Friday, April 06, 2007

Evaluating the Evaluators

One year ago today, a full-page ad appeared in the Chronicle. Signed by 88 members of the Duke faculty, the ad stated unequivocally that something “happened to this young woman.” It suggested that the lacrosse players had contributed to a “social disaster.” It featured several anonymous guilt-presuming quotes from alleged Duke students (filtered, as we now know, through the “notes” of Wahneema Lubiano). Most disturbingly, the Group of 88 committed themselves to “turning up the volume” by thanking campus protesters “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”

During the gestation period of the ad, the most highly publicized campus protests were the potbangers' call to “castrate” the players and the March 29 campus-wide distribution of the “vigilante” posters containing the lacrosse players' photos. No Group member has ever explained why it was so important that these protesters not wait until more facts about the case were known.

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Duke doesn’t publicize its student evaluation reports, but a student recently forwarded me evaluations of some Group of 88 members from the Duke Evals site. They make for interesting reading.

First, it’s clear that a few Group of 88 members are highly regarded teachers. Tolly Boatwright, a professor of classical studies who is affiliated with History and women’s studies, is a well-respected scholar who has attracted rave reviews. One student described her as “one of the most eager and supportive teachers at Duke . . . more than fair and generous to the non-Latinists and non-majors looking to understand the history of Western politics and culture.”

Group of 88/clarifier Antonio Viego is a graduate of Swarthmore College, the “social justice”-oriented college upon which Orin Starn would like to see Duke model itself. His next book, according to his website, will argue “that the constructions of ethnic, racial and sexual identities in legal discourse as well as the political and social movements organized around these categories in the U.S. must be studied in relation to the history of ego psychology and the distortion of Freudian psychoanalytic theory in the U.S.” A student recalls Viego as “very humble and lets everyone have their say while at the same time is very vocal and opinionated. Whatever class he’s teaching, you’ll hear about Marxism and sexuality.” That seems to be standard fare among the Group.

Some Group members simply attract mediocre reviews. Bayo Holsey is one of the professors in the soon-to-be-expanded African-American Studies Program. Her scholarship consists of the obligatory “forthcoming” manuscript, an outgrowth of her 2003 dissertation. Her students seemed unimpressed with her classroom performance: “She may be a very nice woman,” wrote one, “but she is boring and shows no enthusiasm in class.” Another described the course as the “worst class I have taken at Duke...so boring.”

At least Holsey doesn’t seem to dislike Duke students. Group of 88 member Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s new book will be entitled White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology; he also has a forthcoming essay entitled, “Latinos in the Midst: Where Will Latinos Fit in the Emerging Latin America-Like Racial Order in Amerika.” (spelling of America as in original) Here’s how one student remembered a class with Bonilla-Silva: “Makes fun of you if you answer incorrectly. Hates duke students (called us ‘spoiled private school kids’). Wastes time in lecture with stupid drawings . . . Is biased.”

Then there’s anti-lacrosse extremist Peter Wood. Over the past year, Wood has come across as the caricature of the professorial ideologue, and his evaluations confirm the point. While he attracted one positive comment and most reviewers considered him “enthusiastic,” the majority ranged from negative to scathingly negative, and previewed items of the Peter Wood we’ve seen on display in this case.

One student termed him “very liberal, doesn't want to talk about the founding fathers with any significance. The class is all about the 'little guys.’”

Another remembered Wood in the following manner:

It's hard to be so critical, since he seemed very enthusiastic about the class and eager to teach, but he was by far the worst professor I've had at Duke. He asks for participation, but only to twist the words students say into something completely different. Pretends to teach from a new and original point of view, but this is only an excuse to talk about the things and views that he finds interesting or acceptable, which translates to bias. His focus on race and class wouldn't be bad, though, if he had any insight or new information to offer on the subjects, but he doesn't. His lectures aren't even focused or coherent, just ramblings and anecdotes he fails to connect or put into some sort of context. If you try and engage or challenge his views, he resorts to name calling and slander, as opposed to rational argument. While he came very highly recommended and is a Rhodes Scholar, I can't say I came out of the class with any new appreciation of the material. Think very carefully before you take a class with him.

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Some Group members—Wahneema Lubiano and Karla Holloway, for two—attracted no student comments. Neither did Group of 88/clarifying professor Ranjanna Khanna. Khanna’s scholarship, however, places her well within the Group of 88 mainstream. Her most recent publication, “Post-Palliative: Coloniality’s Affective Dissonance,” could be a parody of academic jargon.

The thesis: “As an area of study—whether in literary, geographical, architectural, or spatial terms concerned with borders and other postcolonial problems—the cautious critical optimism, accompanied by its epiphenomenal counterpart in poststructuralism, is testimony to the impossibility of a declaration of newness in the world.” Khanna argues, “My concern with ‘melancholia’ is similarly about field formation, but it is about the affect of melancholia rather than about an affectation . . . This melancholia initiates and in fact finds its symptoms within a constant vigilance concerning palliatives, alibis, and easy complicit and compromised gestures of sanctimonious novelty or liberalism.”

Khanna concluded by outlining the path to democracy:

To sustain a people existing in the sovereign state of necropolitics and lost causes, critical melancholia, formulated through the ghosts with ideals, is the only way for democracy to come. While not all in the field of postcolonial studies will conceive of melancholia in the Freudian and Derridean terms I have employed, my reading nonetheless demonstrates how and why the field of postcolonial studies has always been melancholic, and has always expressed through this melancholia its profound belatedness and complicated antinomies . . . Sovereignty’s late style has, in postcolonial theory, found its critics who mine the antinomies of postcolonial life to find demands for justice, and therefore hope for the future.

