not the same as face to face so some of us may not have mastered it as well as we would like,” Brown said.
Brown said that studies show that there are fewer student opinion questionnaires during online instruction, lowering the validity of it.
“We can’t control this pandemic. Faculty didn’t ask for this. Students didn’t ask for this. This is beyond our control, so understanding that should also persuade the administration to have faculty choice be the standard,” Brown said.
Shoar said that student opinion questionnaires will be discussed at the Academic Senate meeting on Thursday.