By Aleysha Haniff
While customer satisfaction is important when you buy a new car, it doesn’t matter when you go to Ryerson.
It’s true enough that the faculty course surveys handed out each semester can tell a lot about a course from a student’s perspective. Yegor Momot, a third-year mechanical engineering student, said he knows a professor that was demoted to a less advanced course after receiving poor evaluations. Unfortunately, Momot was in that less complicated course and he was left to deal with the professor’s shoddy teaching.
“I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on rating your profs,” he said.
But what if a student’s point of view could be translated into cold hard cash?
In Texas, the A&M University System created a controversial bonus program using the results from its students’ faculty evaluations last September. With a fund of $10,000, the administration plans on awarding their highest-ranking professors with cash. Similar programs also exist at the University of Oklahoma and the Acton School of Business in Texas.
At Ryerson, student-based bonus plans slip into the messy topic of merit pay. Until the 2007-2008 school year, administration awarded excellent professors with salary increases According to Dave Mason, president of the Ryerson Faculty Association, research was put on a pedestal. Fantastic instructors were often forgotten, leading to unhappy teachers.
Even part-time professors, represented by C.U.P.E. at Ryerson, disagree with any type of merit pay. Extra money awarded by the administration isn’t the answer when dealing with pay disparities between tenured staff and part-time workers.
While a new awards system has been implemented, course evaluations are only a small part of determining the winners. Administrators question whether students are capable of figuring out the difference between a good professor and a personable one.
“I think there is a built in handicap because by its very nature such student evaluations only see one dimension of what teachers do,” said Gosha Zwyno, faculty associate at the Office of Learning and Teaching.
Most students don’t consider the hours put into research, contributions at conferences, or even the work behind Powerpoint or “clicker” lectures. Plus, professors who teach courses with heavier workloads or drier subject matter are more likely to receive lower evaluation marks, putting them at a disadvantage.
Certain programs and faculties, such as the Faculty of Community Services, offer awards based on student nominations though they’re handled by the administration. CESAR, however, runs its own course surveys which aren’t shared with the administration. If there was enough of a push, the RSU could potentially do the same and keep Ryerson adminstration out of a student-run awards process. While the award wouldn’t be an “official” one, students could have their say and avoid the merit pay debate, keeping everyone happy.
The ideal student survey would have questions that go beyond office hours and treating students with respect. But we would still need an adequate number of students to respond to create an accurate picture of a professor and his or her course.
“It’s a huge undertaking so it depends on the financial situation of the RSU next year…if folks want to get behind it then they should approach us,” said Rebecca Rose, VP Education.
But if students wanted to add money to those awards, it’d have to come out of their own pockets and not everyone’s willing shell it out. “We have so many expenses, especially the ones who are living on campus,” said Florence Keov, a third-year psychology student. “Why would they ask money from us, students who are poor enough as is?”