Discussion Scenario

Imagine that it is September 20th and you're in your first year or two as Chair of the Mechanical Engineering department at Macalester College. You have been astonished at just how much work it is to be Chair. Like everyone else, you have dropped some balls and let some things slide in your daily “triage assessment” of what must be handled. You fully intended to help the department set up a system of formative peer review, especially since you have a junior colleague, Rhet Torre, who will be undergoing tenure review this year.

But you never got around to setting a system in the department, even though formative peer review sounded so great when Karl Wirth talked about it at that CST program you went to last year. It's just that more pressing issues got in the way. However, you made sure Rhet clearly understood the college's scholarly publication requirements when you took him out to lunch at Shish right after you became chair.

Your role in assessing Rhet's teaching is not all bad, though. You did visit your new colleague's class once last year and you’ve flipped through his syllabi. You once overheard several students in the department complaining bitterly about his introductory survey/method/theory course, but a cursory review of the quantitative summaries on his course evaluations that term didn't suggest any major problems. Must have been just normal student disgruntlement about the survey/method/theory course.

You figure you're going to have to get the Consensus Review Committee together in early December in order to have the CRC Letter to the Academic Dean’s office by February 1st. You scroll down, for the first time, to the section of the online faculty handbook that lays out the requirements and recommendations for demonstrating “effectiveness in teaching.”

Your stomach clenches.

Rhet Torre might have a complete set of course evaluations for his classes, but you’re unsure. Your department agreed to require student course evaluations each semester, but some of your senior colleagues don't bother and you fear that Rhet has followed suit. “Thank God the faculty voted last spring to not require them in the tenure file” you say to yourself. You make a note to remind your colleagues at the next departmental meeting how important student evaluations are and that you all agreed to have students complete them each term.

That second long second section in the faculty handbook has you feeling cranky. So many ways exist for peers to evaluate teaching. And there is so little time. The department is already gearing up for a new search and the bulk of reviewing applications will occur in October and November. You had hoped to bring in candidates during early December before things went totally berserk at the end of term. Ai!!!!

You wonder, “How many of these ways of showing effectiveness in teaching ought to be included in the file?” Does anybody really care about how syllabi are put together? How important is it that Rhet Torre has been using that online course thing, Noodle? You have no idea what he was talking about when he said something about trying “class podcasts”?

You sigh deeply. Aren't the solicited student letters enough to show that Rhet's a good teacher? After all, he is a good teacher.

"Right?” you ask yourself.


Given time constraints and an imperfect world, what specific recommendations would you give your harried colleague? In your view, which are the most valuable/effective/meaningful ways that the Chair could determine Rhet Torre's teaching effectiveness? Why? Which of the ways listed in the handbook do you find most effective in demonstrating teaching effectiveness? Why? Feel free to use the check-off sheet or the excerpt from Macalester’s Faculty Handbook in fashioning an answer. Talk to your neighbors for a few minutes and compare perspectives. Then we'll talk together as a whole group.