Archive for May, 2014

For Us All: A Love Letter to Our Students from the English Department, On the Occasion of the Isla Vista Shootings, May 2014

UCSB is a research university. That means faculty are engaged in pursuits they feel passionately about, whether they are contributing to research on aging, or trying to understand why the arts have been so valuable to our species as to have been, forever, our companions. These preoccupations often seem to take priority over teaching and getting to know our students. We teach a lot of large lecture classes. We dream about sabbaticals. But UCSB promotes undergraduate research as a way of involving undergraduates directly in that part of our mission, and we also teach (and wish we could teach more) small seminars, and we work with our undergraduates in labs, through internships or research assistanceships, on senior theses, in campus activism, on committees. We don’t always know our students’ names, but even if we don’t, we know our students’ faces. You keep us thinking about what matters, about what we need to learn, and what kind of knowledge we need to make, for the future. You keep us young. We hope we give you things too—a feeling for what a body of knowledge is, and can do; ways of thinking, making and doing that change your brains and minds forever, so that all we’ve learned in the past can be part of what you will take into the future we won’t otherwise be able to share with you. Our minds and our hearts are so much more entwined than we realize.

What the faculty have learned in the aftermath of the Isla Vista shootings is how much we love our students. Perhaps love isn’t the right word for the bonds that link people who think, learn, and work together, who share interests, even fascinations. We need a richer lexicon to describe these relationships. But we will use the word because it expresses something of the intensity of our concern, regard and gratitude for you.

We love you. You are part of us, and we are part of you. We know learning is difficult and that you manage a lot of boredom and anxiety every day. We know we don’t always connect well with you, as people or as experts in our fields. But when news of the shootings spread, we were desperate to know whether or not you were okay. We emailed you, telephoned you, scanned news sources, hoping you would not be among the dead and injured, feeling dreadful because we knew somebody had to be among the dead and injured, someone who was smart and hopeful, someone who was important. We’ve been so relieved to hear from you, so worried when we haven’t. We didn’t hear back from Chris Martinez, a brilliant, kind young man, an English major. We’ve all been overtaken by our feelings. But we are glad to know, and want you to know, both the living and the dead, how much you mean to us.

Research on social connectivity is growing more brilliant every day. There is still much we don’t know about how feelings and ideas become, or always already are, communal phenomena. But we know that feelings and ideas are transpersonal. And so we know, partly because we are part of a knowledge-making community, how really true it is that we are all affected by the shootings, how much we have reached out to each other, and how long it will be before we can enjoy again the shockingly good fortune of being alive. We are just so terribly sorry for those who had to leave us before they were ready.

Please be well. If we can help, tell us, and we will tell you. If you need peace and quiet, we will be respectful. If you want to cry, we will cry with you. We will protest the unfairness of life right alongside of you. Please be well. Remember that we love you.

Cuesta’s current dean of Student Services, Nohemy Ornelas, is one of the two finalists at Allan Hancock College for the vice-president of Student Services position.  Second-level interviews, including a campus forum and a formal interview with administration, occurred yesterday.

You might recall our post of March 12, 2014, “Violation”  In this post, we discuss our concern, which we voiced to the Chancellor’s Office, that Ornelas was not hired at Cuesta in compliance with appropriate standards.  Part of this position includes her supervision of DSPS, a position for which she apparently does not have necessary qualifications.  So, she is appointed dean by the President; begins supervising DSPS; slices and dices faculty and staff at will, making DSPS almost unrecognizable; allows morale to plummet to new depths; and, moves on!

We hope her interview went well.

UPDATE: Ornelas got the position at Hancock.


Flex Days Placement

Posted: May 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

If you haven’t yet returned your survey to Patrick Len regarding flex day placement, we urge you to not support “moving in-semester flex days to the week before the start of instruction.”  This is something the prior union fought hard against and won.  It was the district’s wish to get faculty to campus earlier than they needed to be per their contract by having more flex days prior to instruction.  There is no valid reason to do this.  There is no reason for faculty to come to campus prior to DReaD (District Required Day).  All necessary flex activities can be done after the start of the semester if faculty so choose.

There most likely are other reasons to not support this change, but the above is one that faculty may not have thought about.  We are getting no increase in any compensation whatsoever.  Why should we continue to give to an institution who places so little value on our work?  Why should we be on campus before we need to be?

I can never figure out why the October flex days are always on the table.  They are perfectly situated–for our students and for us–between Labor Day and Veterans Day.  They’re also a great time for fall retreats.

The survey ends tonight at 11:59 p.m.

We’re What’s Left invites you to read the submission below by English instructor, Anthony Halderman.  The article was printed in the Spring 2014 edition of Inside English, the official publication of the English Council of California Two-Year Colleges.  Anthony held the community college level chair position on the Board of Directors of CATESOL from 2010-2012.  We thank Anthony for his submission and welcome your comments.

Weighing Student Evaluations: Rubric Anyone?
by Anthony Halderman

“Yeah, students’ evaluations are only one part of a peer evaluation, but it’s a very important part,” says a veteran instructor and member of Cuesta College’s union executive board.

