ACCOUNTING PERSPECTIVES
Spring 1995, Volume One, Number One


THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE
OF HIGHER EDUCATION:
GAMES PROFESSORS PLAY


D. Larry Crumbley
, Louisiana State University

 

http://www.bus.lsu.edu/accounting/faculty/lcrumbley/behavior.html

 

Abstract: More and more current research questions the validity of summative student evaluation of teaching (SET). Yet a persuasive case can be made that the increased use of SET for administrative control purposes has caused grade inflation.

 

By inflating grades and deflating course work an instructor is more likely to receive positive evaluations.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

Accounting departments may be more vulnerable to lawsuits as higher education continues to inflate grades. This research covers the numerous ways instructors attempt to maximize their SET scores and offers recommendations to curb the dysfunctional aspects of SET. 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Higher education is experiencing the simultaneous phenomena of widespread use of student evaluation of teaching (SET), grade inflation, student moral decline (resulting in widespread cheating and plagiarism), and steadily lower student motivation.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

A panel led by former Senator William E. Brock recently stated that the U.S. undergraduate education system is "a prescription for decline." This group said that

 

colleges and universities are granting degrees to people who lack knowledge and skills taken for granted in a high school graduate not long ago.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

 Education Secretary Richard Riley called the report "a wake-up call" for higher education [Henry, 1993]

 

A persuasive case can be made that the increased use of SET has caused higher education to become dysfunctional, resulting in a steep, slippery slide in the output quality [Winsor, 1977; Renner, 1981].

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

As more and more research questions the validity of summative SET as an indicator of instructor effectiveness, ironically there has been a greater use of SET

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

[Newton, 1988; Wright et al., 1984; Powell, 1977; Ditts, 1980; DuCette and Kenney, 1982; Howard and Maxwell, 1982; Worthington and Wong, 1979; Brown, 1976; Procano, 1984; Dowell and Neal, 1982; Stumpf and Freedman, 1979]. A summative SET has at least one question which is a surrogate for teaching effectiveness.

 

In 1984, two-thirds of liberal arts colleges were using SET for personnel decisions, and 86% in 1993 [Seldin, 1984; Seldin, 1993]. Most business schools now use SET for decision making, and 95% of the deans at 220 accredited undergraduate schools "always use them as a source of information," but only 67% of the department heads relied upon them.1

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

Yet an instructor's grading policy (easier grading = higher evaluations) and course difficulty (easier course = higher evaluations) can be significant factors in determining an instructor's evaluations. Certainly many instructors believe that this leniency hypothesis [Newton, 1988] is valid and take corrective actions to improve their evaluations.

 

At least one-third of the respondents in a 1980 survey indicated that they have substantially decreased their grading standards and level of course difficulty [Ryan et. al., 1980]. 

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley) 1988].

 

Only 20.4% of 559 accounting professors in 1988 agreed with the statement that SET are indicative of an instructor's teaching and should be used directly in calculating annual salary increases [Bures et. al.,

 

DYSFUNCTIONAL BEHAVIOR

 

If an instructor can choose teaching styles, grade difficulty, and course content, he or she will prefer the choices that are expected to result in higher SET scores. According to Medley [1979], "if teachers know the criteria on which decisions affecting their careers are based, they will meet the criteria if it is humanly possible to do so." As an instructor inflates grades, he or she "will be much more likely to receive positive evaluations" [Worthington and Wong, 1979]. Many enhancement choices are anti-learning, resulting in

 

grade inflation, coursework deflation, and pander pollution (PP) behavior.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

Pander pollution may be defined as purposeful intervention by an instructor inside and outside the classroom with the intention of increasing SET scores which is counterproductive to the learning process. Widespread use of SET has bred a vast army of pandering professors engaged in pander pollution semester after semester. This pander pollution increases each year because instructors try to enhance their SET scores.2

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

There are adverse consequences of SET management, and universities should attempt to eliminate these adverse consequences. Many instructors devote much of their teaching time and effort to massaging SET results for administrator and student consumption. Costs to an instructor for SET enhancement by inflating grades or decreasing course work are minor because few instructors are penalized for giving high grades or deflating coverage.

