Faculty pay ‘by applause meter’

Should college and university faculty compensation be based on student evaluations customer satisfaction? The question has instigated an intense debate at Texas A&M :

It’s not like professors to think that they are so well compensated that it’s not worth hoping for a $10,000 bonus. But out of more than 2,000 faculty members at Texas A&M University’s main campus, only about 300 have agreed to vie for a bonus being offered for their teaching — and all they would need to do is have a survey distributed to their students.

The reason for passing on a chance at $10,000 is that many professors are frustrated by the way the money is being distributed: based solely on student evaluations. Numerous studies have questioned the reliability of student evaluations in measuring actual learning; several of these have noted the tendency of many students to reward professors who give them higher grades. Further complicating the debate is a sense some have that the university is endorsing a consumerist approach to higher education. The chancellor of the A&M system, Michael D. McKinney, told the Bryan-College Station Eagle: “This is customer satisfaction…. It has to do with students having the opportunity to recognize good teachers and reward them with some money.”

That comment didn’t go over well with many professors who believe that their job responsibilities include — at least sometimes — tough grading, or challenging student ideas or generally putting learning before student happiness.