Evaluation turmoil

Faculty association and Senate both pushing for course evaluations, so what’s the hold up?

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

On Dec.16 the Senate passed a motion that course evaluations be administered for every course every time it's offered. Although TRUFA is in favour of implementing course evaluations, it maintains that the discussion should be between TRUFA and the university, not in the Senate. albertogp123/Flickr Commons

On Dec.16 the Senate passed a motion that course evaluations be administered for every course every time it’s offered. albertogp123/Flickr Commons

A recent TRU Senate motion mandates that TRU administer course evaluations for every course every time it’s offered.

TRU remains the only university in the Research Universities Council of British Columbia to not have implemented mandatory course evaluations, a required step for university institutions to take in order to be recognized as a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada. Despite agreement that the evaluations would benefit faculty and students alike, the TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) and the university continue a storied turmoil over implementation.

TRUFA’s president Jason Brown summarized the situation in two words: “a mess.”

On Dec. 16, the Senate approved a motion of the Academic Priorities and Planning Committee, a sub-committee of the Senate, recommending “student course evaluations will be carried out for all courses every time a course is offered.”

Provost and vice president academic Ulrich Scheck presented a joint letter signed by himself and TRUSU president Dylan Robinson supporting the motion.

Despite discussion between the university and TRUFA over the past couple years, including consultation over the types of questions course evaluations should ask, Brown said the association was not aware such a motion would be put to the Senate.

“We thought we were going to have a discussion about a solution and we were shocked to see this motion coming to the Senate and we were very disappointed,” he said.

Brown said TRUFA fully supports course evaluations but wants to have adequate input so that the system provides formative results and is not used as a punitive tool against professors.

“It’s that we haven’t been able sit down on one side of the table, and the employer sit down on the other side of the table and talk and say ‘how are we going to do this?’” he said.

Although TRUFA is in favour of implementing course evaluations, it maintains that the discussion should be between TRUFA and the university, not in the Senate. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Although TRUFA is in favour of implementing course evaluations, it maintains that the discussion should be between TRUFA and the university, not in the Senate. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Brown said TRUFA had asked to meet with the Senate in the fall because of its concern that some of the issues being addressed in the Senate fell under the collective agreement between the university and TRUFA. Brown expressed TRUFA’s stance that the discussion should be taking place at the bargaining table, not the Senate.

“I think Senate and myself and many colleagues on campus do disagree with that position,” Scheck said. “I feel that Senate is the right place to make that decision on principle. The implementation piece, that’s a slightly different matter.”

Scheck maintains that deciding on principle to implement course evaluations is an academic issue, not a labour relations issue.

He said the Senate mandate sets an expectation that TRU will follow through with implementing mandatory course evaluations, but the details are yet to be determined. He suggested that a committee be struck to look at properly implementing evaluations and TRUFA be adequately represented on that committee.

“I would like TRUFA to be on board and I hope they will come to the table on that because some of the details might have some implications that need to be in the collective agreement, but not the principle,” he said.

Before the mandate was even put to the Senate, TRUFA filed a grievance with the university regarding the course evaluation process. It’s currently awaiting a response. If the university response is negative, Brown said there is a possibility they could move to legal arbitration.

Scheck confirmed that a grievance had been filed, but said the details were confidential.

“There was an agreement between the faculty association and the university that this Senate subcommittee called the Instructional Development and Support Committee (IDSC) could develop four different course evaluation questions in consultation with TRUFA for evaluation of all courses,” Brown said. “But that was the only role the Senate was agreed to take in terms of the evaluation process.”

The IDSC’s mandate is to develop a valid and reliable survey for course evaluation. The Centre for Student Engagement and Learning Innovation is developing the survey under the direction of Gary Hunt.

In September, the IDSC advised Senators that it had developed a survey with 16 questions and the four Senate-approved questions to initiate a pilot last fall. The pilot survey was distributed to three faculties: science; adventure studies, culinary arts and tourism (A.C.T.); and business and economics.

“The problem is, even though we’ve negotiated all these things, suddenly a pilot project was implemented by the university to ask a whole series of questions that someone else came up with,” Brown said.

“There has been no attempt to keep us, to ask us to be partners in the process.”

Despite TRUFA feeling currently out of the loop, the pilot survey was launched and a second survey will be distributed this spring. Hunt said around 20 per cent of eligible students participated, which was higher than they expected since there was little promotional efforts made and the survey couldn’t be distributed during class time because it was online.

Focus groups are currently planned to review the results of the fall survey, which will include reworking questions, such as removing ones that students tended to answer “not applicable” to, and draft language that will instruct students prior to taking the survey. After the second pilot is completed focus groups will review the survey again.

The pilot survey was administered by Institutional Planning and Analysis using Vovici and Hunt said they still haven’t made a decision about purchasing other software.

As stated in the letter from Scheck and TRUSU “the goal of the pilot project is to have a final version of the Course Evaluation Questionnaire ready for full implementation in the fall of 2014.”

With files from Justine Cleghorn