This was the mindset behind the Group of 88’s statement.

By the way, the professor who attracted the most comment at the Evals site? Michael Gustafson. “Dr. G is the man,” raved one student. “Best prof at Duke by far.” Said another, “Best professor I’ve had at Duke... funny, wicked smart, very friendly.”

Some could say that Duke needs more Michael Gustafsons and fewer Peter Woods or Ranjanna Khannas. It certainly needs fewer Groups of 88.

Hat tip: C.O.

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

Khanna? That name sounds familiar.

Michael said...

This post shows that KC has his supporters in the students (not all of course) and that the students aren't as dumb as the professors make them out to be.

Sometimes I wonder if the professors believe that what they are imparting to their charges is swallowed or if they just lecture to hear themselves speak.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

"...the cautious critical optimism, accompanied by its epiphenomenal counterpart in poststructuralism, is testimony to the impossibility of a declaration of newness in the world."

My God. College professors used to be expected to convey knowledge and information clearly, to those who might use it for human progress in the future.

The above is more like the code language of a cult or cabal - language to conceal, rather than reveal. It's all very well for private clubs to dress up in regalia and enact arcane rituals to the 11th degree, but if the taxpayers are subsidizing professors who write or talk like that in a classroom, said taxpayers are being hosed. And the students with them.

wayne fontes said...

As an area of study—whether in literary, geographical, architectural, or spatial terms concerned with borders and other postcolonial problems—the cautious critical optimism, accompanied by its epiphenomenal counterpart in poststructuralism, is testimony to the impossibility of a declaration of newness in the world.” Khanna argues, “My concern with ‘melancholia’ is similarly about field formation, but it is about the affect of melancholia rather than about an affectation . . . This melancholia initiates and in fact finds its symptoms within a constant vigilance concerning palliatives, alibis, and easy complicit and compromised gestures of sanctimonious novelty or liberalism.”

WOW, OH MY GOD WOW
I laughed at an impenetrable sentence by Anne Allison posted here by another commenter. But that was only one sentence and could be attributable to sloppiness.
This garbage is incomprehensible.

I confess that my chances of solving this riddle are the same as a monkey's is of solving a Rubics Cube.

Shouting Thomas said...

I used to take the blather of such professors seriously. After all I have a degree in English from the University of Illinois.

The antics of these profs, and the inscrutable Marxist language they employ make it all too clear that we are wasting our time and money supporting humanities departments. They probably should be allowed to die.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the consequent collapse of the false god of Utopian idealism, have eviscerated the arts and humanities. The arts and humanities put all their eggs in the basket of this false god.

The only real work left for those who labor in the arts and humanities is trying to understand how they could have been so wrong. A process of de-Stalinzation is in order.

What in the world are these idiots doing preaching Marxism? Marxism is a criminal ideology... no different than Nazi-ism. When will this house of cards fall in upon itself?

AMac said...

Funny--Professor Khanna's essay is strangely reminiscent of my own work. Why, just this evening I created an essay that began:

The characteristic theme of d’Erlette’s model of the subcapitalist paradigm of reality is the common ground between class and society. Foucault’s analysis of surrealism states that consciousness may be used to reinforce hierarchy, given that the premise of dialectic libertarianism is invalid.

Brilliant, yes? Better yet, you may also have the talent to reach the philosophic and rhetorical heights where Khanna and I perch.

Being only one click away from The Postmodernism Generator.

Mike Lee said...

I just cannot fathom that students, parents, and alumni can stomach shelling out $40,000 per year to have professors who publicly demean their students. It's a sad commentary on the administration that things like this can still go on.

It's also a sad commentary that none of the alleged (notice I gave them the benefit of the doubt) abuses of the lacrosse team by their own professors last year have been properly investigated. It's a shame no one has been "removed from the academy, tarred and feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail" as one hero of the hoax put it.

And to Robin Weigman and the rest of the "let's just put all this behind us" crowd, that's not the language of lynching.

I gave the 88 professors the benefit of the doubt until the clarifying statement was published. Once they refused to apologize for harming their own students they became indefensible. As long as these professors cannot acknowledge their statement was (at the very least) poorly worded and apologize, they are cowards of the worst kind.

MTU'76 said...

Perhaps the few students enrolled with Karla and Wahneema decided not to risk leaving a critical evaluation. However, I do believe that those students will have to answer for why there were no enthusiastic praises.

I imagine the common characteristic of women like Wahneema and Karla and Ranjanna is that when they write, the reader reads, the reader reflects and speaks, and they immediately shout 'no, that's not what it says.' The same with talking, with body language, facial expression, clothing, even home decor. Eventually the people who live or work with them learn to say what ever it takes to keep them happy and quiet and to have peace, even if it lasts only a little while.

Anonymous said...

I think that this posting is a rare lapse in the professor's otherwise impeccable good judgement and common sense. Professor Johnson has done a great service to justice in this case, and deserves all praise for that.

