ALMOST 1000 teachers at one of Australia's leading universities are being told to make their students happy at the expense of confronting their fledgling thinkers with rigorous lessons, according to the union representing lecturers.
Teachers at the Australian National University now need to explain themselves if too many students are not pleased with them and colleagues must argue why courses with student satisfaction rates of less than 50 per cent should be kept.
One teacher emailed the union: ''I feel under pressure to lower standards and make the student experience more comfortable so I don't end up before the head of school to explain myself.''
For years, students have been asked to fill out satisfaction surveys at the end of each semester. But the university's education committee earlier this year decided to give the surveys greater importance by strongly linking them to the teachers' performance reviews.
In the past fortnight, numerous teachers have been asked to explain why students gave them poor marks after the end of the first semester.
Within days of teachers being approached, the union has been hit with dozens of complaints from members, according to the National Tertiary Education Union's ACT secretary, Stephen Darwin.
The university's deputy vice-chancellor (academic), Marnie Hughes-Warrington, said management looked forward to the staff union taking up invitations to talk about concerns. ''The university uses a range of evidence to guarantee the quality of the education we deliver to students,'' Professor Hughes-Warrington said.
Mr Darwin said only about 20 per cent to 30 per cent of students filled out the surveys.
He said these students tended to be the angriest, probably because they received bad marks or were confronted by teaching that challenged them.
More students seemed to complain about first-year economics and business courses, which had large class sizes, lots of statistics and sometimes students who needed to realise they were not suited to studying the subject, he said.
''This is the first time at this university that student opinion has been the basis of determining what is quality education,'' Mr Darwin said.