Flawed system may hurt public professors

Rick Scott for Florida, Rick Scott for Governor

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s latest plan to pay university professors based on student population and performance has more holes than Swiss cheese.

The idea has recently been brewing in Texas and Scott is also considering the concept. The plan would connect public college professors’ pay to the number of students they teach and how well they do on student satisfaction surveys.

How is this plan flawed? Let me count the ways. First, the amount of students in a classroom isn’t a proper way to determine pay. A professor with a class of 20 students might hold in-depth, roundtable discussions and take the time to read and critique everything a student writes, while working just as hard, if not harder, than a professor with a lecture-style class of 250 who barely notices when a student doesn’t attend.

As the cliche goes, quantity does not dictate quality, so trying to correlate pay and the number of students in a classroom shows a true lack of thought put into this plan.

Another issue with this proposal is the idea that student survey results should determine a teacher’s pay. The truth is, no matter how well someone teaches, there’s always a vindictive student who blames his or her poor grades on the teacher, not a lazy work ethic.

The Internet is full of websites like ratemyprofessor.com where students rant and whine about how awful teachers are, and how their joy in life is to watch students suffer. Not all reviews are quite so dramatic, but students tend to write through a biased lens.

On the flip side, those surveys could open up a torrent of bribery attempts. Professors could entice students to give them positive reviews by raising their grades. There are too many “what-ifs” in this scenario, and not everyone has enough integrity for the system to work properly.

Professors already have a difficult job in preparing their students for the real world. The last thing the government should be doing is adding more stress by making their pay dependent on such variable and trivial factors.

This article originally appeared in The Miami Hurricane on November 9, 2011.