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Editor’s Note, March-April 2019

Judge not?
The problems with student course evaluations

Nobody likes being judged, yet judging – or, more precisely, evaluating – another’s performance is inherent in education. Teachers evaluate students’ performance in class, on assignments and in exams. And, for many years now, students have evaluated instructors’ effectiveness teaching their courses. The latter has become contentious as student evaluations of teaching have taken on greater importance in universities’ hiring, tenure and promotion decisions.

Many professors feel the student evaluations of teaching are poorly designed, asking students inappropriate questions and distilling teaching effectiveness down to a simple number. The issue came to a head last year after an arbitrator ruled that Ryerson University could no longer use student course evaluations for tenure and promotion decisions, claiming these evaluations didn’t “capture the student experience” and were unreliable as a tool for assessing teaching effectiveness.

Nevertheless, students deserve their say and nobody is suggesting that course evaluations be phased out. But, as our cover story by Diane Peters examines in depth, they can be improved while remaining valuable as one part of an evaluation process that includes other information such as teaching dossiers and peer evaluation. What’s your experience been with student course evaluations and what would you suggest to improve them? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter (@UA_magazine) and Facebook (@universityaffairs), or email me at

On a completely unrelated, personal note, I’ve recently become more intimately acquainted with the world of student recruitment as one of my children prepares to attend university in the fall. He has been accepted at three universities and the recruiting efforts have begun! I have found it interesting to witness the different strategies employed to woo him and to build excitement in his choice. It’s a momentous decision for any young adult, with so many factors to consider – program offerings, geographic location, institutional size and the all-important but nebulous quality of whether it is the right “fit” for him personally. My son is a bit overwhelmed by it all, but there is at least one thing I’m confident in: all of Canada’s universities are of high quality, so at least from that perspective they’re all a good choice.

Léo Charbonneau