College Business Professors: Who is their Customer and Who Should Evaluate Them?

Who is the Professor’s Customer?

Complete the following multiple choice question:

Question 1: From the viewpoint of an undergraduate business school professor, who is their customer when instructing a course?

  1. Students
  2. Oversight faculty course coordinator and department chair
  3. Parents of students
  4. Future employers of students
  5. Some combination of the above
  6. None of these

This question and answer are of utmost importance in establishing effective policies and objectives for business schools. I believe the professor’s customer should be weighted primarily by the viewpoint of future employers, and secondarily by the viewpoint of both parents and the course coordinator/department chair. The best situation is when university administration, department heads and the professor’s academic objectives are consistent with those of the business workplace. Refer to my posting, “Enhancing Strategic, Creative and Resourceful Problem Solving.

The viewpoint of the parent should not be overlooked as many are expending large sums of money and entrusting much of their child’s professional future to the respective business school. I would purport that parents want their children to have a rigorous, practical and real-world application-oriented education, contrary to what their children may want.

The Majority of Students Don’t Understand What’s in Their Long-Term Best Interests

What may surprise you is that I leave out the students totally in the multiple choice answer. Students are the ultimate consumer of the service, but I don’t believe professors should consider them the customer. Why? Because the vast majority of students do not have the maturity and life experiences to understand what is best for them. The objective of what is best for them should simply be delivering the highest capable students upon graduation to the business workplace.

Unfortunately most students want a course that combines liberal grading with low levels of work involved in assignments, testing and class participation. Refer to my posting, “Recreating Academic Rigor and Removing Blame from Students: A Faculty Responsibility.

Consider the following reviews of me as a professor based on both online rating services (RateMyProfessor.com and PickaProf) and hard-copy surveys I received. The first two are from a freshman business class during the same semester and the third is a junior/senior level corporate finance course. Who do you believe?

Review 1: Don’t take this professor!! If you take him, be prepared to work hard…and be prepared  to expect lots of homework. Heller expects his students to be dedicated to his class and only his class. In his opinion, his class means everything to him. This is a useless class. It doesn’t help at all with the transition from high school to college.

Review 2: This course has been a wonderful learning experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed every portion of it. It was a lot of work, but I feel like I learned things that will be legitimately applicable to my future. Participating in your introductory business class has assured me that my future career aspirations are still to become a CPA. By taking your course, I have even decided that I might enjoy some aspects of finance as well. I’ve even considered double majoring. I would simply like to say thank you for passing your knowledge of the business world on to me. It is very much appreciated.

Review 3: Please, I beg you, steer clear away from this professor. I got a B+ on the first test so I got my hopes up…for failure. He is so unorganized, makes multiple mistakes when teaching, his appearance is not professional [Note: I wear a professional tie, pants and shirt to every class unlike many professors these days], tries to fit too much information in a small amount of time so he does not give opportunity for questions/comprehension. Just BAD!!

The fourth example of student feedback is from a freshman taking the introductory business course. She was uncharacteristically mature and compared my teaching approach to that of a parent-child relationship where you don’t understand the importance of the process until much later in life. Read on…

Hello Coach *, I hope you are having a good break. I just wanted to thank you for everything you have taught me. To be honest, I wasn’t very sure on whether the course would be useful, but ever since I have been working at this new job I have been applying it. The videos we watched were so helpful with my new job! Yes, I got the job at O’Charley’s, the one in which you helped me with the thank you note following my interview. My manager was extremely impressed with the note. I will do this for the rest of my life! Thanks for the tip and helping me redraft the letter. 

But back to the videos. When I went to the O’Charley’s orientation I observed the employees and managers as they related to the topics we learned from the videos. When I sat with my manager and he asked me if I wanted to say anything, I told him about how he and the staff related to the videos.  He was so impressed. Here is the great part. When I told him about the Disney concept of “Being On Stage” he knew all about it because he used to work for Disney! When I mentioned it his face lit up! I also told him about how Steve Jobs’ so effectively motivates his innovative employees through his bottom up management approaches. How great is that? We also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of tall/flat organizations. I never thought I would be talking about that outside of class! Everyday it seems like I am using some of the things you taught us.

You may have given a lot of work but it is like a parent to a child. When you are young you don’t understand why your parents do the things they do, but when you get older you realize it was for your benefit. You gave us a lot of work, which I dreaded, but now the concepts learned are so helpful. Thank you so much for passing on your knowledge. I will use it for the rest of my life. Out of all my fall semester classes this class was the most useful. There will never be a time when I will not use what you taught me because it is imperative to my career and my life. Thanks again and Merry Christmas. You are indeed my life coach!

* I encourage students to call me “Coach.” Refer to my posting, “The College Educator: Coach Rather than Professor Can Enhance Your Role.”