But as a teacher in teritary education, you must know that student evaluations of their professors are of very limited value. For one thing, students are not qualified to evaluate how well they are learning or how well the teacher knows the material. (We all know that Socrates would have had very poor student evaluations.) Also, evaluations are notorious for being highly personalised, often little more than personality contests and biased by palpably trivial considerations. Finally, studies have demonstrated that students' perceptions of the course and the teacher are closely linked to the grades they receive in the class, rendering the results highly suspect.

What the members of the Gang of 88 have done in this case is an outrage and deserves the strongest censure. And the nonsense they are spouting in class would be funny if it were not so harmful. But citing student evaluations proves very little about the rightness of Professor Johnson's position in this case. He is the master of the facts of this case like no other, and is well able to argue his position on that basis with power and clarity without stooping to quoting student evaluations.

This minor criticism notwithstanding (and in anticipation of the professor's most zealous partisans who will not brook a single syllable of criticism), please keep up the excellent work professor. You are a brave and sensible man in a profession not noted for either courage or common sense.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that Lubiano and Holloway have no evaluations. I would have thought that each would have a small group of devotees who would sing praises to the hills for these two professors who really listen.

Joe T. said...

Reassuring to know how many students are sharp enough to be "on to" their professors.

january said...

Re: Khanna

As the Geico Caveman would say most eloquently...."WHAT?"

gwallan said...

AMac 12:54:00 AM


Yes. The Postmodernism Generator.
I was going to post the same link.
Seems many of the D88 have heard of it too.

Bakerman said...

RE: "(We all know that Socrates would have had very poor student evaluations.)" - 1:33am

Plato might well disagree.

RE: "...please keep up the excellent work professor [Johnson]. You are a brave and sensible man in a profession not noted for either courage or common sense." - 1:33am

Aristotle might suggest the above represent the entirety of your thesis.

... its thoughts on Alexander (the Great).

Locomotive breath said...

Some could say that Duke needs more Michael Gustafsons and fewer Peter Woods or Ranjanna Khannas.

Believe it or not, there are not infrequent calls from the liberal arts side of the house to get rid of the engineers because it's just a "technical degree" and engineers are not really receiving a true "liberal" education.

What really bugs them is that supply and demand is in operation and the university has to pay it's engineering faculty considerably more because there are actual productive high-paying jobs for engineers outside the university.

Anonymous said...

1:33 - so, do you support the work of the group of 88? I mean, bein' a teacher an' all.

AMac said...

anon 7:28am --

anon 1:33am was making a very good point. Student evaluations of professors provide "color", nothing more. Even if evaluations as submitted were a representative sample of students' opinions (they aren't) and weren't influenced by matters like the grade received (they are), the entire system is vulnerable to being gamed. Will anti-88 factions wort to trash signers who are nevertheless conscientious in the classroom? Will something-happened believers conspire to make Baldwin and Gustafson look bad? The answer is probably Yes To Both.

It's been noted elsewhere (sorry, I can't find the link) that KC Johnson himself seems to have been the recipient of lousy scores and writeups on the basis of ... politics.

So, Color, rather than Deep Meaning, much less Proof.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

amac - so you're sayin' 1:33 supports the group of 88? Or only if they are a group of color?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. I read about KC's student evals and you are right, only you use the word politics rather than raw hatred which is what politics has devolved into, it seems.

Thanks for speaking for 1:33.

Anonymous said...

Dr Johnson surely as a history professor you have to touch on and maybe go into some detail on Marx and the impact Marxist social, political and economic theory has had on the modern world. Does this make you a "MArxist"? I call my senior at UVa daughter's professors "Marxist" when she comes home infused with a digust for capitalism and asks me if ihave ever heard of "the dialectic method." But what to you does it mean to be a "Marxist" professor in todays academia? Which areas have crypto-marxists who gloss over or use marist terms for their own arcane purposes, not so much as to instruct but to indoctrinate? "Angry-victim"
studies seems particularly represented with "melancholy" marxists and sanctimonious liberals. Help a poor consumer please.

Alex said...

Locomotive Breath (13:00),

"Believe it or not, there are not infrequent calls from the liberal arts side of the house to get rid of the engineers because it's just a "technical degree" and engineers are not really receiving a true "liberal" education."

As an engineering grad, I find that fascinating - based on my experience (including the required "liberal arts" courses for "breadth"), I think it is the truly scientific disciplines (engineering, physics, life sciences, etc.) that truly teach a student "how to think", supposedly the goal of a university.

Also, thanks to Amac for posting the Postmodernism Generator - whoever came up with that is brilliant! My personal favorite case of the kind of muddled thinking that we are talking about here is a (serious) proposal that income tax rates should be differentiated by race (at the same level of income!) with persons of colour paying less than whites, women less than men, etc. I should add that I was required to read this proposal in a course on...

Family Law.

I should conclude by saying to Professor Johnson, your work here is outstanding, and I am eagerly looking forward to your book.

bill anderson said...

K.C.,

Another winner. These are people who are paid high salaries (although they are likely to insist that they are "underpaid") to abuse students and to write pure, unadulterated nonsense, and to promote that nonsense as "scholarship."

The majority of these professors are frauds. They have no idea how the world works, and we need to remember that the places that have been governed by people with their "ideals" were places where governments engaged in horrific mass murder.

Ever hear of Pol Pot? He and his friends decided when they were in graduate school in Paris on how to build the "ideal" society. I would be that many of their professors had the same worldview as many of the Duke professors you feature.

