23

I recently received the results of student evaluations. After my colleague (who is qualified to make such determinations) observed one of my lectures and said it went very well, a small group of students took it upon themselves to make some very personal, hurtful, and untruthful comments about me and my teaching.

Unfortunately, it is quite a small class and only one other student did the evaluation this year so it looks really bad with all the negative comments and ratings. The place where I work has decided to take no notice of the comments from the lecture observation, nor to the fact that most of the students' comments are easily refutable based on videos that are made of each lecture. They are planning to fire me, despite my having ok (though not perfect) student evaluations in the past.

I personally think it is ridiculous to give student comments such a high importance and ignore anything else, because students often give ratings based on how much homework they get and how easy they think the exam is going to be. One student in the past commented that he had learned a lot in my course, and then proceeded to give me the lowest numerical ratings possible.

Do I have any recourse here? If nobody at my institution will look at the videos to see that the statements made by the students are false, can I make a claim for wrongful dismissal? Can the students be held responsible for their lies? The questonnaires are anonymous but they were done online so it would be possible for the institution to find out the identities of the students.

Thanks.

Update:

Thank you very much for your replies.

This has gone all the way to the point where I have a meeting soon where I'm going to be told whether the head of the department intends to terminate my employment.

At my request, an investigation was done into my allegation that a colleague had influenced my students' opinions against me, but the evidence I presented (emails from that person from before the questionnaires were distributed matching very closely some of the students' comments, the notes from the lecture observation, and videos of my lectures, not to mention my own written and verbal testimony) were not only ignored, but it was claimed that I had provided "no evidence" for my allegation.

I have just found a video of a lecture given by my colleague in which he is seen and heard to completely trash me and make fun of me in a conversation with my students before his lecture begins. I look forward to presenting this at the upcoming meeting.

Does anyone have any predictions for the outcome of this? Will this new video be considered or will they just ignore it as well and fire me anyway?

Thanks again.

  • 10
    Any grievance committee in your university? I would consider that first before legal. – Penguin_Knight Mar 23 '17 at 12:45
  • 13
    Stack Exchange, and generally the Internet, is really not the right place to get legal advice. That being said, I suspect that the answer to "do I have any recourse here?" will be "no", given that few institutions are stupid enough to formally base a dismissal on easily refutable facts. I also honestly doubt that your lecture evaluations are the real reason for your dismissal. It's more likely that somebody in the administration wants to get rid of you, saw and opportunity, and went for it. – xLeitix Mar 23 '17 at 13:29
  • 13
    Would you really want to work at a place where you needed legal actions to be allowed to stay? I would try to convince the responsible staff to check the videos / hear you out, by all means. But if you can't convince them to "want" you work there, I think you should leave anyway (even if you find a way so they "have to" keep you). Otherwise your work environment will be way to negative. – Lot Mar 23 '17 at 13:47
  • 6
    @Lot That's fine in principle. However, the asker probably needs their salary to pay for food and shelter: most of us can't afford to just quit jobs on a matter of principle. If I were in the situation described in the question, I would certainly start looking for a new job but, in academia, that can be a long process. And the asker is certainly right to look at legal options. At least in the UK, the story told in the question would (if it's true and the whole story) surely be a clear case of unfair dismissal. – David Richerby Apr 1 '17 at 12:09
  • 3
    @DavidRicherby It's also not good for one's future employment to be fired for cause, and it's not good for other employees if management is taught they can fire with impunity, so a refutable attempt to do so may be well worth it to fight even if your immediate future plans are to seek employment elsewhere. Hopefully the OP has a union, as they are well-suited to handle this and can protect other employees even if the OP makes a quick exit. – zibadawa timmy Apr 2 '17 at 2:20
6

To answer this question: "Can the students be held responsible for their lies? The questonnaires are anonymous but they were done online so it would be possible for the institution to find out the identities of the students."

Probably not. If the university promised the students their comments were anonymous, then it probably cannot reveal their identities, which would rule out holding them responsible. Most likely the university did not retain records of who wrote which comments, so as to protect itself against accidental disclosure or subpoenas seeking to deanonymize the comments.

  • 2
    Actually, I think they would be able to find out the students' identities if there was sufficient justification (eg death threats). The point here is more that the students have not themselves technically done anything wrong. It is the university's response that is at fault. – Jessica B Apr 2 '17 at 7:45
1

In the UK at least they cannot (usually) just fire you. They have to follow the proper procedures.

If it's deemed to be sufficiently bad for immediate dismissal, there should be some system for investigating what happened, beyond reading an anonymous comment made at the end of term. Why was a formal complaint not submitted by the student at the time?

If it's not that serious, the dismissal process should involve them giving you time to 'make improvements'. In this sort of situation I would expect that to include further lesson observations that are taken note of, or at least a set of student evaluations from a future course.

-1

Assuming you are right and undeserved the hateful comments, I would say it depends largely on the size of the institution and the nature of your position. I have attended/taught both a tiny liberal arts college and a big state university. Most instructors in small liberal art colleges are there to just teach classes, while big university professors usually have research duties which takes priority.

What I am saying is that if your college is small and your only job is to teach classes, then there is probably nothing you can do about how serious the department take students' comments.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.