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Professor Marvin L. Hackert (chemistry and biochemistry and committee chair) submitted the following report on behalf of the ad hoc Committee on Course Instructor Surveys.

The secretary has classified this resolution as general legislation. The Faculty Council will discuss the recommendations at its meeting on September 19, 2005.

Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The Faculty Council

Distributed through the Faculty Council web site on September 14, 2005. Copies are available on request from the Office of the General Faculty, WMB 2.102, F9500.



Background: The Faculty Senate approved mandatory CIS in November 1990. It was later recommended that all courses be surveyed for three purposes: 1) to inform students for course selection, 2) to inform faculty and administrators for purposes of promotion and curriculum decisions, and 3) to assist faculty to improve their teaching. At the core of these recommendations was the concern and intent that students, teachers, and administrators all benefit from processes that are informative, efficient, and fair. At the time the opinion was expressed that “Written comments on student evaluation forms are not governed by the Open Records Act that governs access and release of answers to the survey items. This communication is offered and received as a private act of communication between student and faculty. The committee recommends that the privacy of both the students and faculty be respected and preserved and in so doing it becomes the purview of the faculty member as to how and when these are released.” This legislation was approved and implemented in Fall 2000. In the spring of 2005, the chair of the Faculty Council, Linda Reichl, appointed an ad hoc committee to review the status of the CIS relative to recent legal interpretations as to their use on the UT Austin campus and report back to the Faculty Council with recommendations for changes needed, if any.


Whereas recent legal interpretations of how course-instructor survey student written comments are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) law continue to raise concerns about current and past UT policy on the handling of such materials, and given that some interpretations state that even typewritten student comments are FERPA protected in that they may contain stylistic features or references to specific facts that make them identifiable, and

Whereas recent legal opinions of the University have brought about changes in the usage, treatment, defined ownership and storage of CIS materials on the UT Austin campus, and

Whereas these changes have resulted in confusion, inconsistent practices across campus, added workload to departmental staff for the storage of the paper copies or scanning of such documents, added substantially to the costs and economic burden on the university, and in some cases has resulted in reduced access by faculty to valuable information for improving their teaching, and

Recognizing that the CIS as currently in use is trying to serve three distinct purposes: 1) to inform students for course selection, 2) to inform faculty and administrators for purposes of promotion and curriculum decisions, and 3) to assist faculty to improve their teaching, and

Recognizing that the first two purposes can be adequately met with the availability of the summative data alone (although the survey instrument itself could be improved to include such items as effective use of information technology, etc.), and

Recognizing that the best results of student evaluations of teaching will require better communication to the students of the roles of such instruments, and that while the summative data from student evaluations on teaching are perhaps meaningful, it is a dangerous practice for too much significance to be attached to any individual, anonymous comment or evaluation, and

Recognizing that student written comments are valuable to both the student and the instructor and can provide valuable specific suggestions and feedback for improving instruction,

 The ad hoc Committee of the Faculty Council to Study CIS recommends two specific actions that we believe should permit the continued enjoyment of most of the benefits associated with the written comments while eliminating the expenses and other problems associated with decisions concerning the application to those comments of the Public Open Records Act, the Texas Records Retention Act, and FERPA. Specifically, we recommend first that the University discontinue the collection of student written comments as part of the official course-instructor survey starting with the Fall 2005 semester (i.e., the official CIS will consist of only the objective part).  Second, we recommend that the transfer of any written portions be


treated as “for faculty-only use for improved teaching,” thus preserving the most important benefit of the written portion while avoiding potential violations of FERPA. Student written comments will be solicited with a notice that the comments may be subject to the protections of FERPA and that by writing the comment they thereby agree to waive any rights they may have under FERPA and with the understanding that the comment becomes the property of the faculty member to whom it is addressed.  Comments written by students after acknowledging that they have waived any such rights would be delivered to MEC without having been viewed or copied by any other person. MEC administrators will destroy, without reviewing comments written by students, all forms that do not acknowledge waiver of any such rights, note for audit purposes the number of such FERPA waived documents, and deliver, again without having been viewed or copied by any other person, the remaining documents solely to the addressed faculty member to facilitate the private communication of the student.  We believe that this separate treatment of the objective portion and the written comments would have the affect of rendering the Open Records and Records Retention Acts inapplicable to these written comments, and that the waiver would be effective as to the claimed applicability of FERPA.

It is further recommended that should a faculty member choose to submit student comments (with the FERPA waiver) from a class (or classes) for purposes of promotion, etc., the faculty member must submit all comments from the class (or classes), recognizing that in doing so the documents will become “official” records and subject to open records act.

And finally, it is further recommended that faculty members be informed of what their legal obligations are with regards to the storage, handling, and retention of past and future student written comments relating to FERPA law, open records act, and records retention regulations, and that the University continue to explore alternative means and educate faculty about tools already available and additional tools being developed to solicit student input on teaching by other means - such as a class activity, on-line tools such as Blackboard, or OCA (Ongoing Course Assessment), etc.


Respectfully submitted to the Faculty Council on September 19th, 2005 – The ad hoc Committee to Review the Status of the CIS: Marvin Hackert (chair), Michael Granof,Michael Sharlot, Janet Staiger, and Marilla Svinicki with grateful acknowledgement to Chuck Gaede and Judy Ashcroft for their input.