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Are Some of the Things Faculty Do to Maximize Their Student Evaluation of Teachers Scores Unethical?


This paper provides a philosophical analysis of some of the things faculty do to maximize their Student Evaluation of Teachers (SET) scores. It examines 28 practices that are claimed to be unethical methods for maximizing SET scores. The paper offers an argument concerning the morality of each behavior and concludes that 13 of the 28 practices suggest unethical behavior. The remaining 15 behaviors are morally permissible.

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  1. 1.

    I use “moral” and “ethical” interchangeably.

  2. 2.

    There is some disagreement as to what we ought to take Mill to mean by “interest.” See Rees (1960) and Ten (1968) for contrasting interpretations. The view I am supposing is consistent with Feinberg’s understanding of individual interests as “distinguishable components of a person’s good or well-being” (Feinberg 1986, p. 146).

  3. 3.

    There is more than one conception of “the Socratic method.” See Brickhouse and Smith (2009).


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Correspondence to Rodney C. Roberts.



Rules of the Trade (Crumbley and Smith 2000, pp. 46–47)

1. First and foremost, inflate your students grades.

2. Reduce the course material covered and drop the most difficult material first.

3. Give easy examinations (e.g., true-false; broad, open-ended discussion questions; take home exams; open book exams).

4. Join the college party environment by giving classroom parties on SET day. Sponsoring students’ officially approved class skipping days to ball games, etc. is a means to increase student satisfaction. One Oregon professor prepared cupcakes on the day the SET questionnaires are distributed.

5. Give financial rewards such as establishing connections to potential employers.

6. Spoon-feed watered-down material to the students.

7. Give answers to exam questions beforehand. Either pass them out in class or if you want the students to work harder, put them on reserve in the library or on the Internet.

8. Do not risk embarrassing students by calling on them in the classroom.

9. Hand out sample exams, or take your examination questions from the students’ online exercises provided by the textbook publisher.

10. Grade on a wide curve.

11. Give [the] SET as early as possible in the term and then give hard exams, projects, etc.

12. Keep telling students how much they are learning and that they are intelligent.

13. Delete grading exams, projects, and other material. If they turn in work, give them credit. The correctness of the work is not an issue.

14. Teach during the bankers’ hours (9:00–3:00) favored by the students.

15. Give the same exams each semester allowing the answers to get out and grades to move higher and higher each semester.

16. Avoid the effort of trying to teach students to think (e.g., avoid the Socratic method).

17. Provide more free time (e.g., cancel classes on or near holidays, Mondays, Fridays, etc.).

18. Avoid giving a cumulative final exam.

19. Do not give a final exam and dismiss the class on the last class day. Even if the final is administratively required there are methods to avoid the final exam.

20. Use simple slides so the students do not need to read the book and post the slides to the course website from which test questions will be taken.

21. Where multiple classes are taught by different instructors, always ensure that your classes have the highest GPA.

22. Allow students to participate in determining material coverage and the number of points assigned to difficult test questions.

23. When possible, teach classes where common exams are used; then help students pass “this bad exam” for which you are not responsible.

24. Allow students to re-take exams until they pass. It helps to put a page reference next to each question so the students can find the answer during an open-book examination.

25. Give significant above-the-curve extra or bonus credit.

26. Remember to spend the first ten minutes of class schmoozing and joking with the students.

27. In online courses allow the students a two-day window to take the posted online examination.

28. Allow anonymous taking of online examinations by students (i.e., do not use a test center).

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Roberts, R.C. Are Some of the Things Faculty Do to Maximize Their Student Evaluation of Teachers Scores Unethical?. J Acad Ethics 14, 133–148 (2016).

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  • Student evaluation of teachers
  • Teaching
  • Testing
  • Grading
  • Grade inflation