Is this FAU’s worst professor?

A tenured professor earning over six figures annually has the worst end-of-the-semester teaching evaluations. But we’re not so sure they’re entirely accurate


Illustration by Ivan Benavides

Joe Pye, Senior Writer

Engineering professor Dronnadula Reddy spent most of his career studying and teaching students about concrete, but the results of his Student Perception of Teaching evaluations are anything but that.

In spring 2017, Reddy taught a course called Ocean Structures, which teaches students how to build oil-drilling platforms and other structures offshore. All nine students in the class marked “poor” in response to SPOTs’ sixth question: “Rate your instructor’s overall teaching effectiveness in this course: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.”

This was the worst undergraduate end-of-the-semester evaluation from summer 2016 to summer 2017.

Out of nearly 6,500 classes, Reddy’s was the only one to have every student select “poor” to that question.

Yet, the university pays him $122,428 annually, according to state payroll/pension search website, Florida Has A Right To Know. His salary also increased from $109,696 over the past few years, according to the 2013-14 Faculty Senate salaries report.

Reddy is a tenured professor, meaning he has certain protections from being fired, as well as increased freedom with how he teaches. On top of this, he was the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship in 2003. He also authored a book titled: “Essentials of Offshore Structures: Framed and Gravity Platforms.”

How could a professor with this background have the worst SPOT evaluations over the course of a year?

It may be because students don’t always judge professors on teaching in their course evaluations.

Is it really about his teaching?

It’s very possible that Reddy prefers teaching one class more than others, leading to the poor ratings.

But it’s also possible there were alternative reasons behind the students’ decisions to give him low marks. They could have had a personal bias against him like his ethnicity and age — he’s an 85-year-old professor with a thick accent.

These biases could have been more apparent in SPOTs’ three written student comments, but FAU doesn’t publish them. Instead, only the numerical responses to the first six questions are available online. (See the SPOTs FAQs for a complete list of all nine questions.)

The University Press filed a public records request with FAU to view all of SPOTs’ student comments from summer 2016-17 on Dec. 22, 2017, but has yet to receive them as of publication time.

And while these comments aren’t immediately available online, the teacher review site, RateMyProfessors, does publish students’ comments anonymously.

Oddly enough, Reddy received high ratings — 4.3 out of 5 — on RMP. Alternatively, SPOTs’ best professor from the College of Engineering, Khaled Sobhan, received a score of 3 out of 5 on RMP.

The UP analyzed Reddy’s teaching evaluations from summer 2016-17, but his RMP ratings are dated from 2008-11, with positive comments saying things like: “Not the best teacher, but I learned a lot and did very well in the class. He is hard to understand at times, but is kind of funny.”

Meanwhile, Sobhan’s RMP comments are as recent as 2016 and 2017, but also have notes about his accent: “Terrible, extremely unorganized, all over the place, bad English, and somewhat funny.”

The accents and sense of humor of both of these professors were taken into account when rating their teaching abilities, something Philip B. Stark, co-author of the study, “Evaluating Teaching Evaluations,” said is more common than actual evaluations of teaching abilities.

“There’s a large literature out there on biases and a variety of sources on not only gender, but the physical attractiveness of the professor, whether the instructor speaks English or with an accent, the age of the instructor and other things,” the professor of statistics at the University of California Berkeley said. “The main signals doesn’t seem to be teaching effectiveness.”  

Taking a closer look at the numbers

The results of Reddy’s spring 2017 Ocean Structures course evaluations aren’t flattering.

Most students completely disagreed that he was able to communicate ideas effectively (88.9 percent), give useful feedback on coursework (77.8 percent), encourage students to think critically (66.7 percent), and show respect for students (55.6 percent), according to questions 2-5 from his SPOT evaluations.

Alongside that spring 2017 course, Reddy taught another section of the class — where responses were better, but not by much.

In summer 2016, he taught Foundation Engineering, a senior-level civil engineer course that teaches students how to build structures on land, which received higher responses.  Over half of students (61.5 percent) marked “excellent” to SPOTs’ sixth question on teaching effectiveness and the rest (38.5 percent) marked “very good.” But only a little over half (56.5 percent) of the class took the survey.

Contacting Reddy proved more difficult than we thought…

After speaking with Stark, the UP tried to meet with Reddy in person to find out if there was more behind SPOTs’ numbers.

His office was located on the fifth floor of the Engineering West Building, according to FAU’s website at the time. Labeled “copy room,” it was locked during his office hours on several occasions, to which he never showed.

Over several weeks, he didn’t respond to multiple emails or calls to his office phone number, which was never able to accept messages.

A secretary in Engineering West told the UP that Reddy’s office, along with other engineering professors’ offices in the building, had been damaged during hurricane Irma. As a result, his office had been moved to the fifth floor of Engineering East on the opposite side of the university, explaining why his first office was labeled “copy room.”

The UP tracked Reddy down one afternoon when he was leaving Engineering West, getting into his white Toyota Camry that was parked in a handicapped spot. He was supposed to be in his office at that time across the university.

He was hunched over and soft-spoken, but still quick-witted. After an explanation of the numbers the UP uncovered, he agreed to an interview.

Several weeks later before meeting, he changed his mind and declined to comment.

Joe Pye is the SPOTs special issue writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @jpeg3189.

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