I am employed at a college that values teaching. (OK–what college or university does NOT value teaching? I guess my point is that teaching plays a VERY MAJOR role in the tenure and promotion process at my college). One must be a “satisfactory” (read “adequate”) teacher in order to get tenure regardless of his or her service or publication record. One must be better than satisfactory in order to hold on to tenure and gain promotions. Since I have been here, I know of several faculty colleagues denied tenure and/or promotion because they were lousy teachers.
I occasionally do peer evaluations for my faculty colleagues. This means that I have to visit one of their classes and write a report about the quality of their teaching. I do not like doing this, but it is a responsibility that comes with being a college professor.
I teach at a small college (about 2900 students). I cross paths at one time or another with most of the full-time faculty on campus. Most of my colleagues are friendly and gracious. I consider many of them to be friends. So what if they are not good teachers and I have to say so? Fortunately, most of the faculty I have observed are very good teachers. I have yet to write a negative report; but someday I will. And in a small academic community a negative report could result in some real awkwardness.
I thus really enjoyed Gina Barecca’s recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog. She writes about one of her former graduate students–she calls him Rick–who did a peer review for a sub-par teacher at ‘Wombat State University.” Should Rick write a negative report on this teacher’s performance? What might be the consequences?
Here is a glimpse of Barecca’s post:
How did he handle the letter he submitted to the department about the class? Did he acknowledge his deep reservations?
Now it was Rick’s turn to offer a long silence.
“No. I didn’t have the guts. I tried to convey my distaste for her style by making the letter generic, writing chicken crap like ‘She attempts to connect with even the most reluctant student’ although I did force myself to say something like ‘Perhaps she might consider taking the “Improve Your Classroom Skills” workshop offered by Human Resources.’ My chair wanted to take that line out because she thought it might hurt the candidate but the committee voted to keep it in.”
I told him that I thought he did the right thing by at least mentioning his concerns about the class, but I also winced when I thought about his colleague reading that line about her teaching.
I also wince every time I wonder if I have the guts to do what Rick should do.