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Racial Equity Task Force Recommendation Curtails Student Free Speech

The recommendation to eliminate the use of student evaluations not only stifles student free speech, but also allows the faculty and administrators to alter or direct what they want students to think. This is deeply concerning and entirely contradictory to the recent statements of the university on the value of free speech at JMU. According to the timeline identified in the document, it appears the ad hoc group appointed by the Provost has not yet been formed. We hope the university leadership will reconsider this action and continue to allow students to voice their unfiltered opinions about their professors.

Recommendation: Eliminate the use of student evaluations of teaching (SETs) for (a) summative evaluations and (b) promotion and tenure-related purposes. Reform the processes associated with the evaluation of teaching. Ensure support and resources are provided at all levels to foster and sustain change. This recommendation supports the ongoing work of four entities: the Academic Policies Sub-Committee of the Faculty Senate, Center for Faculty Innovation (CFI), Academic Effectiveness and Evaluation under Associate ViceProvost John Burgess, and an ad hoc group of academic unit heads (AUHs) and PAC chairs who coalesced in fall 2020 to address well-documented racial and gender biases in the evaluation of faculty teaching. Specifically, this recommendation elevates the evaluation reform to the level of the Provost, Deans, and AUHs to develop methodologies, resources, and infrastructure to support long-term change within academic units.

1. Recommend the following be amended to the JMU Faculty Handbook regarding the role of SETs in performance evaluations: Student evaluations may not be utilized or required as part of a teaching portfolio… Any such policy shall apply equally. . . Furthermore, student evaluation scores may not be used to evaluate teaching performance in annual reviews and tenure and promotion cases.

2. Recommend a culture shift in how student feedback is collected and utilized to cultivate a collaborative relationship between instructional faculty and students, rather than a customer service framework. Collecting feedback from students in the middle of the semester enables students to be active agents in shaping their ongoing learning experiences and humanizes the relationship between students and faculty, rather than the current frame that treats the course and the faculty as “deliverables” and “products” to be evaluated. a. Reframe the activity of collecting information from students as “student feedback” and “course development.” b. Eliminate the quantitative items on feedback mechanisms, identifying a standardized set of openended questions designed to give students the opportunity to provide instructors with substantive feedback on how they are experiencing aspects of the course – materials, assignments, and organization; classroom culture and inclusivity; and their own contributions to the learning environment. c. Provide resources to students at the end of the feedback module to put students in contact with key offices/persons for student support on campus, particularly if they were triggered by reflecting on the class. d. Identify a way to incentivize student participation in mid-semester feedback, ensuring that the feedback process meets universal design criteria and thus the needs of all students. e. Utilize the existing online system to collect student feedback at mid-semester. f. Pilot a process with volunteer departments to shape the common process, revise as necessary, and identify practices that promote a meaningful collaborative experience for faculty and students.

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