No, I am not saying that Peter Wood advocates mass murder. I am just saying that the worldview that these professors advocate when taken to its logical end is one that easily can be incorporated into schemes of mass murder. Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin, and others in that mix would have felt at home in the Duke University classrooms of some of these people. I mean that last statement and do not pull back on one word.

Steven Horwitz said...

As yet another college professor, let me support what 1:33 said. I was prepared to post almost the exact same thing until I read that post.

Using student evals is fraught with danger for a whole bunch of reasons. Yes, they matter and yes they should be part of any assessment of faculty performance, but they are hardly the most important or most valid form of assessment.

KC - you are on better ground when you stay away from personalizing this about members of the G88 and focus more on the culture and politics that produced them and their reaction to this case.

Anonymous said...

The "wicked smart" was a classic! Chowdah, anyone? Thanks for brightening my morning.

Anonymous said...

After reading Khanna's writings, all I can say is, "Dude, they must have some wicked stash in the teacher's lounge."

Anonymous said...

The evaluations at that site were a one off attempt to create an online archive of student reviews. It was very poorly advertised to the Duke community, and quite failed to "work". That is why there are so few evaluations posted, and those posted are from several semesters ago. To my knowledge, the whole project is dead. The low response rate makes the whole exercise really unreliable, for the usual statistical reasons.

Anonymous said...

These professors seriously underestimate the intelligence of their students. A student evaluation is about the only truthful thing that comes out of the garbage the Duke 88 spew. It doesn't take much to realize when a professor is an ass by not only what they say but how they behave, how they interact with the students and the big word is respect. To respect the students and their rights to their opinions as young adults. That is something that is missing from the Duke 88. They have erroneously placed themselves on an intellectual pedastal when in fact they are absolute morones and clueless when it comes to humanity, the subject they are supposed to be so prolific at. Humanity is tolerance, respect and a deep concern for others. The Duke 88 are the antithesis of that. But then again everything is backwards in Durham. Welcome to Duke in Wonderland.

scott said...

Now I know where Shadee Malaklou came up with the term "sexual agency" used in one of her columns in the Chronicle. She hung out with Ranjanna Khanna for an hour or two.

I don't understand the term sexual agency used in the context written about by Malaklou and what is presented in this post from Khanna's work could be written in Greek (no, make that ancient Greek)and I would have the same understanding of what she wrote.

None of the college professors at either my undergraduate liberal arts college or the state / tax payer supported university where I received an MBA talked or wrote like this. I can only conclude that it's a damn good thing I got my degrees over 35 years ago. There is no way I'm smart enough to attend college today.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

From 7:47:00 - "Student evaluations of professors provide "color", nothing more. Even if evaluations as submitted were a representative sample of students' opinions (they aren't) and weren't influenced by matters like the grade received (they are), the entire system is vulnerable to being gamed."

Well first, if one is concerned about the entire system being gamed - how in hell do coteries like G88 get their jobs? Hasn't there grown an illiberal 'preponderance of opinion' over on the liberal arts side, in which anyone not pretty far left in the first place has small chance of a chair? Someone noted long ago that the selection committees of the 60s were ideologically tolerant and welcomed lefties without concern for their politics - then when the lefties grew to a majority, they slammed the door on those who thought wrong politically. If that isn't gaming, what is it?

Regarding student evaluations, I don't believe that Professor Johnson is holding them up as some faux 'scientific meter'. He is running an exhaustive examination here, of all facets of the case, and exclusion of them would be improper (as exclusion of any significant evidence in a courtroom would be. You don't know how relevent it is until all evidence is weighed). The student evaluations would properly rank as a relatively small beam of light, but they make interesting reading and illustrate a range of opinions. Most significant is the lack of fawning.

Michael said...

re: 1:33

I had a look at the comments about our son's college professors since he started taking college courses at 15 in ratemyprofessor.com and they seem to be pretty spot on. I interviewed his professors before signing him up for classes and he kept me informed of his classes. I also work with former professors and I would agree with the assessments that I saw on that site as would they.

Kids are not as dumb as parents think and parents are not as dumb as kids think.

AMac said...

Insufficiently Sensitive 9:59am --

However insightful your other points may be, they don't make one partial compilation of student evaluations a valid indicator of a teacher's success. Or even of a group of 88 teachers' median success. For the reasons other commenters have already given.

Heck, I read this post and was amused by the discussion of evaluations. It's hardly unreasonable to point out that this particular metric is a blunt instrument that can be--and is--wielded by all sorts of people, in the service of all manner of causes.

I fail to see why some people bristle when those who have been vulnerable to the vagaries of these sorts of anonymous evaluations weigh in with their cautions (I don't speak from personal experience on this, BTW).

P. Rich said...

"This was the mindset behind the Group of 88’s statement."

For mindset read collective dementia.

Anonymous said...

"First, it’s clear that a few Group of 88 members are highly regarded teachers."

So, some can teach and others cannot. I'm not sure what ideology has to do with the fact they need to work on their presentation skills.

Must be a pretty slow news day...

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

amac 10:24:00: "they don't make one partial compilation of student evaluations a valid indicator of a teacher's success."

Sorry, that's the last thing I meant to convey, and was the basis of my denial of the 'scientific meter'. As an indicator of those teachers' success as teachers, of course those evals mean very little.

But since those teachers have chosen to behave as an intellectual lynch mob, yet act in secretive ways (for example, by forbidding the recording of open discussions), every scrap of information that can be assembled must be weighed as evidence, or at least illumination, of their behavior, and those evals do have some small value along these lines.

