Diplomatic Deception

Cartoon by Julie Gunderson.
Cartoon by Julie Gunderson.
Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.

At a recent senate meeting, it was announced that the Academic Affairs Committee is working to change Student Evaluations of Instruction (SEI) internal handling by professors and their respective deans.

Currently, professors are mandated to submit their SEIs to the dean of their respective department. The proposed change from the Academic Affairs Committee would allow professors to opt out of sending SEIs they believed to be offensive or a personal attack on their character.  Those working on the change want to make it so SEIs are more constructive and less petty in the future.

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe it is encouraging to see the committee want to create a more constructive and less-hostile environment for professors, but we’re troubled by the  option that professors can discard any SEI that could cost them a job.

We do understand that the SEIs being anonymous evaluations act as security blankets for students who do not understand that SEIs are not the place for them to vent about their grievances. However, we believe the current approach being taken to the potential omission clause is naïve and assumes that every professor at this school is a good professor.

As students who pay for a college education, we too want to believe that every professor we interact with is qualified and capable. For the most part, we’ve had positive experiences with our instructors.

But we’ve also had negative experiences with professors. Not many, but they have happened and they happen everywhere. Unfortunately, there are unqualified instructors at every institution. The SEI gives students an opportunity to have a voice and have their voice matter.

Students may gripe about professors they believe are “bad,” but it stands to reason that there are professors who are simply unqualified for their profession, some of which may be tenured. SEIs hold professors accountable for their actions and allowing for the possible exclusion of honest critiques means that we, as students, will be censored.

It is also worth mentioning that while we do agree that our teachers are only human and they have feelings, we know that some professors may take constructive criticism personally. What could be a helpful criticism to one professor may be a personal attack to another.

While a dean may be able to intervene and ask a professor why a certain number of SEIs did not come through, the proposal to allow professors to omit certain SEIs relies too much on the honor system. The same honor systemthat is being asked of students when they submit SEIs.

Criticism, negative or not, at least shows a professor and by extension the department dean, what problems exist in the classroom both in terms of curriculum and instruction. Ignoring these SEIs would stagnate progress in education.

Higher administration itself should be opposed to this change as it promotes false representation of the professors in their employ. SEIs play a pivotal role in the continued employ of adjunct professors. If they are given choose to selectively submit SEIs which only show them in a positive light, who is to say if they meet instructor standards?

We believe this proposed change creates more problems than it solves, and should be throughly scrutinized before being considered for implementation.