 

Since many of the students in college today are of much lower quality,these same students "are more likely to modify evaluations in response to grade manipulations.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

[I]t is obvious that, given objectively equivalent teaching skills, lenient markers will tend to receive more positive evaluation ratings than stringent markers" [Worthington and Wong, 1979]. The concept is simple: summative SET + PPs = US, where US is undereducated students.

 

There are numerous ways that instructors maximize their SET scores:

1. Inflate grades.

2. Cover less material.

3. Easy examinations (e.g., true-false; broad, open-ended discussion questions; take home exams; open books exams). (Instructors have generally deserted tough examinations and research projects.)3

4. Give parties (e.g., food, donuts, beer, etc.).

5. Give financial rewards.

6. Spoonfeed the students.

7. Give answers to exam questions beforehand.

8. Don't risk embarrassing students by calling on them in the classroom.

9. Hand out sample exams.

10. Grade on a curve.

11. Give SET early and then give hard exams, projects, etc.

12. Keep telling student how much they are learning; how smart they are.

13. Delete exams, projects, and grading altogether.

14. Teach during bankers' hours (9:00 - 3:00).

15. Give same exams each semester.

16. Avoid trying to teach students to think (e.g., avoid the socratic method).

17. Provide more free time (e.g., cancel classes on or near holidays, Mondays, Fridays, etc.)

18. Avoid cumulative final exam.

19. Do not use overheads. If overheads are used, they must be simple. Copies of complicated overheads must be given to students.

21. Allow students to determine grade, coverage, and difficulty.

22. Teach in classes where common exams are used; then help students pass "this bad exam" which you didn't prepare. Students learn to take the classes taught by the course coordinator (who prepares the exams).

23. Avoid honors courses. A student who expects an A and then receives an A is more likely to credit himself or herself for the good grade (rather than the instructor). Conversely, a student not normally expecting a good grade will reward an instructor with higher evaluations when the student expects to receive a high grade from that particular instructor.

From "THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

There is a universal assumption among administrators that an increase in SET scores is good and a decrease is bad. This myth is a naive and dangerous assumption.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

A high SET score may indicate a poor teacher. For example, in a major west coast private university an administrator took control of a master of taxation program and decided to review the effectiveness of his instructors by visiting their classrooms.4

 

 One instructor consistently scored 5 out of 5 on his SET scores in prior years, so the administrator waited until the last class period to review this "superior" instructor's estate and trust taxation class. The administrator found that the instructor had yet to introduce the concept of a complex trust (which should have been introduced before the middle of the semester). Upon further investigation, the administrator found that the instructor (a partner in a big-six CPA firm) was taking all of his students to a local bar after every class and feeding them dinner and drinks. This instructor was merely using the classroom to recruit students (not to educate).

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

 There is another universal assumption that students must like an instructor to learn. Not true. Even if they dislike you and you force them to learn by hard work and low grades, you may be a good educator (but not according to SET scores). SET measure whether or not students like you, and not necessarily whether you are teaching them anything.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

Instructors should be in the business of educating and teaching students--not SET enhancement. Until administrators learn this simple truth, there is little chance of improving higher education. "Teaching is a professional relationship, not a popularity contest. To invite students to participate in the selection or promotion of their teachers exposes the teacher to intimidation [Frankel, 1968, pp. 30-31]." 

 

DYSFUNCTIONAL BEHAVIOR EXAMPLES

 

An example of this dysfunctional behavior and grade inflation occurred in a business department ( Texas A&M ).

 

One rigorous instructor in a basic business class gave D's and F's and received SET scores in the one range (on a 5-point scale). She was removed from that class and placed in a nonrequired, graduate course, where she proceeded to give a 50-50 split of As and Bs each semester. She has received SET marks as high as 4.9 since making this adjustment. ....

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

For example, at one university [Texas A&M], SET are required in liberal arts and business administration courses every semester (except summer). These SET scores are placed in the library for the convenience of students. Furthermore, the grade distribution of all faculty members are made public in the Office of Student Affairs each semester. As is usually the case, the staff and faculty are not allowed to evaluate the administrators on a semester or yearly basis. What is good for the goose, is not good for the gander.

