Katie Booher

In an effort to make students, faculty and staff take end-of-course reviews more seriously, the Miami University senate debated changes to the evaluations April 16 during its regular meeting.

Ted Wagenaar, a sociology and gerontology professor and chair of the senate subcommittee on student evaluations, led the discussion.

“The evaluations have two end goals,” Wagenaar said. “One is to help faculty improve their teaching and the second is to help administrators evaluate the quality of the teaching.”

Wagenaar said that over the past school year, the committee interviewed about 80 faculty members and more than 300 students to help them decide what changes, if any, should be made to feedback forms.

One of the main problems both students and staff reported was that the evaluations were handed out at the end of class on the last day of classes, according to Wagenaar.

“We need to educate everyone about the importance of student evaluations,” Wagenaar said. “We have a climate on campus where students don’t take this seriously, faculty don’t take it seriously and it’s questionable how seriously the administration take them. We have to work to change that.”

William Snavely, Farmer School of Business associate dean and professor, said the problem goes beyond students and faculty.

“We need to talk to the chairs about taking these seriously (as well),” Snavely said. “We can’t expect faculty to take (evaluations) seriously if we don’t.”

Wagenaar also recommended changes to the types of questions asked in order to elicit better responses from students.

“We need to focus on what (President) David Hodge wants us to, which is student learning and not faculty teaching,” Wagenaar said. “Targeted, open-ended questions would allow us to do that.”

Currently, end-of-course evaluations are different from department to department. Wagenaar said the committee would not look at changing that format, but might consider a few common items to be included on every evaluation form.

The committee suggested that a common metric system be used across campus. All items would go from 0 to 5 with no “neutral” category. Evaluations would be focused on what students can accurately judge, such as the usefulness of written feedback on papers, instead of items of which they have less awareness, such as how knowledgeable the professor is on subject material.

The committee also recommended that the College of Arts and Science form be abandoned altogether.

In an April 9 letter to Miami Provost Jeffrey Herbst, the committee said, “(It is) a very weak form in terms of both content and methodology.”

Herbst said he wants the committee to create a list of the common items they would like to see on the evaluations, so the list could then be forwarded to the deans for approval. Herbst also said he would commit to having discussion about multiple measures of evaluating courses with deans, professors and administrators.

In other senate business, Jeffrey Potteiger, academic program review committee chair and interim dean of the Graduate School, spoke about the revisions to streamline the academic program review process.

Previously, the way the system worked was that panels conducted external and internal reviews, which were then synthesized into a final report by the academic program review committee. Throughout the process, both external and internal reports, as well as the final report, are submitted to the provost for review. Under a revised system, the provost would only see the finalized report.

During the course of the 2006-07 academic year, nine programs and departments were reviewed. Reviews contain both positive practices as well as places for improvement. Each department or program is reviewed approximately every five to eight years.

Additionally, during the meeting, Michael Stevenson, assistant to the president for institutional diversity and associate provost, briefed the senate on current diversity initiatives at Miami.

During his presentation, Stevenson touched on restructuring the pre-First Year Institute (FYI) – which currently includes multi-cultural and international students – to include students who fall under the Miami Access Initiative program. Stevenson also reported that the number of faculty who had volunteered to be coaches for Miami Access Initiative students was “overwhelming” and that he was in the process of choosing the faculty who would be best suited for the program.

Stevenson also said Miami may soon have a thematic sequence focused around sexuality. He said the courses needed have been approved, and Miami is currently in the process of doing the required paperwork to make it an official thematic sequence. Along with that, Stevenson said he would like to add Native American Studies to Miami’s curriculum.

Miami is also creating a Latino Community Coordinator, who would enhance the university’s reach to the Spanish-speaking population in southwest Ohio, according to Stevenson.

In addition, Miami will soon be home to the new Journal of Diversity in Higher Education magazine, and Stevenson will be its first editor.