At some schools, the biggest transition for new faculty is probably related to learning the ins and outs of departmental politics. Luckily, my own department does not have much in the way of politics. I have, however, noted some interesting campus politics. During a recent conversation about student evaluations I found myself with several faculty members from the humanities who appear to have an inherent distrust of the process.
Obviously, lots of people dislike evaluations, but I’ve never talked to anybody who distrusts them like these professors from the humanities. The fact is, I’ve always approached student evaluations from the stand point of the social sciences. As such, evaluations are one way of collecting data about the ever-elusive student satisfaction. As a sociologist, I’ve never questioned whether surveys were a valid method of data collection. While survey methods are not perfect, they do reflect something about students’ reactions to what we do in the classroom, even if that something is not what we intended to measure. This allows us to compare the reactions of our most recent students to those in the past using a standardized set of questions.
In contrast to the attitudes toward surveys that I developed in years of sociology courses, my colleagues in the humanities likely spent their graduate school days wrestling with debates about what constitutes a text. For them, bubble sheets and numeric printouts are a mysterious entity that others (such as the members of the administration who have backgrounds in the social sciences) can manipulate to suit their needs. While I strongly believe that this distrust is misplaced, this glimpse into campus politics was eye opening.