 

To make matters worse, the one department that should know better has the following statement in the Handbook for Undergraduate Accounting Majors: "The Department of Accounting fully participates in the campus-wide teacher evaluation survey conducted each semester. Results of the survey are reviewed by both the department head and the instructor and are an important component in personnel decisions (e.g., merit raises, promotions)" [emphasis added]. The handbook even shows the "relative instructor rating" [on a 5-point scale] compiled from the Departmental course evaluations for the 86 sections offered by the department during the Spring semester, 1992. Throughout the years, SET data have been routinely used by all tenure and promotion committees of the department. This SET-driven department has taken the "student is a consumer" concept to the extreme to the detriment of learning.5 The advice of J.D. Newton is appropriate: "Departments of accounting should practice what they preach" [Newton, 1988, p. 12]. [Texas A&M has now lost its tenure.]

 

THE CUSTOMER MYTH

 

Complaints are often voiced that

 

 students are not qualified to evaluate many areas of instructor effectiveness.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

A senior in high school is not qualified to evaluate high school teachers, yet 4 or 5 months later this same freshman in college has developed the maturity and judgement to evaluate higher education.7 At the same time that our student population is becoming less motivated and more dishonest, we continue to grade inflate.

 

As the student population becomes more dishonest and less motivated [Fishbein, 1993, p. A52 and White, 1993, p. A44], we give their evaluations more and more credibility.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

 Some administrators explain this dichotomy by stating that students are our customers.

 

Students are not our customers--they are our products. We need to improve students' value by educating them. Society and employers are our customers.

(From "
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE OF HIGHER EDUCATION" by D. Larry Crumbley)

 

ENDNOTES

 

1. One Texas dean in 1993 said that "students are the best judge of teaching competence," and a Massachusetts' dean said that "we rely on student ratings more than on any other source of data on teaching" [AACSB, 1993].
 

2. Laws highly regulate financial statements to reduce income manipulation and opportunistic behavior, yet there is no regulation of SET. Most administrators blindly accept them as truth. Instructors have a high incentive to manage SET, even more so than managers have the incentive to enhance earnings [Holthausen, 1990, pp. 83-110].

3. Changing to an all true false exam can dramatically improve a class average and therefore SET scores (e.g., each student starts off (on an average) with 50 points).
4. In 25 years of teaching at six major universities, no administrator has come to my classroom to review my teaching.

5. The College of Business Administration general guidelines for indicator of excellence in instruction states: "outstanding evaluations of teaching performance over a significant period of time as indexed by standardized surveys...."

6. Seldin also states: (1) don't let administrators develop the evaluation program and then impose it on the faculty, (2) don't fall into the trap of evaluation overkill, and (3) don't overinterpret small differences in student ratings of professors.

7. Scholastic aptitude test scores peaked in 1963 and have declined over the past 30 years, and the verbal S.A.T. hitting an all time low several years ago [Sowell, 1994, p. 14].
ts.

8. One large major public institution in the Southwest (Texas A & M) ranked near the bottom on the last three CPA exams in its state. This university uses the summative SET, places the results in the library, and provides faculty grade distributions to the studen

9. There is some hope. Cornell's dean of academic affairs, Tom Dyckman, places a value of only one-quarter to one-third to the SET rating [AACSB, 1993, p. 15].

10. Professor Kingsfield tears up one student so badly in class that the student throws-up his breakfast afterward. Certainly few professors can teach like this under our current SET-drive reward system. Can you image ending a class with the statement: "Good luck with your exam. You'll need it."

 

REFERENCES

 

Accounting Education Charge Commission [1993] Evaluating and Rewarding Effective Teaching. Issues in Accounting Education (Fall), pp. 436-439.


AACSB [1993] Faculty Assessment Changes in the Works at B-Schools. American Assembly of Collegiate School of Business (Fall), p. 14.


Blauvelt, H. [1993] Chaney Also Tutors Players About Life. USA Today (December 15), pp. C-1 and 2.


Brown, D.L. [1976] Faculty Ratings and Student Grades: A University-Wide Multiple Regression Analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology (Vol. 68 1976), pp. 573-578.


Bures, A.L., J.J. DeRidder, and H.M. Tong [1990] An Empirical Study of Accounting Faculty Evaluation Systems. The Accounting Educators' Journal (Summer), pp. 68-76.


