The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Teaching Evaluations Event at Northwestern Law

Are law schools following the data?

|

Together with the leadership of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, I am co-organizing a multidisciplinary Zoom panel on Thursday, January 20 at 12-2pm CST entitled "Validity and Equity Problems in Law School Teaching Evaluations." Everyone interested in attending should register here. The event will also be recorded.

Northwestern's Dean Hari Osofsky and I will be hosting the event, and our speakers are: Renee Allen (St. John's), Jason Brennan (Georgetown), Rebecca Kreitzer (UNC), Katherine Macfarlane (Southern), and Adam Scales (Rutgers). The description of the event is as follows:

Student evaluations are, as shown by study after study, not valid measures of teaching quality and are biased along the axes of gender, race, accent, age, disability, attractiveness, and other instructor attributes unrelated to teaching ability. Yet, even as many universities and colleges have begun reckoning with these established problems with teaching evaluations, and while many law schools have started tackling other barriers facing women and minorities in academia, attempts to reform evaluations have lagged behind in the legal academy. This panel brings together a multidisciplinary group of scholars to discuss the most recent research on teaching evaluations and how law schools should proceed given what this work shows about the issues with such evaluations.

The event will be of primary interest to faculty and administrators at law schools, but also to folks from other university departments.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: January 14, 1780

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Student evaluations are, as shown by study after study, not valid measures of teaching quality and are biased along the axes of gender, race, accent, age, disability, attractiveness, and other instructor attributes unrelated to teaching ability.

    Really? Those are your customers. The customer is king. That is how the real world works, Professor Manta. If you treat your customers poorly, or provide substandard service, they leave. That is what will happen over time if you choose to ignore the voice of the customer.

    1. Good comment. Please the customer, with attractive, friendly, nice professors. The speakers should read the Nordstrom Way before the seminar.

      One thing profs should say is, what happens here will not affect your future. So lets get some skills by making the course hard. There is evidence that the harsher the military training, the lower the casualties in real combat.

        1. The Tennessee Star is an astroturf website, not a newspaper.

      1. "Good comment. Please the customer, with attractive, friendly, nice professors. The speakers should read the Nordstrom Way before the seminar."

        You forgot funny. This guy seems like he's none of the above things you mentioned, but he's funny as hell. And as long as he's not too hard a grader (I suspect his "arbitrariness" is Howard Zinn like -- either an A or a B), well I think the students would like him because he's not boring.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrOzY86YcEM

    2. The thing is, a good professor challenges students. If you went to learn to box, and the it was all pitter pattering around, you'd never learn to fight.

      The difficulty with college is, that it's a credentialing program, if any actual learning takes place, it's incidental. But colleges, if the customer was king, can't just give you a diploma after you give them $80,000.

  2. I had a French class made more difficult by the teacher's strong Slavic accent.

    1. Them saying that accent is "unrelated to teaching ability" is just dense.

      1. I remember reading about Richard Feinman teaching in Brazil. He insisted on teaching Physics in Portuguese, which he had just begun learning that year.

        His students said that they would prefer him to teach in English. I think he thought he was doing his students a favor. He wasn't.

  3. "Northwestern's Dean Hari Osofsky and myself will be hosting ..."

    That's Northwestern's Dean Hari Osofsky and I will be hosting. You would not say 'Myself will be hosting.'

    1. ‘Myself’ should be banished from the English language.

      1. I've often thought that myself.

        1. Hands off my stylistic choices you two. The use of "myself" may be grammatically incorrect here but it can be desirable in other situations. (I seem to remember a quote involving using "irenic" over "peaceful" because the extra syllable improved the statement's flow.)

  4. "Accent" and ability to speak the language, is certainly related to teaching.

    "Attractiveness" probably is.

    I'm not sure how you would find, empirically, that student evaluations are biased because you probably don't have an unbiased way to measure teaching ability.

    So in any event, what are the alternatives?

    1. Exactly. Students should have a say, even if student evals are weighted to they are not a large share of tenure decisions and such. Professorships are not 100% about publishing journal articles that few people will ever read.

  5. "Student evaluations are, as shown by study after study, not valid measures of teaching quality"

    As said above, the most important "teaching quality" (particularly at the college level) is whatever it is that the customers want.

  6. The characteristic that stands out to me from that list is accent. How is that not a valid metric for evaluating a classroom teacher? Classroom teaching isn't just about knowledge of the material (though certainly this is necessary), it is also a performance. We have no problem evaluating other performers (film or stage actors) by whether they have (or can imitate) the accent appropriate to the role. Speaking with the correct accent is just part of the job for an actor. Why hold professors to a lesser standard?

  7. Teaching evaluations are, as Winston Churchill might say, the worst way of evaluating a professor's teaching ability, except for all the others.

  8. Student evaluations are, as shown by study after study, not valid measures of teaching quality

    I'm a bit puzzled by that claim. In order to make it, one must have a valid measure of teaching quality that one can use as a baseline to compare student evaluations to. What is that measure?

    1. For some subjects, the quick-and-easy way to do such a comparison is to use an identical test/practical evaluation for all students of different teachers. Math or physics, for example.
      Otherwise, you can try to use proxies like SAT/ACT or GRE scores. For law school, maybe Bar passage rates?

      There's a lot of research on the subject, although most of it focuses on public school students and state/local testing scores. I could not find much related to law schools directly. The one paper that kept coming up was "Evaluating Evaluations: How Should Law Schools Judge Teaching?" by Richard Abel, published in the Journal of Legal Education in 1990.

    2. Teachers don't want to be evaluated by students, so they generate studies that say that evaluations aren't meaningful.

      This is the problem with folks' criticism about "rejecting statistics". You can certainly reject other people's interpretation of data.

Please to post comments