- An extended summary of raw quantitative student evaluation data spanning several semesters.
- Complete and unedited student comments from several courses and/or semesters.
The general rationale for both of these suggestions was that, especially at teaching schools, search committee members may be interested in a complete picture of a candidate's teaching experience, including whether the candidate has a consistent or spotty record of "student satisfaction." Now, of course, I realize that student evaluations themselves appear to have a spotty track-record. Still, for all that, for better or worse, student evaluations appear to matter in today's higher-education environment. First, at least in part because of recent financial struggles in public higher education and smaller private schools [some of which have closed down or closed "underperforming" departments], departmental funding--and indeed, departmental viability--can depend on student enrollment and majors of numbers, both of which are probably related to "student satisfaction." Second, again for better or worse, student satisfaction plausibly plays a role in tenure decisions at teaching schools. Consequently, or so I'm inclined to think, there are reasons to think it is important to provide search committees with a clear and complete picture of one's student evaluation history: not only one's good evaluations, but also one's bad ones.
At the same time, I recognize there is a certain dilemma here--one that I have encountered in a number of different ways, including in my experience as a job-candidate mentor. Broadly speaking, the dilemma is: what should one do if one has a particularly spotty student evaluation record? On the one hand, one could include all of one's quantitative data and student comments, which runs the risk of showing search committees less-than-flattering information. On the other hand, one could provide a more limited record of student data and comments, such as:
- A document including only "select student comments", disclosing primarily positive student feedback.
- Complete quantitative information for only one course, or one semester of courses, in which one received high scores.
I have seen more than a few people adopt this approach. Yet, while it omits negative information and highlights the positive, it also intuitively runs several related risks. First, it could raise a "red flag" to search committees that there is probably negative information the candidate didn't disclose [which could, among other things, leave them wondering just how bad the omitted information might be--viz. does the candidate merely have some less-than-flattering comments, or a litany of student comments alleging incompetence, etc.?]. Second, it could plausibly lead search committee members to have concerns about the candidate's integrity--for, while leaving out negative information is in one sense understandable [no one likes displaying negative information about themselves], it is also deceptive, intentionally withholding information that hiring committees and administrators might consider relevant and important. Third, it could also lead search committee members to wonder about the candidate's understanding of annual evaluations, tenure, and promotion--for, if a candidate is hired, they will ultimately be evaluated not on a "select" presentation of their teaching and research record at the institution, but rather on their full and complete record.
So, then, what should a candidate facing this kind of dilemma do? Truth be told, I am not entirely sure--and so would like to ask you all, especially those of you who have served on search committees: is it better for a candidate with a "spotty" student evaluation record to disclose a complete and unedited record of quantitative data and student comments in their teaching portfolio, or, is it better for the candidate to "impression manage" their record [e.g. providing only a small sample of course data and/or "select" student comments]?
For my part, I guess I am inclined to say that it's better to provide a full record, and for several reasons. First, it just seems more honest--and I wouldn't be surprised if search committee members tend to appreciate honesty and full disclosure [if one is hiring, it can plausibly be frustrating to feel as though one does not have full information, especially if a candidate seems intent on hiding some of it]. Second, it plausibly reflects some amount of courage on a candidate's part--as I suspect anyone can recognize that it is not easy to disclose unflattering information [and, since courage is generally a virtue, this might reflect positively on a candidate]. Third, since [or so I'm inclined to think] most people who work hard at teaching tend to improve over time, providing full information might provide a clearer picture of an overall positive "teaching narrative" [viz. maybe the candidate still receives some negative comments, but there is a clear record of improvement over time]. Still, at the same time, I recognize there are potential risks to full disclosure [what if some student comments are particularly brutal, claiming a person is incompetent, unhelpful, etc., as a teacher?]. However, again, I cannot help but wonder whether it is better to deal with these issues openly--for instance, in one's teaching statement, in which one might address past teaching struggles and frame oneself as a committed teacher working hard to improve student perception.
Finally, I think it is probably worth noting the obvious, both to job-candidates but also--much more importantly--to graduate programs: namely, that it is better for job-candidates not to have to struggle with this dilemma at all! In my experience, although some graduate programs treat effective teaching as an important part of graduate education, others [or so I have heard] appear to focus primarily on research, treating teaching experience and effectiveness as something of an afterthought. In today's academic job-market, where jobs are scarce--and in which different types of jobs [teaching and research jobs] can have very different focuses/priorities--it seems increasingly important to have a strong research and teaching record, something graduate programs and job-candidates should not forget!
Anyway, what do you all think? What is the best way to deal with the kind of dilemma above?