Of course, Professor Johnson in his next post is miles ahead of this quibble and leaving us in the dust.

Anonymous said...

Michael--
Wow. You interviewed your son's professors before you signed him up for his college classes? And I thought I was a helicopter parent. (I do, I admit, contribute a lot of advice in the course selection process--and I know parental "advice" can sometimes feel more like a command.) How do the profs react to this?

Anonymous said...

TO Stephen Horowitz--

Since you are also a college professor by trade.....and you have a history here of trying to instruct how you "feel" this website should be managed.....the views others should exude.....I will only say this:

Please understand that you are not in the classroom here.

Your personal sensibilities may not align with others on this blog many times.

Welcome to the real world of free speech and accountability.

We can get as personal about each and every individual member of Duke's Gang of 88 as we wish.

These urchins are well-acquainted with getting personal. Why should they mind?

After all, one cannot get more personal than scratching your own individual name on a libelous ad that would serve to facilitate the incarceration their own students for 30+ years for crimes they most assuredly did not commit.

Welcome to the world of payback and accountability.....you know, the world outside of the insular campus "culcha".

Debrah Correll

Anonymous said...

To: Prof. Jhonson
From: Duke Prof.

I have posted here on a few occasions, making the point that the vast majority of Duke students are far too savvy to be duped by the 88/87 and their acolytes.

I hope you have already considered coming to campus and interview a representative sample of them. If not I humbly urge you to do so. It would surely help you with your book. I bet these evaluations are only the tip of the iceberg.

On the topic of procedure that you deal with in the thread following this one. Duke is generally very, very strict about procedure. Just check the rules for promotion and tenure and ask anyone who served on the APT committee.

The sequence of events that led to the endorsments of the ad by those five departments is simply unthinkable in my own department (witheld to ensure anonimity). I am sure we are not unique in finding unacceptable that the department sign onto a statement of any kind -- let alone a political one -- without a formal meeting, discussion and vote.

You are onto something. I look forward to reading about what you uncover next.

Anonymous said...

To: 1:33pm
From: Duke Prof.

You raise legitimate points concerning evaluations, points that we regularly discuss among colleagues.

However, the administration at Duke takes evaluations very seriously. Excellence in teaching is one of the factors on which advancement is based.

Furthermore, students do base their decisions about what classes to take on several sources of information, and evaluations by fellow students are one of the most important.

IMHO, Prof. Johnson is in fact looking at material that is very relevant to understanding the events at Duke.

The system in use to evaluate teachers is surely perfectible. The flaws you illustrate, nevertheless, are not a justification for not using the information it generates to assess the 88/87 and acolytes. They do work in an institutional context that makes that very system an important component of performance evaluation.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn says:

When I was at university in the 70's, the FIRST thing I did before taking a class was ask other students about the professor. Because I was paying my own way, I didn't have the luxury of taking a useless class with a bad prof. I couldn't trust the university to tell me the truth - their reputation, ego, money, etc. was vested in insisting ALL their profs were good. But I could trust a fellow student to reveal if a prof was a lousy speaker, badly prepared, showed up for morning class with a coffee cup filled with whisky, made his T.A.'s teach half his courses, etc. (ALL of which happened to me).

I note a teacher on this site downplays the value of student evaluations but he is on the other side and doesn't have to pay for bad teaching. Students do - in every sense of the word.

Asking a student about a prof is as commonsense as asking a diner about a restaurant meal. The one who pays knows best.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, KC, for showing us again that the emperors have no clothes. Maybe someday some brave academics or administrators will point out the absurdity of what passes for scholarship at their universities. Larry Summers tried with Cornel West but to no avail.

The anonymous nature of the evaluations makes them less valuable as source material, but in this case, they are counters to the anonymous students' comments in the listening ad that these professors gave weight to by signing.

I don't see a place for anonymous evaluations in a formal argument, but they are fair game for a blog.

Anonymous said...

On second look, Michael, I see you said your son was taking college courses at 15--so your involvement makes more sense. My apologies for that one. However, it's still hard to imagine the transactions in which you actually interview the professors.

Anonymous said...

KC-

Dr. G's reviews are great, but he does not have the most reviews of any professor. He's #3 with 13 total reviews. An economics professor who often teaches the intro course, Lori Leachman, leads the way with 21, while stats professor Dalene Stangl is second with 15.

Also, the system is fairly new (less than 2 years old), so not many reviews have been put up, so it's not the end all representation of the student body. The end-of-the-semester course evaluations would be much nicer to see since they are filled out by every student. However, only those professors who opt to have the numbers released do, while all the rest are kept private. Thus, most are private and cannot be accessed. In any event, these evaluations probably give an idea as to students' sentiment towards professors better than ratemyprofessors.com, but still aren't perfect.

rod allison, detroit said...

If people like the G88 were expected to get results, or to produce anything in order to eat, they'd starve.

The capitalist and industrial society they despise is carrying them, and making possible their non-productive, frivolous, six-figure professions.

Put people like the G88 on their own, and they'd be food gatherers living in mud huts, if they survived at all.

Anonymous said...

