For Adjuncts, a Lot Is Riding on Student Evaluations

October 07, 2014 / Phil Lesch

The Chronicle of Higher Education - Vitae
October 6th, 2014

In February 2012, Miranda Merklein received the email that many adjunct professors dread.

“I am sorry to inform you that we cannot extend an employment offer to you at this time,” wrote the chair of the department of liberal arts at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, where Merklein had been teaching English and writing courses as an adjunct. “A review of your course evaluations, coupled with concerns filed by students and other contributing faculty, resulted in the decision to remove your application from the liberal arts adjunct pool.”

At first, Merklein recalled, she was shocked. “I’m not a terribly hard teacher,” she said. “Most students say that I’m cool, fun. I get really positive feedback.”

Then she got angry. A former journalist and literary-magazine editor with a Ph.D. in English, she had been teaching regularly for four years as an adjunct. She came to feel that her crime at Santa Fe was expecting students to regularly attend and participate in her classes.

In the email, the department chair offered to provide copies of the student course evaluations, but Merklein says she was never able to obtain them. She still has no idea what specific complaints resulted in her dismissal. An administrative assistant in the college’s liberal-arts department declined to comment on whether Merklein had ever received the complaints from the department, referring a reporter to the university’s human-resources office.

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