Every April and November, students across the Binghamton University community switch between tabs of BU Brain, RateMyProfessors.com and College Scheduler, frantically picking professors for their next-semester classes. In the days that follow, you’re likely to hear someone saying, “he has a 1.5/5, but I have to take his class to graduate,” at least once in every conversation. In the next few weeks, not only will the stress of finals overwhelm you, but so will the daunting concept of trying to pass a required class when the professor specializes in research — not teaching.
In colleges across the country, researchers are hired and then forced to become professors in order to receive lab time. This leads to undergraduate students dealing with subpar teaching and inattentive professors. Qualities influential professors tend to possess are attentiveness, resourcefulness and respectfulness. When they are just there to research, they are distracted, inflexible in their pedagogy or just unable to engage their listeners. For a university that claims to care about their students’ learning more than anything else, it seems strange they would not remove professors whose behaviors aren’t conducive to that.
There are multiple studies that support the concept that professors who prioritize research over teaching lead to a decrease in learning because of their lack of educational experience. One such study found that students who take classes with seasoned professors tend to have a deeper understanding of the curricular content and perform better in the classes that follow. In other words, having a decent professor in an entry-level class can save your grade when you are a senior. Also, educators who tend to have low expectations for their students, like the professor who brags about never giving a final grade higher than a B, tend to have lower-achieving students and a lower-quality learning experience.
Along with this, the topic of tenure plays a huge factor when it comes to a professor’s ability to teach. Tenure, or a category of academic appointment in which a professor becomes virtually untouchable by their university, is considered indefinite. These professors are often the elite researchers who don’t concern themselves with basic education skills. Research suggests that tenured professors are usually considered underperforming when it comes to inspiring students and preparing them for higher-level classes. In other words, the professors the University cannot remove are usually the ones doing the worst jobs. In a perfect world, we can stop giving tenure to professors who are only active in research and start giving it to professors who make a positive impact on students’ lives through teaching.
So what do student-professor surveys have to do with this? Well, if a professor is repeatedly rated poorly by students, the University should take the time to actually evaluate these claims. Since these claims are based on feedback from their students’ learning experience, they give insight into what is really going on inside Lecture Hall. When a professor is rated poorly, instead of letting them teach thousands of students, the reviewers should take an in-depth look at professors’ teaching methods. If deemed ineffective, professors should be mandated to either take an education course or shadow a higher-rated professor in order to improve. Although this may seem extreme, students’ education is worth a little more time spent on professors learning how to teach properly.
Maybe if BU took student evaluations of their professors more seriously, we would truly be the public Ivy.
Nicolette Cavallaro is a freshman majoring in integrative neuroscience.