Cahn, S.M. [1986] Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia. Totowa, NJ: Rowan & Littlefield.


DeBerg, C.L. and J.R. Wilson [1990] An Empirical Investigation of the Potential Confounding Variables in Student Evaluation of Teaching. Journal of Accounting Education, pp. 37-62.


Ditts, D.A. [1980] A Statistical Interpretation of Student Evaluation Feedback. Journal of Economic Education (Spring), pp. 10-15.


Dowell, D.A., and J.A. Neal [1983] The Validity and Accuracy of Student Ratings of Instructions: A Reply to Peter A. Cohen. Journal of Higher Education (July/August), pp. 459-463.


DuCette, J. and J. Kenney [1982] Do Grading Standards Affect Student Evaluations of Teaching? Some New Evidence on an Old Question. Journal of Education Psychology, pp. 308-314.


Fishbein, L. [1993] Curbing, Cheating and Restoring Academic Integrity. The Chronicle of Higher Education (December 1), p. A52.


Ford, C.T. [1994] Universities Take Aim On Performance Measures. University Affairs (February), pp. 6-9.


Frankel, C. [1968] Education and the Barricades. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Henry, T. [1993] U.S. College System Called a `Prescription for Decline.' Houston Post (December 6), p. A-1.


Holthausen, R.W. [1990] Accounting Method Choice: Opportunistic Behavior, Efficient Contracting, and Information Perspectives. Journal of Accounting and Economics (January), pp. 207-218.


Howard, G.S. and S.E. Maxwell [1982] Do Grades Contaminate Student Evaluations of Instruction? Research in Higher Education, pp. 175-188.


Lawler, E.E. and J.G. Rhode [1976] Information and Control in Organizations Pacific Palisades. Goodyear Publishing.


Medley, D.M. [1979] The Effectiveness of Teachers. In P.L. Peterson and H.J. Walberg, Eds., Research on Teaching: Concepts, Findings, and Implications. McCutchan Publishing Corp., pp. 11-27.


Merchant, K.A. [1985] Control in Business Organizations. Boston: Pittman.


Newton, J.D. [1988] Using Student Evaluation of Teaching in Administrative Control: The Validity Problem. Journal of Accounting Education, p. 4.


Porcano, T.M. [1984] An Empirical Analysis of Some Factors Affecting Student Performance. Journal of Accounting Education (Fall), pp. 111-126.


Powell, R.W. [1977] Grades, Learning, and Student Evaluation of Instruction. Research in Higher Education, pp. 193-205.


Renner, R.R. [1981] Comparing Professors: How Student Ratings Contribute to the Decline in Quality of Higher Education. Phi Delta Kappan (October), pp. 128-131.


Rideway, V.F. [1956] Dysfunctional Consequences of Performance Measurements. Administrative Science Quarterly (September), pp. 240-247.


Ryan, J.J., J.A. Anderson, and A.B. Birchler [1980] Student Evaluations: The Faculty Responds. Research in Higher Education (December), pp. 317-333.


Schipper, K. [1989] Earnings Management. Accounting Horizons (December), pp. 91-102.


Seldin, P. [1993] Changing Practices in Faculty Evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Seldin, P. [1993] The Use and Abuse of Student Ratings of Professors. The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 12), p. A40.


Sowell, T. [1994] We Suffer the Consequences of `60s Liberalism," AFA Journal (January), p. 14.


Stumpf, S.A. and R.D. Freedman [1979] Expected Grade Covariation With Student Ratings of Instruction: Individual vs. Class Effects. Journal of Education Psychology, pp. 273-302.


White, E.M. [1993] Too Many Campuses Want to Sweep Student Plagiarism Under the Rug. The Chronicle of Higher Education (February), p. A44.


Worthington, A.G. and P.T.P. Wong [1979] Effects of Earned and Assigned Grades on Student Evaluations of an Instructor. Journal of Educational Psychology, pp. 764-775.


Wright, P., R. Whittington, and G.E. Whittenburg [1984] Student Ratings of Teaching Effectiveness: What the Research Reveals. Journal of Accounting Education (Fall), pp. 5-30.


Winsor, J.L. [1977] A's, B's, but not C's?: A Comment. Contemporary Education (Winter), pp. 82-84.

 

 

 

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