Iowa Bill Proposes Evaluating Teachers Based Solely on Student Ratings

Posted By Abby Perkins on April 30, 2015 at 11:50 am
Iowa Bill Proposes Evaluating Teachers Based Solely on Student Ratings

Most college students have heard of the website Rate My Professor, where they can turn the tables and give their educators grades based on overall quality, helpfulness, easiness, clarity, and even “hotness.” Even more are familiar with the concept of end-of-semester evaluations, where students can reflect on courses and give their professors feedback – both positive and negative. But what if these ratings and evaluations – and only these ratings and evaluations – had the power to determine professors’ careers?

A bill recently proposed in the Iowa state Senate aims to make just that happen. The legislation, proposed by state Sen. Mark Chelgren, would allow Iowa’s public colleges and universities to evaluate their faculty based solely on student ratings. Low-rated professors would be fired – there would be no tenure and no appeals. And that’s not all – Chelgren’s bill also proposes for the names of the five lowest-rated professors at each school to be listed online, where students would vote for whether or not they should stay.

The reasoning behind the bill? Colleges, Chelgren argues, aren’t giving students their money’s worth when it comes to education – especially considering the sizable loan debt that many graduate with. Professors, he told the Chronicle of Higher Education, should “think of their job as being in service and as having customers they have to take care of” – something that the majority of educators are not currently doing.

Potential issues

There are a lot of potential issues that go with putting students in charge of professors’ careers – issues that will likely prevent the bill from being passed (it’s been stuck in the Education Committee since it was introduced in January, and Inside Higher Ed reports that the bill was in fact shot down six weeks ago).

Critics of the bill question whether college students are really qualified to make decisions about hiring professors. Chelgren’s response, in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education? “Absolutely.” “Why wouldn’t a student be qualified to make those kinds of determinations?” he asks. “They’re the ones paying the money.”

Another concern is that the bill does not take into account professors’ research or service in their fields – things that are important considerations at most colleges and universities. Chelgren states, however, that was intentional. Colleges and universities are intended, he said to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “to impart knowledge to students” – not to develop R&D. He cautions that universities should distinguish between classroom lecturers and professors hired to do research and development – those individuals, he argues, should instead be hired as employees of the state.

Faculty response

Other major issues with the bill is the worry that it would discourage top professors from working at Iowa universities – and, based on faculty members’ responses, that seems likely. Rudy Fichtenbaum, professor of economics at Wright State University and president of the American Association of University Professors’, told Inside Higher Ed that the bill is “the most outrageous proposal [he has] ever heard from a legislator anywhere.” Herman Quirmbach, chair of the Iowa State Senate Education Committee, similarly told the site that the bill “demonstrates little understanding of higher education and even less caring.”

Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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