Letter: Vice Provost Responds to Villanovan Editorial

I am writing in response to your recent editorial about the Course and Teaching Survey (CATS). I offer the following information to help address your concerns and to assure that your feedback is valued.

The CATS provide information to the instructor and to the University about student perceptions of all aspects of their course experience, including the faculty member’s performance, curriculum, use of technology and the quality of learning facilities. The CATS are an important tool for Villanova to measure how well we are delivering on our promise to provide a high-level educational experience to you, our students.

The intent of faculty performance-related questions is to help our professors and instructors improve their own teaching practices. Student feedback, in particular, is essential to ensuring that our teaching approaches are responsive and aligned with our ever-changing world. Feedback from select questions are also used by the University in decisions regarding faculty reappointment, promotion and salary.  

Villanova has used the CATS for more than 20 years, during which time the University’s Academic Policy Committee (APC) has monitored its administration. Comprised of faculty serving on Faculty Congress, students serving on the Student Government Association,and the Deans (or their designee), the APC offers the University guidelines as to how to appropriately interpret the results and continually explores ways in which to improve the questions included on the CATS.

Faculty members receive their CATS results after a course’s final grades have been submitted. Results on the rating-type questions are typically only available to the faculty member, the department chair, the committees involved in the evaluation of faculty performance, the deans and the Provost. Written responses to open-ended questions are viewable by the faculty member and department chair.  Faculty have the option to allow students to view the CATS results in NOVASIS. However, because the CATS are part of the evaluation of their performance, many faculty members choose to keep their results private.

It is important for you to know that the CATS is one of many ways in which the University assesses teaching and assists faculty with their professional development. Additional tools include peer review of and feedback on a faculty member’s classroom teaching, syllabi, assignments, exams and the individual’s personal statement on teaching philosophy. Our faculty is actively supported and engaged in conversations about how teaching effectiveness is measured at Villanova.

A critical resource for our work around faculty assessment and development is the Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL), which offers training programs, mentoring programs, personal consultation and grant programs to support innovative teaching. Each May, VITAL sponsors a full-day teaching and learning conference which allows faculty to present their work on teaching practices and approaches and to learn from one another.

Villanova takes great pride in the excellence of our teacher-scholars and remains committed to offering a first-rate academic experience to all students. Your feedback is valued and provides essential guidance as we look to continue this academic tradition for generations to come.