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Educational policy analysis archives
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Arizona State University
University of South Florida
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University of South Florida.
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Education -- Research -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
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usfldc doi - E11-00077
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1 of 5 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 5 Number 8March 18, 1997ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Education Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1997, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.Response to Haskell: "Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Student Evaluation o f Faculty" Jeffrey E. Stake School of Law-Bloomington Indiana UniversityAbstract Haskell (1997) argued that the administrative prac tice of student evaluation of faculty is a threat to academic freed om. However, before that claim can be substantiated, several prior questions must be addressed: To whom does academic freedom belong? Individual facul ty? The academy? Whose actions can violate the right? Can any lines be drawn based on whether the substance or form of classroom behavior is influenced? And still another crucial point is whether a body can violate academic freedom without any intent to interfere with or control the substance of what is said to students. Almost anything that can be done to undermine the a dministrative practice of getting students to evaluate teaching o ught to be done. One of my major concerns is that the process of asking studen ts their opinions undermines the trust and faith they need to place i n the teacher. Instead of saying, "Here is a great scholar and teacher; learn from her what you can," the administration of evaluation forms says to stud ents, "We hired these teachers, but we are not sure they can teach or hav e taught you enough.

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2 of 5Please tell us whether we guessed right." As my fat her likes to say "The overexamined life is not worth living either." In t his case, asking students for their opinions focuses the attention of students on the acting and special effects, rather than the message. I think students need to have trust in teachers to learn much from them. The evaluation fo rms undermine that trust. I also believe that student evaluations can strong ly influence the behavior of teachers, and for the worse. I changed my teaching dramatically because I was told by my Dean at the time that I ha d to keep the customers satisfied if I wanted to get tenure. (And I have no t changed back since getting tenure.) I would not contend that the changes I mad e improved my teaching. That said, I am afraid I have not been convinced b y Haskell's arguments that the evaluations violate academic fre edom. If I were to have my students fill out forms on my teaching, surely i t would not violate my academic freedom. What if a colleague wishing the b est for my success convinces me to do so? Does that violate academic f reedom? If not, how about a well-meaning teaching committee? An avuncul ar Dean in a friendly tone, or in a threatening tone? A closely connected question is whether academic fr eedom belongs to the academy or to individual teachers. I am unclear on this point and see arguments on both sides. Seen from one perspective, academic freedom is freedom for the academy to teach and research witho ut control from outside, not for faculty members to be free from constraints imposed by the faculty or administration. When the academy imposes student ev aluations on itself, there is no violation of academic freedom, however bad the teaching gets in response. Robert O'Neil, in his excellent book Free Speech in the College Community (Indiana University Press 1997), offers a small de gree of support for this view: "Policies we impose on ourselves are ... much harde r to challenge in court than are the policies government visits upon us."(p.189) However, other passages in O'Neil's Chapter 8 conv ince me that he, at least, would probably not buy the proposition that academic freedom belongs to the university as an institution and not to the professoriate and professors. In his discussion of university attempts to limit r esearch, O'Neil wrote (although without offering support) "If academic fr eedom means anything, it means that professors may speak out in institutiona lly embarrassing ways or in ways that may be at variance with institutional values and mission." (p. 178) This illustrates the viewpoint that academic f reedom belongs to the professoriate, not the university. It is fair to sa y that its ownership is no simple matter, and resolving it one way or the othe r would not settle the question of the wisdom of using student evaluations of faculty. The case that student evaluations violate academic freedom was not made to my satisfaction in the Haskell piece, in sp ite of the many other good points he has made against their use. Certainly the evaluations affect our classroom behavior, influencing both the style and content of our presentations. But that alone is not enough. As O'N eil concedes, academic freedom does not stop universities from imposing a large set of regulations

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3 of 5on research. "On the one hand, researchers must and do accept al l sorts of restrictions and conditions. The effect of some suc h constraints on the scope of inquiry is not trivial." (p. 176) And even subject matter is not beyond control of th e university. O'Neil makes the point that a geographer who teaches the e arth is flat: "may forfeit the safeguards of academic freedom for flouting the very values on which a community of inquiry and sch olarship depends". (p. xii) But I would go further than that. Certainly I could properly be pulled from the classroom if I insisted on teaching only what e veryone else would call "art history" in my "Property Law" course, even if I teach a stellar art history course. We cannot leave all choices of substance to individual teachers. Haskell does not give us a way determining what ac tions violate academic freedom. He has left some of the most basi c issues unresolved, indeed even unaddressed. Who owns the freedom and, conversely, whose actions can violate the right? Can any lines be dra wn based on whether the substance or form of classroom behavior is influenc ed? And still another crucial point is whether a body can violate academi c freedom without any intent to interfere with or control the substance o f what is said to students. Similarly, does the faculty member have to be aware that the administrative (or other) action is influencing her behavior? It m ay be too much to ask for clear tests to be enunciated, but it is not too muc h to ask that these issues be addressed in some way. So how do we draw the line as to what sorts of aca demic behavior administrators can control without infringing upon academic freedom? I have not yet found an answer. But those making the claim that student evaluation forms go too far could help their case b y offering some way to draw that line. On the other hand, insisting on tha t asks for too much, for no one has yet accomplished the task. I am not arguing that all line drawing and decision making should be done in a legislative manner. It is fine to say, in the style of common law judges, "this infringes academic freedom," without setting forth a set of rules for making similar decisions in the future. If that is the approach taken, however, at least some comparisons should be made t o other, well-accepted and established, violations of academic freedom. Th ose comparisons might lead the writer to discuss why this particular bad decision, to have students evaluate their instructors, needs to be corrected f rom outside the academy by courts rather than by the academy itself, which see ms to be the implication of the argument that such evaluations violate acade mic freedom.References Haskell, R.E. (1997). Academic Freedom,Tenure, and Student Evaluation of Faculty. Education Policy Analysis Archives. Vol. 5 No. 6 (Online: http://olam.ed.asu.edu/epaa/v5n6.html).

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4 of 5 O'Neil, R. (1997). Free Speech in the College Community Indiana University Press.About the AuthorJeffrey Evans Stake JeffStake@law.indiana.edu Home page: http://www.law.indiana.edu/hyplan/jeffre ye.html JD Georgetown, 1981 BS Math and Psychology, U of Illinois, 1975 Graduate work in Education, U of Illinois, 1976 Clerked for Judge Oscar H. Davis, US Court of Claim s 1981-2 Worked as lawyer for Covington & Burling, Washingto n DC 1982-5 Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington since 1985; Professor of Law since 1992 Copyright 1997 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is http://olam.ed.asu.edu/epaa General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, glass@asu.edu or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Stat e University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692). T he Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: shepherd@asu.edu The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: casey@olam.ed.asu.edu .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson a_coulson@msn.com Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov hmwkhelp@scott.net Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado

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5 of 5 Aimee Howley Marshall University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Rocky Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education William McInerney Purdue University Mary P. McKeown Arizona Board of Regents Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton apembert@pen.k12.va.us Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers University of California at Davis Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven scriven@aol.com Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University


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