The Philosophy of Consumerism

The Philosophy of Consumerism
A fourth reason why SEF are widely used may be the belief that
the university is a business and that the responsibility of any
business is to satisfy the customer. Whether they measure
teaching effectiveness or not, SEF are probably a highly accurate
measure of student satisfaction (and the customer is always
right, isn’t he?). However, even if we agree to view the university
as a business, the preceding line of thought rests upon a
confusion about the product the university provides. Regardless
of what they may themselves think at times, students do not
come to college for entertainment; if they did, they might just as
well watch MTV for four years and put that on their resumes.
Students come to college for a diploma. A diploma is a
certification by the institution that one has completed a course of
study and thereby been college-educated. But that will mean
Student Evaluations: A Critical Review 4/22/21, 11:33 AM Page 11 of 14
nothing unless the college or university can maintain intellectual
standards. A particular student may be happy to receive an easy
A without having to work or learn much, but a college that
makes a policy of providing such a product will find its
diplomas decreasing in value.
Part of a university’s responsibility may be to satisfy its students.
But it is also a university’s responsibility to educate those
individuals whom it is certifying as educated. Unfortunately,
those goals are often in conflict.
Abrami, Philip C., Les Levanthal, and Raymond P. Perry.
“Educational Seduction,” Review of Educational Research 52
(1982): 446-64.
Ambady, Nalini and Robert Rosenthal. “Half a Minute:
Predicting Teacher Evaluations from Thin Slices of
Nonverbal Behavior and Physical Attractiveness,” Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology 64 (1993): 431-41.
Cahn, Steven M. Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia (Totowa,
NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1986).
Cave, Martin, Stephen Hanney, Mary Henkel, and Maurice
Kogan. The Use of Performance Indicators in Higher Education:
The Challenge of the Quality Movement, 3rd ed. (London:
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1997).
Centra, John A. Reflective Faculty Evaluation (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993).
d’Apollonia, Sylvia and Philip C. Abrami. “Navigating Student
Ratings of Instruction,” American Psychologist 52 (1997): 1198-
Dershowitz, Alan. Contrary to Popular Opinion (New York: Pharos
Books, 1992).
Student Evaluations: A Critical Review 4/22/21, 11:33 AM Page 12 of 14
Gilbaugh, John W. “Renner Substantiated,” Phi Delta Kappan 63
(Feb. 1982): 428.
Goldman, Louis. “The Betrayal of the Gatekeepers: Grade
Inflation,” Journal of General Education 37 (1985): 97-121.
Greenwald, Anthony G. and Gerald M. Gillmore. “Grading
Leniency Is a Removable Contaminant of Student Ratings,”
American Psychologist 11 (1997): 1209-17.
Haskell, Robert E. “Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Student
Evaluation of Faculty: Galloping Polls in the 21st Century,”
Education Policy Analysis Archives 5 (1997). Available online
at <>.
Marsh, Herbert W. “Student Evaluations of University Teaching:
Research Findings, Methodological Issues, and Directions
for Future Research,” International Journal of Educational
Research 11 (1987): 253-388.
Marsh, Herbert W. and Lawrence A. Roche. “Making Students’
Evaluations of Teaching Effectiveness Effective,” American
Psychologist 52 (1997): 1187-97.
Naftulin, Donald H., John E. Ware, and Frank A. Donnelly, “The
Doctor Fox Lecture: A Paradigm of Educational Seduction,”
Journal of Medical Education 48 (1973): 630-5.
Rice, Lee. “Student Evaluation of Teaching: Problems and
Prospects,” Teaching Philosophy 11 (1988): 329-44.
Ryan, James J., James A. Anderson, and Allen B. Birchler,
“Student Evaluations: The Faculty Responds,” Research in
Higher Education 12 (December, 1980): 317-33.
Sacks, Peter. Generation X Goes to College (LaSalle, IL: Open
Court, 1986).
Schueler, G. F. “The Evaluation of Teaching in Philosophy,”
Teaching Philosophy 11 (1988): 345-8.
Student Evaluations: A Critical Review 4/22/21, 11:33 AM Page 13 of 14
Selvin, Paul. “The Raging Bull of Berkeley,” Science 251 (1991):
Williams, Wendy M. and Stephen J. Ceci. “‘How’m I Doing?’
Problems with Student Ratings of Instructors and Courses,”
Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 29 (Sept./Oct. 1997):
Wilson, Robin. “New Research Casts Doubt on Value of Student
Evaluations of Professors,” Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan.
16, 1998): A12.
1. Cahn, 37.
2. Cave, et al., 147; Haskell; d’Apollonia and Abrami, 1198;
3. According to Wilson, nearly 2000 studies of SEF have been
4. For a summary of the data on reliability and validity, see
Centra, 58-65.
5. Marsh and Roche, 1190.
6. See Rice, 335-6; Wilson; Greenwald and Gillmore, 1214.
7. See Goldman; Sacks.
8. See Greenwald and Gillmore. The authors discuss five
alternative interpretations of the grades-ratings correlation,
arguing that only the leniency-bias hypothesis explains all the
patterns in the data.
9. d’Apollonia and Abrami, 1204-5.
Student Evaluations: A Critical Review 4/22/21, 11:33 AM Page 14 of 14
10. See Gilbaugh, who reports that 360 of 518 students surveyed
at San Jose State University gave the response indicated. This
result may be taken with a grain of salt, as Gilbaugh reports it in
a letter to the editor and does not give details as to survey
methods. However, the results are more likely an underestimate
than an overestimate, both because students may be reluctant to
admit to what most would regard as unfair behavior on their
part and because some students may be unaware of their bias.
11. See Marsh.
12. Ryan et al.
13. Sacks, 85.
14. Naftulin, et al.
15. See Abrami, Leventhal and Perry. However, the authors
caution that these results provide little information about the
validity of student ratings, in part because it is not known how
much either content or stylistic factors vary among actual college
professors. If, for instance, actual professors varied very little in
presentation styles, then the Dr. Fox effect would not be relevant
in most cases.
16. See Ambady and Rosenthal.
17. See Haskell.
18. Williams and Ceci, 12, 23; Schueler.
19. Dershowitz, 117-19.
20. The incident is discussed in Selvin.
21. Schueler, 345.
22. Cahn, 36-41.

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