Who Should Evaluate Professor Effectiveness

Now that I have raised strong concerns whether students are mature enough to know what education process is best for them, let’s now turn to the question about the professor evaluation system. Think through this second multiple choice question:

Question 2: Who should rate a professor’s effectiveness in the areas of ability, course content and sufficient level of academic rigor?

  1.  Student online numeric surveys
  2. Student individual or focus group interviews
  3. Departmental faculty including chairperson and/or course oversight coordinator
  4. Independent evaluation services

Currently the vast majority of instructor evaluations that administrators and department heads rely on are end-of-the-semester, anonymous, online, numerical student feedback surveys. These evaluations are completed immediately prior to or during final exam week. Contrast a somewhat rigorous professor giving a challenging, mandatory and cumulative final versus a professor with an easy course load during the semester either giving no final or an optional final. The vast majority of students do not reward professors with a good evaluation based on how much they have been pushed and motivated to learn. On the contrary, most students reward professors that have easy course requirements and those that are liberal graders. This creates a detrimental incentive for professors to cater towards being popular with students and compromises the important learning experience of what is in the best interests of the ultimate customer, the future employer.

I believe that student evaluations are important in identifying red flags that may need to be covered with a professor. However, instructor evaluation needs to rely primarily on department oversight that extensively reviews course materials and observes faculty while teaching. This in-depth evaluation by departmental oversight rarely occurs. Instead the students are placed in the driver’s seat in determining who are “good” instructors through these anonymous, online surveys. These numeric survey results have a large influence on promotion, compensation and acknowledgment for tenured faculty, and whether future courses will be offered to non-tenure and part-time instructors.

Online Surveys and Bad News Travels Ten Times Faster

There are a few main websites where students can access information about courses they are about to take including RateMyProfessor.com and PickAProf.com. These sites contain very objective charts that show a professors’ prior grade distribution and then what I believe is a rather distorted collection of actual comments. Students swarm to this site to find professors that grade liberally and assign a relatively easy workload.

Why do I feel that the student comments are distorted? Service recovery principals teach us that “Bad news travels ten times faster than good news.” These professor rating websites are a major source of revenge for students who are upset by some combination of either a low grade or higher levels of academic rigor than they had wanted. The motivated and high-performing students don’t take the time to complete these online surveys because they are not upset at anyone. Comments largely reflect student complainers who become triggered by professors like me who are more rigorous. Professors with liberal grading and lax policies regarding assignments, testing, class participation and final exams are rewarded on these sites with high marks and positive comments.

One Final Student Email to Influence Your Position on Who Should be the Customer and Who Should Evaluate Professors

It is human nature to want the easy way out. Famous sports teams do not become great without dynamic coaches that rigorously push their athletes. Think of the 1980 Miracle Olympic Ice Hockey team with Herb Brooks or Green Bay Packers football teams with Vince Lombardi. Effective coaches are not judged by athletes’ anonymous surveys at the conclusion of the season. Coaches are evaluated by their results and what owners or athletic directors witness during practices and games.

Today’s business schools should be no different whereby department heads and administrators spend quality time evaluating professor effectiveness along with realizing who the real customer is for their services: future employers.

We need to stop letting immature students wanting to take the easy way out from influencing the system as evidenced by the following student email. Note that I had written him a note on one of his graded assignments that I was disappointed that his work effort had dropped significantly and that he was missing classes.

Professor Heller,

I never got a chance to fill out an evaluation so I wanted to send you one. To start off, this class has shown me that this is the major that I want to pursue. The class was full of topics that I know is used in the occupation I hope to obtain. You may not know this but I have worked at Chick-fil-A for over four and a half years and have been a manager for over a year and a half and I am one of two managers at Chick-fil-A at Lenox Mall which is one of the busiest mall locations in the South. I handle interviews as well as money and use many of the lessons that you taught throughout the semester. I would also like to let you know the reason that my work has declined purposely towards the end of the year. After receiving my second grade log, I had a B when I had busted my ass on the assignments with a 99.5 average but still had a B. After seeing this I realized there was no reason to spend the countless hours on assignments that I already practice in the real world when I am not going to be fully rewarded for my work. I definitely spent more time on work in your class than all my other classes combined, yet I have my worst grade in this class. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I strongly disagree with the way you handle your class and your grades because as a student who works an average of 25-30 hours a week and more than likely the most responsibility of any students, I can handle a full functioning business by myself and not get a measly A in your class, something just doesn’t make sense.

I grade assignments liberally to reflect effort and completeness as they are problem-solving in nature. The averages on the three examinations below were in the 76-84 range. This student concludes that even though he was finding the course relevant and worthwhile, he lost total interest because he wasn’t assured of getting the “A” he thought he deserved because he was already a Chic-fil-A manager. His grades were the following:

Test 1 Grade:               68            Test 2 Grade:              72       Final Exam Grade:      56

Should we let students like this influence education by being viewed as the professor’s customer?

Should we let students like this influence who is evaluated as an effective educator?

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