Faculty Senate passes resolution on course evaluation data


The university’s Faculty Senate is asking the administration not to release data from student course evaluations until the evaluation instrument can be redesigned, and faculty, students and University of Michigan experts can formulate a policy governing the data’s release.

The Senate on Monday approved a resolution asking that data obtained from the course evaluation used by many schools and colleges “not be released under the university’s imprimatur.”

James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education, last month announced a plan to release the numerical data for all questions in the evaluation, including the distribution of responses.

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the executive arm of central faculty governance, says that plan would put an official stamp on data from an evaluation instrument it believes is flawed and possibly susceptible to bias.

“SACUA’s position is not opposed to releasing evaluative data of teaching, but that we should first invest our considerable expertise in building the best instrument we can possibly build,” said SACUA Chair Silke-Maria Weineck.

The plan to publicly release evaluation data came in response to a request by student government groups. Student representatives at Monday’s meeting said they were sympathetic with faculty concerns, and look forward to collaborating on a mutually agreeable process.

Provost Martha Pollack has said she is willing to slow the timetable for releasing the data — originally set to begin by the end of the current semester — and has asked SACUA to meet with the leaders of Central Student Government to discuss their differing perspectives on the question of course evaluation release.

She also is appointing a faculty committee to review the current evaluation instrument and determine whether there are enhancements that should be made.

Monday’s vote came after a lengthy discussion by faculty members. Some supported releasing the data while the effort to design a better instrument continues, while others spoke against the current instrument. A vast majority of the more than 100 faculty members in attendance voted for the resolution asking that the data not be released.

The Senate-approved resolution contends:

• The current student evaluation-of-teaching instrument is not designed to assist students in choosing classes.

• There is no consensus on the general validity of student evaluations of teaching.

• Some research suggests an instructor’s race, gender, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation may negatively affect his or her evaluation ratings.

• Publicity of prior course evaluations can affect student responses on current evaluations.

• Prior evaluations do not reliably correspond to later iterations of a course.

• A policy that affects faculty across the university should be endorsed only after broad consultation with the faculty.

SACUA members have taken issue with questions in the most commonly used evaluation form that ask whether students think the course is an excellent course and whether they think the instructor is an excellent instructor.

The resolution approved Monday asks that the evaluation instrument  “be redesigned in accordance with the best available research.”

The resolution also says the policy for releasing the data should be “formulated in consultation with student government representatives, faculty government representatives, and U-M experts in teaching and learning assessment and in statistical analysis.”

Central Student Government President Cooper Charlton and LSA Student Government Chair Jason Colella expressed their support for a process that considers the concerns of faculty as well as students.

Colella said his group was willing to wait for a new evaluation instrument and data-release policy. Charlton said CSG wants to be “allies in the conversation,” but that the issue should be addressed promptly, and that CSG still would prefer the data be released in time for the winter semester.

The Faculty Senate consists of all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans. A quorum of 100 members must be present to take action, and Monday’s meeting slightly surpassed that threshold.

In a brief meeting before the Senate session, the Senate Assembly — elected faculty members from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses — voted to encourage more Friday sessions of some classes as a way to combat binge drinking.

It passed a resolution strongly urging the provost to “promote and incentivize” the regular teaching of Friday classes for 100- and 200-level courses that have 10 or more sections.

Weineck, who also chairs the Senate Assembly and the full Senate, said the move was designed to discourage excessive drinking on Thursday nights, thereby shortening traditionally long party weekends.

Pollack has said she favors increased Friday classes.



  1. Kevin Atkins
    on October 27, 2015 at 9:06 am

    How rich!! The people about whom the evaluations were made want to decide if anyone gets to read them!!

    • Bruce Frier
      on October 27, 2015 at 5:28 pm

      Actually, these CRLT reports have always been read both within departments and by the administration, and they play a large role in decisions about hiring and promotion. The issue, on which I have divided feelings, is whether the raw data these forms generate should also be divulged to students to assist them in choosing classes.

  2. Gina Poe
    on October 27, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Thank you,James Iseler for your fair reporting of the proceedings.

    Course evaluations have been traditionally gathered so that the faculty can better understand what is working and what is not working in their course design and delivery. The comments students make are with the understanding that their input is confidential and anonymous so that they might speak freely without worry that they will sink a faculty’s reputation or hurt themselves. Evaluations are also used to determine whether a non-tenured faculty member should be retained and promoted.

    Course evaluations were never meant as a “consumer report”. There are other ways to establish the popularity of a course or a teacher.

    However, if course evaluations are to be used more broadly, then a redesign of course evaluation instrument to protect those whom studies clearly show would be targets of bias, and a process that ensures that evaluations are as accurate and trustworthy as possible will be of benefit to all. It makes sense that the University of Michigan, a leader in education in the nation and the world, woudl employ its highest expertise to make the evaluation instrument the best it can be.

    I applaud both student and faculty governance for working together on this important issue.

  3. Grad Student Bob Novak
    on October 27, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    “SACUA’s position is not opposed to releasing evaluative data of teaching, but that we should first invest our considerable expertise in building the best instrument we can possibly build,” CLASSIC DELAY & GRANDSTANDING TECHNIQUE by Silky Weineck.

  4. Bridget O’Malley
    on October 27, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    Attempts by the faculty to obstruct students from intelligently choosing courses is disheartening. Fortunately, the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows us to get copies of class evaluations of any faculty member we want. It is sad it has come to this, but if that is what we need to do ….

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.