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Open Course Evaluations on Hold

I had hoped that Dartmouth’s term-end course evaluations would be opened up to student scrutiny in a vote at the faculty meeting yesterday, but the motion was put on hold. The “death by a thousand cuts” folks faced off against the “let not the best be the enemy of the good” group.

Criticisms of the proposal included possible negative effects on faculty of color, details of the evaluation form itself, concerns about pressure on reluctant faculty to opt in to opening up their own evaluations when they were actually reluctant to do, the fairness of not allowing faculty to see evaluations that students could see, and various procedural concerns.

Supporter took a different tack: they simply noted that releasing the information in the present evaluations would be a great leap forward as compared to the present state of affairs at the College, where ad hoc student course evaluation sites and sometimes malicious word of mouth communications serve poorly to educate students about faculty and courses.

The discussion was wan, and my sense is that a good deal more preparation should have gone into the meeting on the part of the administration. Faculty members will always pick nits; that’s their job. But the President and his staff should have forcefully asserted that opening up evaluations — as is done at most other major institutions — would be a good thing for the College. That did not happen.

The proposal will now disappear into committee. Let’s hope that it re-surfaces one day.

Addendum: A young alum writes in:

Very disappointed to hear that course evaluations were not opened up to undergraduates. The former course guide (hosted by Student Assembly for many years, and then by the Computer Science Club) had a significant impact on how I chose my classes and professors. It would be an enormous help to have this type of information available for all courses.

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