In slight contrast, a former Cal Poly University colleague of mine suggests that student evaluations can only assesses a minor portion of an instructor’s classroom performance. This former Cal Poly professor feels a classroom visitation by another instructor provides better assessment of an instructor’s classroom performance. In fact, this one particular professor’s approach to student evaluations seems to parallel the title of an article in NEA Journal, Thought & Action Fall 2010, “Less-Than-Perfect Judges: Evaluating Student Evaluations.”

Student evaluations, first introduced in the 1920s and then subsequently more regularly adopted in the 1960s, afford us some insights into an instructor’s overall classroom performance. However, a paradox inherently exists between a university/college’s responsibility to satisfy its students, and a university/college’s responsibility to educate those very pupils. A mere happy student doesn’t necessarily equate a sufficiently educated one.

So then, what role do student evaluations play in an overall peer evaluation? Well, actually both positions hold some truth. According to Dr. Julian Crocker, San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools, many districts are re-evaluating and emphasizing the process of student evaluations in the peer evaluation procedure. Along with test scores and measurable student performance, student feedback/evaluations can provide some critical insight into an instructor’s performance.

However, even though many of us, if not all of us, agree that student evaluations of an instructor play a role in the whole peer evaluation process, few of us would agree on the exactly how much weight student evaluations should carry. I even asked a dean at Cuesta Community College if we have a rubric clearly indicating how student evaluations are weighted in the peer evaluation process. Of course, this dean doesn’t have one. Yet, a fair, reasonable, and accurate peer evaluation should clearly indicate the weighting of test scores, measurable student performance, course materials, professional development, and of course student evaluations.

The “current,” general approach to student evaluations seems to allow the peer evaluators to weigh the importance of the student evaluations using their own personal discretion. In fact, I personally know one peer evaluator who upon seeing weak student evaluations told the evaluee, “These are some of the lowest student evaluations I’ve seen in a while.” This one particular evaluator continued to focus on the “low” student evaluations, and used the student evaluations as evidence that the evaluee needed to improve her teaching performance.

Yet, in true contradiction, this very same evaluator who upon seeing very respectable student evaluations with a different instructor said, “So. They’re just students. I’m the professional.” This particular peer evaluator went on to completely dismiss very respectable student evaluations. Of course, such a dismissal in a peer evaluation completely surprised of the evaluee. How can student evaluations carry significant weight in one peer evaluation, but little weight in another? Where’s the rubric for assessing student evals.?

This vacillating, inconsistency, and at times just plain cherry picking, has prompted me to reflect on the meaning, value, and importance of student evaluations/feedback. Perhaps my former Cal Poly colleague would agree that student evaluations should carry only a modest significance because many university students have already demonstrated effective study skills. The success and retention rates at universities aren’t as low as some English as a Second Language programs in community colleges.

However, pending one’s discipline, I agree with the Cuesta College professor, and executive board member, that student evaluations are critical. If the ESL population at your community college is similar to other ESL programs, you’re probably aware that the ESL population has low rates of success and retention. The ESL Program at Cuesta College is among the lowest in California Community Colleges.

In fact, I addressed low ESL rates of success and retention in a CATESOL News 2008 article titled, “More Edutainment, Please.” In this article, I suggest one way to improve success and retention is making second language acquisition as fun and exciting as possible. Lecture-heavy courses will surely put many ESL students to sleep. Of course, the ESL student body needs to learn and be tested, but they also need to enjoy their courses. Student evaluations provide critical insights into how their courses are progressing: the higher the student evaluations, the higher the success and retention.

As a result of my broaching this topic with the CATESOL Board of Directors, the current community college level chair (a position I held 2010-2012), other board members, and I will craft a tentative rubric and avail it to other programs. In the most general terms, the rubric weighs equally four categories of the peer evaluation: 25% class materials, 25% classroom visitation, 25% professional development, and 25% student evaluations. Of course, its current state requires more details (TBA.)

Evidenced by my personal and limited example, different colleges and universities as well as different disciplines assess student evaluations varyingly. This difference can reflect a legitimate reason, but unfortunately it can also mirror an evaluator’s personal discretion and bias. A rubric aims to eliminate the latter. To further compound the issue, union contracts and bargaining units will also play a role in exactly how educational institutions both craft and execute these rubrics. Unions will need to negotiate these rubrics for campus wide use. But individual divisions may possess a certain degree of latitude for implementing their own rubric. Divisions, however, can never override the union’s position on a topic. One former union president of a community college mentioned amending the evaluation form and process shouldn’t be too difficult if members fully support it. You’ll need to contact your union representative and review your contract.

Dr. Julian Crocker correctly remarks that many schools are in fact re-evaluating and emphasizing the process of student evaluations in the peer evaluation procedure. But to what degree requires further exploration and dialogue. So the next time you have a scheduled peer evaluation, be sure to ask your evaluator, administrator, union representative, and/or colleague, “Exactly how are the student evaluations weighted? Where’s the rubric?”

Anthony Halderman is a college and university English instuctor.


Rest in Peace

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


Jan Gillette

November 1962–April 28, 2014

Consummate professional            Revered teacher          Cherished colleague and friend

Thank you

Posted: May 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

I would like to thank Debra Stakes’ commitment to improving the logistics of and processes for distance education instructors.

If the district is going to offer DE classes, it must offer what’s necessary to make these classes succeed.  If not, get rid of DE.  Either do it well, or don’t do it.

Thanks to Debra also for her extra effort the other day.