Faculty members call to change, eliminate course evaluations amid COVID-19 pandemic

Despite the move to online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UBC has continued to administer student evaluations of teaching (SEoT). Many faculty members are now calling on the university to cancel evaluations or change the way they’re being administered.

Dr. Charles Menzies, a professor of anthropology and former faculty representative on the Board of Governors (BoG), took to Twitter in late March after receiving emails and memos from UBC on SEoT. He hs since written an open letter to the UBC Vancouver Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri.

“Accommodations for students and all others but #UBC still wants to get the goods on faculty — have we done a good job 'pivoting'? Like, is this really the most important service for UBC to provide right now?” Menzies tweeted on March 23.

In an interview with The Ubyssey, Menzies said the shift to “emergency remote teaching has been disruptive and difficult” — and with the students and faculty adjusting to the new world of COVID-19, he’s concerned with the way the administration “bulldozed ahead” with evaluations.

“[Faculty also have] family. We have children or parents who are in different parts of the country or in the neighbourhood that require care and attention and so we’re also distracted,” Menzies said.

“To carry on an online evaluation and then to actually prompt students to talk about the transition in something that is used to evaluate people for job performance strikes me as a callous, uncaring act of meanness.”

Other faculty members also tweeted about SEoT, questioning the actions of the university.

Dr. Izabella Laba, a mathematics professor at UBC, tweeted that “in a crisis, [a university’s] usual measures of productivity don't mean anything.”

Dr. Juliet O’Brien, a lecturer in the department of French, Hispanic and Italian studies, also tweeted a thread about the issues of evaluations.

As of now, SEoT are being administered as usual — except with one major change: the evaluations from this term will only be used in faculty reviews for merit, tenure, promotion or reappointment if the faculty member chooses so, according to UBC Media Relations Director of University Affairs Matthew Ramsey.

“We understand some faculty are concerned about the continuation of Student Evaluation of Teaching (SEoT) at the end of an unprecedented and challenging semester for faculty and students alike,” Ramsey wrote in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

Menzies called the option to include the evaluations a “bad deal.”

“It’s really not a solution because that puts the onus on the individual to say, ‘I’m either in or I’m out.’ And if you're out, why are you out?” Menzies said. “Unless everyone agrees not to include their scores … it sends a message about the fact and then who knows how that message will be read.”

The memo sent out by the university said the information collected through evaluations “will be useful to gather student feedback on their experience of the transition to online.”

Ramsey said this data “may include useful feedback to faculty as they adapt summer courses (and possibly beyond) to this alternative delivery modality.”

Szeri reiterated Ramsey’s point when the concern was brought up in Wednesday’s Vancouver Senate meeting by Dr. Toph Marshall, a faculty senator and professor of Greek.

Dr. Mark Mac Lean, a mathematics professor and the current BoG faculty representative, highlighted the “ethical and moral considerations” of seeking to get data out of a situation like this.

Menzies suggested that in order to get this data, they should have changed the format of the data or even simply anonymized the data.

“That's within the realm of possibility and ... that would be a very simple solution,” he said.