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[Op-Ed] Student Assessment of Professors

Posted February. 27, 2009 08:58,   


“A professor wastes two thirds of a 75-minute class talking about miscellaneous personal and drama stories.” “A professor apparently knows nothing about the course he or she is teaching.” “Worse, certain professors even use vulgar language to describe the sexual relationship between spouses to young students without reservation.” These are part of the findings of a student assessment conducted at Soongsil University in Seoul on their professors over the past three years. Students spoke of vulgarity, obscenity and filth that professors surprisingly spoke of in the classroom.

Professors wield absolute influence in Korea’s college education system. The Confucian rule of obeying and respecting teachers plays a part. A more crucial reason for this, however, lies in a professor’s authority to determine a student’s record, a decisive factor in earning a scholarship and landing a decent job after graduation. For these reasons, students do not dare openly complain about or question teaching methods and content. The introduction of student assessment of professors a decade ago changed the landscape of college campuses. Since most universities and colleges allow students to describe specific irregularities and misconduct occurring in class, the hidden and untold reality is being thrust into the spotlight.

Since the assessment was put in place, colleges have seen a dramatic decrease in improper practices by professors whose dull teaching manuals remain unchanged or frequently cancel class for unjustifiable or private reasons. Undeniably, the review is working as an appropriate stimulus for providing a better education by professors since it can influence their job security and tenure. For example, one university in a province runs a lecture training program in which a faculty member who received the highest evaluation score teaches his or her teaching methods to those whose scores fall below average.

The assessment has pressured professors to provide quality classes, with the rate of depression in every teaching assessment season rising among teachers and lecturers. Others have even complained over the fairness and objectivity of the appraisal. They say students often give professors a low score if class attendance and other academic requirements are strictly measured. The sharpening of college competitiveness, however, undeniably raises national competiveness. Korea has no universities among the world’s top 100, so the performance evaluation system for faculty apparently has more positive than negative elements.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)