Pu-lease alex at 8:07 AM, you know better than to equate the postmodernist garbage of some professors in the liberal arts with serious research and thought in such fields as history, philosophy, literature, political science and art. Many first-rate scientists are well-versed in the liberal arts and think humanistically as well as scientifically and greatly value both modes of thought. Without an understanding of the humanities, a scientiest can become a mere technocrat. You need to sharpen your scientific thought processes a bit and avoid overgeneralizing. Don't forget that KC was trained in the humanities. Is he the exception to your belief that "it is the truly scientific disciplines (engineering, physics, life sciences, etc.) that truly teach a student 'how to think,' supposedly the goal of a university." You do redeem yourself, however, by saying that your conclusion is based only on your own experience-- hardly a scientific sample, is it.

Although he has been fettered by a liberal arts education, nevertheless KC has produced work that you conclude is "outstanding." Is that humanist KC an aberration? Are his thought processes lesser than those of an engineer? I wonder if your opinion of liberal arts may be the result of having been poorly instructed in the liberal arts, which is becoming more and more unavoidable at universities as political correctness settles in. I fear that science at the universities will soon become seriously infected by the disease that is now sweeping the liberal arts.

Mordechai said...

When I was at Duke, Peter Wood was already a washed up lefty who was well known for sleeping with students. Its hard to believe he is still around.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, anon at 2:33, for the explanation of the rating system.
Maybe Lubiano and Holloway opted out of it.

No rating system can be devised that is as good as word-of-mouth by students you know and respect and can question in detail about the teaching, content, and grading of the courses. One man's meat is another man's poison.

Anonymous said...

To: Duke Prof at 12:21 PM

You stated:
"Duke is generally very, very strict about procedure. Just check the rules for promotion and tenure and ask anyone who served on the APT committee."

"The sequence of events that led to the endorsments of the ad by those five departments is simply unthinkable in my own department (witheld to ensure anonimity). I am sure we are not unique in finding unacceptable that the department sign onto a statement of any kind -- let alone a political one -- without a formal meeting, discussion and vote."

These comments seem to me to be blindly idealistic or naive, or you must be in a rare academic department that is devoid of politics. Of course there are rules for promotion and tenure. The problem is that those rules and regulations are often the window dressing for what happens in the back rooms--the power struggles, the viscious politics, the reputation bashing, the sycophantism, the blackmail, the deceit, to name some of the deviant behavior. The fights often extend beyond a department up through the administration. The fights sometime extend beyond an individual university, such as the cases of professors or administrators supporting or not supporting candidates in order to please a powerful person at another university. Promotion and tenure decisions are an ugly underbelly of universities, and decisions are often not based on the quality of the candidates, although the careful following of procedure might give the impression that all was right in the decision-making process.

I would hazard a guess that many outstanding potential faculty members at Duke were given the boot so that weaker, but more politically desirable ones, could replace them.

Hiring new faculty is fraught with the same problems. Many a good candidate has lost to a lesser candidate because the peers making the decisions don't want to be outshone by a new hire who will attract graduate students or do better research. Jealousy is yet another trait that haunts academia.

The Chronicle of Higher Education over the years has documented some of the more celebrated tenure/promotion and hiring battles at universities. The spirit of Machiavelli lives in many academic departments, the more prestigious the university, the stronger the spirit.

What I would like to know is what good candidates lost out when some of the 88 were hired and granted tenure and promotions. The scholarship of some of these people is beyond laughable.

APT committees are not beneath hooliganism and they are often stacked. In fact, often they are rubber stamps. Maybe Duke is an exception, although I seriously doubt it. Fortunately, a lot of good candidates do get in, but a lot more would if the tenure and promotion systems were not so flawed.

Anonymous said...

To: 4:59pm
From: Duke Prof.

All true.

You might notice that I said that Duke is strict about procedure, not that the procedure is never abused. Similarly, I said that my department would not put up with the procees that led to the endorsing of the statement. I know of others that would not put up with it either, but I cannot speak for all departments let alone for the departments where such a thing apparently did happen.

My point was that Prof. Johnson is onto something important. Your post provides evidence that this is so. Prof Anderson has also repeatedly provided similar evidence on this very blog. It is no secret that academia can be a snakepit. Not all of it is rotten, however, and one needs to get into specifics. This is what I hope Prof. Johnson will keep doing concerning the Duke case. He seems to have a good nose for asking the right questions to get at those specifics. As an outsider he also provides a perspective that I personally find useful to ponder.

I concede that I am idealistic in that I do not feel it is appropriate for me to make the point as eloquently as you did in an anonymous post. One thing is for you to speak in general terms about academia, another is for me to speak in specific terms about Duke. This is different, however, from being blind to reality. I am well aware that we have problems. I just do not know of specific abuses that might have occurred in this specific case and that Prof. Johnson might end up uncovering.

Anonymous said...

'Believe it or not, there are not infrequent calls from the liberal arts side of the house to get rid of the engineers because it's just a "technical degree" and engineers are not really receiving a true "liberal" education.'

To be totally fair, I've heard a lot of people of all political persuasions debate the value of an engineering degree (at least on the bachelor's level,) saying that with outsourcing and the relatively high supply of engineering degrees they are dime-a-dozen and it is not a field that most people directly stay in for more than a few years before going into law/management/etc.

Anonymous said...

12:37--

You wrote:
"However, the administration at Duke takes evaluations very seriously. Excellence in teaching is one of the factors on which advancement is based.

Furthermore, students do base their decisions about what classes to take on several sources of information, and evaluations by fellow students are one of the most important".

With respect, taking student evaluations seriously is NOT the same thing as teaching seriously. It is highly debatable that the evaluations measure teaching effectiveness.

