The Numbers

Rather than reproduce my quantitative student evaluations for particular courses-which would allow me to pick those courses where I have been evaluated particularly highly-I have given summaries for all of the upper level courses I taught from 1990 and 1994 and compared my average scores to those of the other full-time tenure-track members of the Political Science Department at UNCC.

(In earlier years we used a different evaluation form and a seven rather than a five point scale. Thus they cannot be included with the results I report below. Broadly speaking, however, my evaluations in those years were not very different what is found here although there is a slight upwards trend. I have not had the chance to update this data for 1995. And the 1996 data for the Political Science Department is not available to me as of now).

Students of the UNC Charlotte Political Science Department are asked three questions. The questions are reproduced below with the mean (arithmetic average) scores for all of my upper level courses and for all of the upper level courses in the department as a whole.

In evaluating this instructor and this course please use the following rating levels:

Much lower than average


Lower than average


About average


Higher than average


Much higher than average


1. Considering other instructors you have had at UNC Charlotte, how would you rate the effectiveness of this instructor in terms of stimulating and challenging students to gain an understanding of the topic

Average score in all of my courses


Average score in all Political Science Courses


2. In the instructor's overall relationship with students (treating students fairly and impartially, creating an atmosphere where students feel free to express themselves, demonstrating a willingness to be accessible for consultations or assistance, etc.), how would you rate the instructor?

Average score in all of my courses


Average score in all Political Science Courses


3. Compared to other courses you have had at UNC Charlotte, how would you rate this course?

Average score in all of my courses


Average score in all Political Science Courses


Some Commentary

To properly evaluate these scores, it is necessary, first, to note three points:

  1. These scores are for upper level courses only. I have excluded introductory courses because I teach fewer of these courses than some other members of the faculty and, at UNCC, like at most other universities, upper level courses tend to receive higher evaluations than introductory courses. Had I included all courses taught at UNCC, my evaluations would have been substantially higher than the departmental average. Had I presented data for introductory courses alone, all of the scores would have been somewhat lower, but my scores would still be at or a little above the department mean.
  2. The average scores for the department include only full-time, tenure track faculty. That is, part-time instructors are excluded. Adding part-time instructors would substantially reduce the average scores for the Political Science Department as a whole. In doing this, the Political Science Department at UNCC is more honest than most. For including the evaluations of part-timers is, of course, one of the favorite tricks of departmental chairmen. It has the effect of making the scores of all full-time tenure-track members of the department look much better. Indeed, it tends to create a kind of Lake Woebegone effect: all the full-time tenure-track faculty turn out to be better than average.
  3. While the questions ask students to compare my work to that of all other faculty members at UNCC, my scores here are compared to those of other members of the Political Science Department at UNCC. That department, however, is one of the most highly regarded departments at UNCC when it comes to teaching. Indeed, I was only one of seven of the fourteen full time faculty members who have won university wide teaching awards either at UNCC or elsewhere. The departmental student evaluations averages tend to be substantially higher than those found in other departments at UNCC. Given that all of our evaluations are high-and I am told our standard deviation tends to be low-one should not much of very small differences.

Like anyone else, I would like my student evaluations to be as high as possible. But I am not willing to change my own style of teaching in order to gain higher evaluations. That is not to say that it is impossible to receive the highest evaluations in the best courses. As I indicated at the beginning of "My Philosophy of Teaching," there are many different ways to teach well. I do think, however, that my style of teaching will never appeal to every student at a school like UNC Charlotte. Given the difficulty of political philosophy, my own efforts to teach at a very high and demanding level, my emphasis on written work, my attempts to do original work in class, as well as the challenges I raise to their conventional ideas, some proportion of my students will dislike my courses. (On all this, see My Philosophy of Teaching.) In addition, given that one political philosophy course is required by the department, I am always going to have some students who really do not want to be in my classes.

In the past, the department at UNCC, and other departments I have taught in, have asked students how difficult our courses are. My courses tend to be considered by students to be more difficult than those taught by other faculty members. (Peer evaluations of my teaching tend to support this view.) Moreover, the standard deviation of my student evaluations are usually substantially above those of other members of the faculty. On a five point scale, the vast majority of the class usually gives me a rating of 4 or 5 while a very few students give me a rating of 1 or 2. For the reasons I discuss in "My Philosophy of Teaching," I believe that it is appropriate for me to simply accept that a very small number of students will very much dislike my approach to teaching rather than to drastically change my style of teaching to appeal to these students. (I suppose that, in my own way, I follow the advice Billy Martin once gave about managing a baseball team: keep the five players who dislike you away from the ten who are not sure!)

Given that student evaluations of my teaching typically have the pattern I just related, one should note that the measure of central tendency used to aggregate individual student evaluations has an important effect on the quantitative evaluation of my teaching. The scores reported on this page are means of means (i.e. arithmetic averages), not means of medians. Medians tend to minimize the effects of extreme values while means maximize these effects. For this reason, the measure of central tendency typically used for student evaluations is the median. This was the practice in the Political Science Department until recent "advances" in computer technology forced us to change our procedures. From time to time, I calculate my own medians. My calculations for the Fall 1993 and Fall 1994 can be seen in the following table. Here, as in other years, my median student evaluations tend to be above my mean student evaluations. My means are clearly brought down by the few students who really dislike my courses. In addition, my medians would probably--it is difficult to say for sure--be substantially above medians of the department as a whole.

Six Courses Fall 93, 94

Average of My Means

Average of My Medians

Department Mean

Question 1




Question 2




Question 3





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