Should I sign this evaluation?
February 13, 2015 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I just received my annual performance review from my department chair. I'm supposed to sign and return ASAP. Complication: he never actually visited my class. Also: weird college politics.

I've been teaching (tenure-track) at the same community college for several years. It's a large, urban college with multiple campuses. I'm at a smallish satellite campus, but my chair is at the main campus. I hardly ever see him--maybe four times a semester at departmental meetings. Today I received my performance evaluation. It's a pretty simple form--multiple categories of evaluation, with everything scored from 1 to 5. Mine was fantastic--I can't complain about the numbers at all. But I do have a concern: about a third of the form is about classroom teaching performance, and he hasn't visited my classroom in well over a year, and then only once, for about 15 minutes. He simply has no basis to evaluate my teaching, except for student class evals. The form clearly states that the evaluation is based on student feedback and in-class observation.

Complicating things further: the chair is currently dealing with several filed grievances with varying levels of merit, as well as a lawsuit. I'm sure he's stressed, and I don't want to add to that, but I also don't want to wind up in hot water myself. My concern--since some of the grievances basically allege that he favors some faculty over others--is that if I agree to a glowing review that he really can't justify, it will look like I have knowingly accepted preferential treatment, or worse, that we colluded somehow. (And it is not at all the case that everyone gets glowing reviews from him.)

Administration is highly dysfunctional here, and lots of slip-shod work is done. It's a tense atmosphere, especially at the main campus. I enjoy being at one of the small satellites because we are usually left alone to do our work and don't have to engage in politics much. I'm sure the standard answer would be "go to HR," but going to HR is kind of a minefield here. You can't be assured that you can go get confidential feedback. Things have a way of leaking out to people who can use the knowledge. I don't want to wind up involved in a lawsuit, even as a witness or a bit of evidence. I just want to teach well and enjoy my weekends.

So, what I think this boils down to is:
Is there any potential downside to just signing the form and moving on with life? Or could it jeopardize my job in some way to agree to a performance review when the reviewer has not observed my teaching?

Location: United States
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total)
I don't see how you could be disciplined, fired, or sued. It is not your job to make your department chair do his job.

Can't see how you could avoid being called as a witness or evidence though, assuming this goes to trial (?!). He didn't do his job and you know it. You can't un-know it. Even if you refuse to sign it, you still know he wrote it. If you get a court summons it would be perjury not to say so.

This sounds awful. Keep your head down.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:26 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Normally I'd say, sign and move on. This is on him, not you. If he's comfortable giving you this awesome review based on student evals, that's on him.

I tried writing an email that says, "thanks for the review, but I'm concerned about the in-class observation component," and there's no good way of writing that without it sounding accusatory. or worse, "Teacher! You forgot to assign homework!"

I doubt very seriously that this could bite YOU in the ass. Him on the other hand, it could be problematic.

For sure don't go to HR. Are you unionized? Is this something you could file with a shop steward as a CYA, without getting any paperwork rolling?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on February 13, 2015

Sign it; you have no way of knowing if he was not observing you in a way that was not obvious to you. It is on him, not you if issues arise.
posted by gudrun at 7:28 AM on February 13, 2015 [11 favorites]

"Hi Jim. Will get this back to you ASAP. Just wanted to check on one thing - under teaching my rankings are based on student course evals and in class observations. I don't recall any formal observer this year. Just wanted to check with you on this before I sign off."

And let him explain it.
posted by k8t at 7:31 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unless the document explicitly states otherwise, signing a performance review only says that you were notified of the review. You are not expected to validate it. Your signature is not an endorsement of the content.
posted by zennie at 7:32 AM on February 13, 2015 [35 favorites]

Sign it and move on. What do you hope to gain by pushing back on an excellent review?
posted by bluedaisy at 7:41 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

How do you know he never visited your class? Could he have been watching thru an open door or window?