Institutions often invest the evaluations with a dubious seriousness simply because they are quantifiable and therefore look AS IF they scientific and objective.

I've been around students long enough to know that their motives in wanting to know more about their profs are rarely intellectual. That's their business. Why should institutions abet this?

Anonymous said...

1:36 writes:

"I note a teacher on this site downplays the value of student evaluations but he is on the other side and doesn't have to pay for bad teaching. Students do - in every sense of the word.

Asking a student about a prof is as commonsense as asking a diner about a restaurant meal. The one who pays knows best."

You miss the point. Students are not QUALIFIED to assess bad teaching. They can exchange opinions about courses/profs, but few really understand how to assess teaching. When they exchange opinions, they are assessing how difficult the course is, how popular and entertaining the prof is, how easy it is to get an "A", how much reading there is. If you are basing your decisions on student opinion, you are not going to find out who the best teachers are.

kenb said...

Well, these are from my latest evaluations:

"I would have liked less focus on working problems, and more on understanding concepts"

"I wish he had spent more time doing examples related to the online homework instead of simply going into depth about the concepts."

"I feel that he would go too fast"

"Lecture seemed hardly worth the time due to the slow pace of the instructor."

These, note, are from the SAME CLASS.

I get plenty of evaluations along the line of I'm the best teacher they've ever had while in the same batch there are those who hate my guts.

Student evaluations are useful and I take them seriously but at the same time with skepticism. Someone once told me "the sheep can't evaluate the shepherd".

Anonymous said...

To: 9:11pm & 9:15pm & kenb@9:40
From: Duke Prof.

9:11, I agree on all points. Yet no flaw that you can argue plagues the current evelaution system changes the fact that APT does use them do assess performance. Similarly, when professors agree to make them public, students do use them. It is information after all, perhaps the kind that they care about the most. Whether we like them or not, evaluations ARE relevant. Prof. Johnson is therefore looking at relevant information.

9:15, I respectfully disagree, in part. Students ARE qualified to evaluate some dimensions of teaching -- not all but surely some. It is the job of the administration and APT committees to use the information properly.

kenb@9:40, I could post a similar sample. I too find evaluations useful if taken with proper skepticism. I also find them entertaining for the very reasons you illustrate. However, let's keep in mind that the apparent inconsistency in evaluations might reflect different attitudes, interests and tastes, not necessarily or solely collective stupidity on the part of students. One only needs to look at movie reviews to see a similar process at work.

I also think we should not lose sight of why this thread started in the first place. Prof. Johnson is focussing on several aspects of the case that might not otherwise come to the attention of the general public. I imagine people curious about this group of professors would like to know what kind of researchers and teachers they are. The research has already been scrutinized based on avaialble public information. Prof. Johnson is now using available public information to shed light on their teaching performance. If they -- or anyone else -- feel that evaluations misrepresent their true classroom performance, all they have to do is to provide the public with the relevant data. Another option is to invite Prof. Johnson, or a third party if they do not trust him, to sit in a few classes and see what goes on. If you think this is a crazy idea, please know that there are many academics who argue that peer evaluation should be used to assess teaching as well as research.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

7:21 "saying that with outsourcing and the relatively high supply of engineering degrees they are dime-a-dozen and it is not a field that most people directly stay in for more than a few years before going into law/management/etc."

Humph. You're burying your head in the sand and ignoring thousands of dedicated engineers who have devoted their lifetimes to their professions, and done society more good than you can apparently comprehend. And if one Dick Brodhead is an example of someone who's risen from the trenches into management, there's a fair notion that had he been an engineer he'd have had a lot less tolerance for the vicious lynch-mob behavior and mendacity of G88.

Anonymous said...

insufficiently sensitive, what in God's name are you talking about? I'm telling you things almost verbatim from people who have engineering degrees but decided to pursue other fields (and before you question their credibility, some of those people have been the most stringent G88 and Nifong critics.)

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1779527/posts Note dirtboy's post and several of the replies.

And I am working on an advanced engineering degree and would honestly like the quote I cited to not be true and be exactly one of those "thousands of dedicated engineers who have devoted their lifetimes to their professions, and done society more good than you can apparently comprehend."

I was citing that people, ranging in political persuasion from left-wing professors to right-wing freerepublic, had debated the value of an engineering degree...not that I agreed with them!

Still think I have my head buried in the sand?

Anonymous said...

Chronicle of Higher Education reported a study in which students were asked to evaluate course/prof. They were then given their grades for the course and asked to complete the same evaluation of course/prof. Study found that most students who did well increased their second evaluation of the course/prof, and most of those who did poorly lowered their second evaluation.

Everyone knows this who teaches. Students are biased towards teachers who mark high. Teachers who challenge them and assign heavy reading loads are punished in evaluations. It is a popularity contest. Students are NOT assessing teaching ability or effectiveness. To think otherwise is a naive delusion. Just visit www.ratemyprof.com and look at the comments: most remark on how easy the course is (or isn't) and make personal comments about the profs.

Evaluations should be distributed 25 years after the course is over. THEN ask if the teaching was effective.

Professor Johnson's use of teaching evaluations here is unfair and unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

12:43am

Brilliant idea. This way we would rate only retired teachers!

Anonymous said...

Student evaluations have contributed to grade inflation.

From my observations over 30 years, the ability to teach well has been among the least significant factors in gaining tenure or promotion or salary raises.

