Student walks on campus 4

A WVU student walks from class in the Life Sciences Green on Oct. 14, 2020.

The West Virginia University Faculty Senate Teaching and Assessment Committee (TACO) is calling for changes to the electronic Student Evaluation of Instruction (eSEI) system.

"Research continues to show SEIs and student evaluations of instruction are flawed metrics to evaluate teaching,” Keri Valentine, chair of the Faculty Senate Inclusion and Diversity Committee, said in a meeting last month. “Further, these have been shown to negatively impact minority faculty, especially women of color."

Stefanie Hines, a teaching assistant professor in the Davis College of Agriculture, said this does not include all comments made by students.

“We’re not talking about comments from unhappy students,” Hines said. “We’re talking about comments that cross into harassment.”

She and Valentine said evaluations made by students can include sexually explicit, racist and even violent language.

“We want to see the comments and we want to be better for students and improve our teaching,” said Valentine. “What we don’t want to see is that SEIs are used to harass faculty and to inadvertently impact them in multiple ways.”

Jessica Vanderhoff, chair of the Teaching and Assessment Committee, said offensive comments are handled by the Office of Student Conduct.

“If an instructor receives an open-ended comment that is in violation of the Campus Student Code, Student Conduct works with the offending student to address the concerning comments, and the Teaching and Assessment Committee works with the instructor to redact the offensive language in the file,” Vanderhoff said.

Instructors have 5 days to file a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct.

“If the biased SEI is in violation of the Campus Student Code, the Office of Student Conduct, with the assistance of ITS (Information Technology Services), will identify the student,” said Vanderhoff. “Only the Office of Student Conduct will intervene with the offending student. Depending on the severity of the offense, Student Conduct will determine the appropriate intervention.”

Vanderhoff said in late 2020, the Teaching and Assessment Committee was approached by the Office of Student Conduct noting a gap in the original complaint workflow. In particular, it was noted that while some student feedback was inappropriate or unprofessional, it did not violate the student code of conduct.

In last month’s Faculty Senate meeting, Vanderhoff presented three reports for approval — Annex V, VI and VII. These reports called for an updated workflow for offensive student comments, established an eSEI review panel and established a complaint form for faculty and staff.

Vanderhoff said the Teaching and Assessment Committee revised the workflow to include processes for both student feedback that violates the Code as well as feedback that is inconsistent with the eSEI assessment of the course. The revised workflow offers instructors a channel to seek recourse, in the form of redaction, against both types of unwarranted feedback.

The eSEI review panel, launching next semester, would develop new criteria to evaluate complaints while reviewing the criteria periodically. It would also review inappropriate feedback and work with the Office of Student Conduct to redact that feedback if necessary, according to Vanderhoff.

In addition to making recommendations to improve the student evaluation system, the panel will be required to report the total number of eSEI complaints to TACO and the Provost’s Office.

The panel would include a TACO chair-elect, a TACO chair or a past chair, one voting member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the University Ombudsman and a staff representative from the Office of Student Conduct or the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The updated workflow and respective complaint form and website will also be in place for the next semester and will be made available to instructors.

Hines said SEIs have been problematic nationally since the 1970s, yet their impact on minority faculty wasn’t formally addressed at WVU until February 2019 in a Faculty Senate meeting.

“I’m sure this is an issue that has been in Faculty Senate and will continue to be in Faculty Senate,” Valentine said.