Ryerson Arbitration Decision Regarding Use of Student Evaluations of Teaching

A decision has come in regarding the use of Student Evaluations of Teaching at Ryerson University.

Below is a summary excerpted from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) blog.

Read the full decision: Ryerson University v Ryerson Faculty Association, 2018 CanLII 58446 (ON LA)

A recent arbitration award between the Ryerson Faculty Association and Ryerson University has established an important precedent for faculty associations, and lends support to others who have been arguing that student questionnaires are deeply problematic instruments for the purpose of evaluating faculty members’ teaching effectiveness.

It is telling that “student evaluations of teaching” or SETs, as the arbitrator chooses to call them, have been a “live issue” between the university and the Ryerson Faculty Association for fifteen years. In that time, not only have SETs been a recurrent point of contention for other faculty associations for reasons similar to those addressed in the arbitration, but other grounds for concern have come to the fore. In response, OCUFA established a working group to examine “SETs” and their use, broaching a number of issues, including some that were not before the arbitrator for the Ryerson decision.

Arbitrator William Kaplan lends critical momentum with his award. He accepted the expert evidence of Professors Philip Stark and Richard Freishtat that student evaluations of teaching cannot be used to assess teaching effectiveness. Kaplan’s award, and Freishtat’s and Stark’s pivotal reports are available online.

While Mr. Kaplan does find that SETs can continue to be used in the context of tenure and promotion decisions, he asserts that they cannot be used for the purposes of measuring teaching effectiveness for promotion or tenure.

OCUFA has been using the term Student Questionnaires on Courses and Teaching (SQCTs) to describe these evaluations. When it releases its report in October, the OCUFA Working Group on SQCTs will have more to say with respect to the methodological, ethical, and human rights implications of student questionnaires.

Acknowledgement: This story incorporates and adapts a summary prepared by Emma Phillips, Partner at Goldblatt Partners, LLP.

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