Anonymous said...

1:16

Well, 10 years might be a fair compromise...

25 years later the professor is not only going to be retired, the student is not going to remember much from the class, and the things they do recall are likely to be incorrect.

Anonymous said...

1:27am

Yes, a sensible compromise. Perhaps we can also agree that evaluating teaching is not as easy as some think. As far as I know no one has figured out yet how to do it right. We all can tell interesting stories but until someone smarter than me comes up with a decent system the only alternative I see to what we have now is no evaluation at all. I doubt anyone wants to go back to those good old days. I'm old enough to remember the litany of complaints about teaching NOT being evaluated by students. The current system was developed for a reason.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that I love Debrah (11:23 AM). If I weren't married, I'd wonder if she's single. However, I think she read Prof. Horwitz' comments (8:40 AM) too quickly. His most important point was his last:

KC - you are on better ground when you stay away from personalizing this about members of the G88 and focus more on the culture and politics that produced them and their reaction to this case. (emphasis added.)

I agree with Prof. Horwitz. The termites are infesting American culture -- albeit these are thinking termites: these don't destroy civilization to eat, they eat to destroy civilization.

The 88 Gangsters are the termites that we can see. But as everyone knows, for every termite we see, there are 100s more we can't. The value of the 88 termites, now blinking in the hot glare of the spotlight, is that they show us the 1000s more just like them that are infesting American institutions.

As Prof. Horwitz says, we should not focus on the termites we see so much that we ignore the ones that we don't yet see. Any action that any of us take should be not with a mind to destroy the obvious termites, but to strip away the rotten wood and expose what is going on underneath that enables these termite colonies.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

11:18

Yup.

You've got some anecdotal evidence that some engineers have career questions. You've furnished no evidence of the size of that cohort relative to the whole of the profession.

Of course some blokes over on the 'arts and sciences' side would like to chuck engineering out of the educational temple. Literature, political 'science', sociology and angry studies are all susceptible to argument, creating opportunities for talented bullshitters to rise somewhat independently of their grasp of course material. Engineering is not. You can't bullshit your way through a structural analysis. There is a strong and verifiable component of 'right' and 'wrong' when dealing with materials and their scientifically determined behavior. Arguably, said liberal arts blokes consider this a form of intellectual fascism, and wish it purged.

Sorry about this diversion from G88, who deserve merciless analysis to pierce their skulking and secretive - and despicably wrong - behavior.

Anonymous said...

1:16--

You wrote: "Brilliant idea. This way we would rate only retired teachers!"

This comment reveals that you took the proposal at face value. Let me guess, you are a scientist...

Anonymous said...

1:27--

"25 years later the professor is not only going to be retired, the student is not going to remember much from the class, and the things they do recall are likely to be incorrect."

Another literalist! Ever heard of rhetoric?

The good students always remember their best profs, even 25 years later.

Anonymous said...

10:53 & 10:55

Yes, I've heard of rethoric. Too much in fact. The point is precisely that we need more science and less rethoric in evaluating teaching.

You say: "The good students always remember their best profs, even 25 years later." I take it that mediocre and bad students (BTW, how do you evaluate students?) need not bother evaluating teachers. And with no student memory of bad teachers how do we evaluate those?

Am I taking you too literally again?

Perhaps the problem is that you do not understand the proper use of rethoric? The 88 got themselves in trouble precisely because they do not. Isn't the whole point of taking them on that despite their credentials they can't speak and write clearly so that ordinary folks, say students, can understand what they say?

Anonymous said...

"Yes, I've heard of rethoric. Too much in fact. The point is precisely that we need more science and less rethoric in evaluating teaching".

A "science" of teaching evaluation? What exactly would that be? Hard to believe that someone in 2007 believes that is possible. 1957 maybe, but 2007?

"Perhaps the problem is that you do not understand the proper use of rethoric? The 88 got themselves in trouble precisely because they do not. Isn't the whole point of taking them on that despite their credentials they can't speak and write clearly so that ordinary folks, say students, can understand what they say?"

No, that is NOT the whole point. If ONLY this issue were just about clarity. It is much worse than that. It isn't the form of what they said, but the content too. This isn't all just about a misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

TO 2:24AM---

What a hot qualification you made with that first sentence!

:>)

I will concede that what Stephen Horowitz suggests is definitely a key element in this equation; however, one can never move away from the individuals who behave like "termites"....tearing down and eating away at the structure of reason in our society.

I will say that both you and Horowitz make substantive points and do so articulately.

To be very candid, I don't really care for some of the previous statements that he has made, and the way he and a few others wanted so badly to turn this blog into the PC kind of environment to which they are seemingly so accustomed....so therefore.....

.....I was ripe to criticize him for any kind of PC alteration that he might have offered.

Debrah

Anonymous said...

Re: Nifong's "apology":

http://www.newsobserver.com/content/media/2007/4/12/Document.pdf

What an ass!

I like the way Liefong claims that he's the real hero, for asking the AG's office to investigate -- and how, since he asked the AG to step in, this proves he had "nothing to hide".

Great, the way he tries to hog credit for the AG's work.

Sorry, Mikey, we all remember WHEN (and WHY) you asked the AG to step in. You had already been served with an Ethics complaint -- remember? And it was plain impossible for you to continue your travesty of justice in this case.

You HAD to turn it over to the AG, and everyone knows it.

Every time you open your yap, you tell another lie and make it worse for yourself.