Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
Anders Kaye (Thomas Jefferson, left) has posted a blogging instant classic over at PrawfsBlawg on preconceptions and the way they distort how professors and students perceive the reality of each other. It is not to be missed.
This is also the season in which most of us rip open the envelope and look at our student evaluations (assuming our grades are in). I am a relatively rookie to this, but I have been dealing with getting and giving evaluations in a professional setting for going on twenty-eight years. The form differs. In the law firm (back in my day), getting an evaluation as an associate was pretty thorough. There was a form that every partner and senior associate for whom you did work filled out, and a "kindly" partner reviewed that with you. Of course, it didn't reveal if you were a buddy-stabbing two-faced creep to your peers, the younger associates, the paralegals, and the staff. And, in my firm, you were relieved of this misery once you became a partner. At that point, the process was Hayekian: all that information got synthesized in the marvel of the price mechanism: your compensation points.
The corporation tried to deal with two different problems. First, there was the hierarchical review model in which the only input for the review was your direct boss. That would have been cured by using a law firm model, but it didn't deal with the second problem, the two-faced creep issue, which still infected the law firm model. So corporations (mine included) went to the 360 review, in which even your peers and the people who reported to you got to weigh in. (This is a digression, but my favorite performance review dilemma was the annual ritual in which my boss would begin my review by telling me I was too defensive. Think about it. Either I disagreed, proving him right, or agreed, proving him right.)
And finally, we have student evaluations of teachers. I'm assuming that even if you are God's gift to teaching, you still get evaluations that make you feel like an axe murderer. But this is what struck me about Anders' amazingly perceptive post and student evaluations, at least compared to the ones I'm used to: the institutional gap that exists between reviewer and reviewee. The task in dealing with any criticism (or praise for that matter) is facing down denial, self-deception, and self-justification, and facing up to reality. But the harder part in dealing with student evalutions - the praise and the pan - is determining just what that reality is.