Time to defund Washtenaw Community College?

When college and teacher collude to keeps secrets, it hurts students, teachers and the public. University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan and most other colleges allow the public to read teachers reviews – not WCC.

The college colluded with their teacher union to keep teacher evaluations secret – for no good reason. And that’s just the first of the problems.

While other colleges and universities see the value in allowing the public to review teacher evaluations, Washtenaw Community College has entered into an obscure agreement to hide them. This causes four problems.

First, students gain valuable information when they have access to teacher evaluations. We each have different learning styles. When teacher evaluations are made public, a student can choose the best teacher to fit his/her learning style. Or at least be forwarded if a teacher is known to be harsh. Either way, more information helps students succeed. And you’d think that WCC would be interested in helping students succeed.

Next, teachers stay sharp and get better when they know the public is watching. In a strange study, office workers had a small mirror placed at their desk. The mirror was placed so that the worker faced it, and could see themselves while working. Just the feeling of being watched caused the workers to get more done. In the same vein, when teacher evaluations are made public, the teachers feel social pressure to stay sharp or get better.

I’ve had some teachers at WCC who were bad, but they were trying to get better. As such, I knew there was a great teacher working to get out. However, with secret evaluations, there is no social pressure to get better. Some teachers are internally motivated and will always strive to get better, but some teachers are responsive to public evaluations.

Then, the public has a right to know if their tax dollars are being well spent. If Washtenaw is hiring inexperienced teachers to lower costs, then the public has a right to know. Public evaluations allow public scrutiny of WCC administration.

Lastly, WCC tries to side step the issue by directing students to visit ratemyprofessor.com (a teacher evaluation site). However, Washtenaw administration allowed a teacher to censor a bad review. That case involved a teacher who received a bad evaluation – Fall 2011. The administration allowed the teacher to publish (copy) favorable WCC reviews, and ask his next class (Winter 2012) to get the bad review removed. WCC administration allowed this censorship. The way it worked was, the teacher asked the students to visit ratemyprofessor.com and mark the bad review as inappropriate. When enough students flagged the review, ratemyprofessor.com deleted the negative review. To convince the students to help him, the professor copied two documents that WCC keeps secret. The first was the student’s negative WCC evaluation of the professor. The second was the teacher’s, WCC aggregate evaluation data. These two documents are kept secret under the illicit contract between the WCC teachers union and Washtenaw. Apparently, teachers are allowed to publish their evaluations if they choose.

So why would teachers want their evaluations kept secret? The college’s argument is that students are so vicious and mean, that they would use the evaluations to vent their spleen if they were getting a bad grade in a class. Thus the evaluation would not reflect the teachers real ability. This argument fails on many fronts. First, allowing students to look at evaluations doesn’t seem to bother UoM or Eastern. Next, I think that most students are smart enough to know when a poor evaluation is motivated by revenge. And this brings us to a true story.

An insurance company in England, that provides insurance for farms, also has a blog. When lightning killed three hogs on a farm, the farmer filed a claim. The claim was denied because the insurance covers illness, and the most common reasons livestock may die before making it to market. Lightning strikes are not covered.

So the farmer blogged about how the insurance company sucked. Surprisingly the insurance company did not respond on their own blog. Instead, they let other farmers who had the same policy comment. And other farmers did. They supported the insurance companies position. The other farmers pointed out that the policy excludes lightning strikes (extreme storms).

The other farmers did not agree with the complaint. They did not side with the farmer who lost his hogs. They made their own decision. In the same way, students are not mindless. They will read a negative evaluation and judge if it is real or just bitching.

So none of Washtenaw’s arguments hold water. Students are not stupid and they have the right to evaluations.

If you agree that students, and the public have the right to teacher evaluations, join the Clown College in our goal break this insulting ban. Our goal is to de-fund WCC until the college makes these evaluations public. Consider making a donation, buying a t-shirt or liking the Clown College.

Thanks Eric

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