Some professors say they regularly receive inappropriate survey responses
Course Experience Surveys (CES), like those used at UVic, are under scrutiny for revealing a darling side of teaching — the rising trend of cyberbullying through student feedback. Several studies have shown that perceived anonymity is an important risk factor for cyberbullying, and according to UVic professors, CES are no exception.
These surveys, filled out by students at the end of each term, are designed to measure a course’s effectiveness and a professor’s performance. The deadline for completing this term’s CES was earlier this month.
“CES feedback is a very valuable tool to help instructors improve their course designs and student learning experience,” said a UVic spokesperson in an email to the Martlet. “The feedback gathered also helps the departments assess an instructor for the means of providing merit, promotion, and re-appointment.”
However, beneath the seemingly straightforward evaluation lies a web of controversy, as students utilize anonymity to voice both constructive criticism and, at times, inappropriate comments. In a 2023 study performed by the UK Higher Education Journal, 59 per cent of participating academics reported receiving abusive comments in their student evaluations in the early 2020s.
“Sometimes I get inappropriate comments about my body and my appearance, my hair, my voice, my hands,” said one UVic philosophy professor who wished to remain anonymous. “There are a lot of women now in the philosophy department, but it’s still a male-dominated field … My guess is that [students] are less likely to make comments about a male’s body.”
An English graduate student and teaching assistant, who also requested anonymity, told the Martlet that “[CES] are not a good tool because any professors or instructors who are people of color or women get bad reviews based on biases.”
According to the Higher Education Journal, this abuse is not evenly spread across different demographic groups — women academics and those from marginalized and racialized backgrounds receive more comments than their white male counterparts, and the majority of these comments are abusive.
According to UVic, professors are encouraged to report abusive survey responses to their chairs, associate deans, or unions. “This year’s CES states that responses must be respectful and constructive,” added the spokesperson.
Miraflor Redula, a continuing studies student, told the Martlet that she only includes positive comments in survey responses.“We are going to give positive reviews because I think it’s easier than giving negative reviews. For the negative reviews, we actually have to give reasons as to why we’re saying this,” Redula said.
The surveys have also been a topic of discussion online. “It’s important to remember that this is still an academic institution and profs are human beings,” said one undergraduate student in a public Discord channel. “There’s a level of respect you need to give even if you don’t agree with their teaching practices.”
While online platforms like “Rate My Prof” also exist for students to share their opinions on professors, CES holds a more significant weight as university administrators and boards read the results. The feedback collected can influence decisions regarding faculty hiring, course adjustments, and even tenure for professors.
According to the university spokesperson, UVic’s Senate Committee on Learning and Teaching is exploring possible changes to the surveys, including when the CES are sent out and the questions included.