I am certainly willing to take you at your word, bit if I were you I'd imagine a trusted counselor asking you the questions in the above paragraph.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:21 AM on February 13, 2015

I don't know the details of your specific performance review form, but all of that type of thing I've seen that requires an employee signature, your signature just indicates that you acknowledge the review form has been seen by you. It doesn't indicate your agreement with the content or with the process that resulted in the content.
posted by FishBike at 8:22 AM on February 13, 2015

Yes, absolutely just sign and return it. There won't be any problem, and if there is, say that you understood your signature was an acknowledgement you'd received it. Don't borrow trouble.
posted by Susan PG at 9:27 AM on February 13, 2015

Sign it and return it without further comment. If anyone asks you assumed that someone did a class eval without you spotting them. What Susan PG said.
posted by biffa at 9:51 AM on February 13, 2015

Maybe I'm cynical, but given the organizational context you describe I think you were meant to understand that since there are no performance concerns in other areas and "hey come on we're all buddies here right??" you were given high marks so that you would be happy and just sign it and everyone would move on with their lives. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

I've had bosses and performance reviews like that before, there is a certain sort of person with a certain sort of mindset that dislikes paperwork and is content to "make things easy" as long as there aren't any complaints or problems percolating upward. If I'm right, the last thing he wants is for you to send him an e-mail and create a paper trail that implies any corners may have been cut. Especially given that there's a lawsuit in the mix, and who knows if his e-mails are going to be turned over for a discovery process.
posted by books for weapons at 9:57 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Take the win and sign it. It's not on you to evaluate yourself here. This is completely on him if it isn't an accurate reflection of what you're doing.
posted by inturnaround at 10:44 AM on February 13, 2015

What are you signing? Somewhere on the form you're supposed to sign, it should tell you what you are signing to signify. Are you signing to acknowledge receipt of the review? Are you signing to say that you agree that your performance is as good as the review says it is? Or are you (problematically) signing to say that your review is based on your manager's assessment based on the criteria the review says he's supposed to use?

If it's just the first thing, that you received it, then there's no problem. If it's the second, you sign it if you agree that you are awesome. If it's the third, where you're essentially vouching for the fact that your boss did work that you don't think he actually did--and I think it's pretty unlikely that it is the third--then you might possibly need to ask a question about whether he did that work before you sign something saying that he did.
posted by decathecting at 11:58 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having been a college prof for 23 years, my experience is that you will only be stirring up the pot if you don't sign. As much as I wanted to believe teaching college would be an ivory tower experience, it was anything but. Get your tenure. Then you can write that email (and maybe not even then).
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:12 PM on February 13, 2015

Sign it. I have received annual evaluations for the past 4 years from a dean and committee members who have never, ever visited my classes, do not read anything I write, and are pretty completely unaware of what I do period. Satellite campus of large dysfunctional university with added layer of governmental bureaucracy. We excel at generating paperwork.
posted by Gotanda at 5:35 PM on February 13, 2015

If you want to really cover your ass you could write in next to the bit about teacher observation "this year based on evaluations only". Or just strike through the words "and observation"

I very much doubt anyone will look at the form closely enough to see you did that, unless it's as part of the grievance procedure you mentioned. And that's the exact case when you do want to cover yourself.

The one danger is that if he gets in trouble for not observing your class, then he might be vindictive towards you in future. But I think it's more likely that either no one will care he didn't observe you, or if they do care, he won't find out how they learned about it, or that he won't be around this time next year to give you a bad eval anyway.
posted by lollusc at 5:39 PM on February 13, 2015

I agree with everyone who said sign it and forget it. If it does get brought up sometime in the future, it won't take much to play the ignorance card about whether or not the chair came to observe you in person. I barely remember which faculty member of my department observed me teach last semester, let alone who observed me in the spring or previous fall.
posted by puritycontrol at 8:59 PM on February 13, 2015

No, you won't get into trouble if you sign it. It's just acknowledgement that you've seen it. Even if you thought it was completely fabricated and wrong, you would sign it. Then you would formally complain a different way.

Raising a question about it is going to seem like a political act in itself. Rather than keeping you out of it, it essentially turns you into one of the complainants against his review practices, or at least declares you in agreement with them that his reviews are a sham. Maybe that's the way you feel, but if your goal is to keep out of that mess, signing quietly is safer. The existence of your objection is a lot more likely to get you dragged in to explain it in a potential legal question.
posted by ctmf at 9:50 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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