Extra Credit for Professors: Cash Bonus for Strong Evaluations

We all get those pesky e-mails at the end of the quarter that remind us to fill out five different faculty evaluations for our professors and teaching assistants. And frankly, a lot of us don’t. As a result, a great flurry of e-mails collect in our inbox, many rife with exclamation points reading, “Window Closing!” However, with a couple clicks of the delete button, we continue on our way with final papers and exams.
For a moment, imagine that your professors anxiously await your feedback. They’re not just pleasantly interested; they are twiddling their thumbs in excited anticipation to read what you write about them. Why, you might ask? Perhaps they are motivated by a personal desire to improve their teaching skills.
Now, add the additional motivation of a $10,000 bonus. Sounds absurd in this economy, right? Well, that’s exactly the kind of reward initiative that has been proposed by the chancellor of Texas A&M. Chancellor Mike McKinney plans to set aside $1.1 million in order to dish out monetary rewards to professors who rate well on student evaluations.
As reported by The Eagle, a local newspaper in College-Station, Texas, Chancellor McKinney said that he doesn’t call the bonuses an “incentive.”
“Money is not an incentive for [faculty],” McKinney said. “They show up every day and do the best they can. They can’t logically do better than their best. I call it a reward.”
Considering that the average salary of an associate professor is in the ballpark of $60,000 a year, how could an approximate 16 percent pay increase not be an incentive?
Although the allocation details are still sketchy, The Eagle reports that these bonuses would be given out on tiers, with the top 15 percent of professors receiving $2,500.
Many professors at A&M claim that this system simply rewards professors who are easy graders, as students will give favorable reviews to teachers from whom they received higher grades. Indeed, one glance at RateMyProfessor.com, which includes an “overall easiness” score, will show the criteria students really consider.
McKinney’s logic stems from an idea of “customer satisfaction” for students, claiming that professors put too much emphasis on research and can neglect their relationships with students. This same problem can be seen at UC Irvine, where our mission statement is “Teaching, Research and Community Service.” While professors are forced to publish and do research to further their careers, the extent to which they pursue personal interaction with their students is very much at their own discretion. While professors are obligated to hold office hours, they are in no way graded on the quality of the one-on-one interaction they provide.
Since undergraduates are so often at the bottom of the academic pecking order, it’s easy to forget that circumstances at this university are largely due to our tuition. We are paying to receive an education, to improve our minds and to learn how to think critically. Professors who make exceptional efforts to get to know their students and interact with them meaningfully should receive greater recognition, or even be “rewarded.”
However, it seems terribly unethical, not to mention insulting, to pay them for their extra efforts. Professors who invest themselves in their classes and their students are certainly not doing so for the money. Indeed, this kind of quality in teaching is a personal choice that is only given by professors with a strong commitment to true education and learning. In that way, it’s correct for universities to consider seriously student responses in surveys, and even give them up for formalized and public review. However, a cash bonus seems tacky, insulting to the profession and wholly inappropriate for the kind of effort it would attempt to encourage.

Suzanne Casazza is a third-year English major. She can be reached at casazza@uci.edu.