Faculty evaluations should be public

Tomorrow I register for spring quarter classes, and like thousands of other students, I’ll spend several agonizing hours diligently arranging my schedule.
Hopefully, I’ll avoid the physics professor who speaks in tongues (he calls it quantum mechanics), the psychology instructor obsessed with Freudian development and the French prof who treats students like they are Americans in France. Naturally, I’m concerned about the content of these courses, but with four years and a couple hundred credits behind me, I know that who is teaching the class is just as important as what is being taught.
Unfortunately, the University demands that undergraduates like me possess oracle-like skills because we aren’t allowed to peek at student evaluations of professors. This effectively inhibits my ability to choose the best instructors, and it undoubtedly impairs the quality of my education.
Now, if I were a student at another Big Ten school like Indiana, Illinois or Wisconsin, I’d have access to this information (although I wouldn’t have a No. 1 seeded basketball team — Go Gophers!). In fact, the majority of schools in the Big Ten recognize the importance and value of publicizing professor evaluations, and some even make this information available via the Internet.
Why then, you ask, don’t we have access to summary statistics of student evaluations of faculty members (more commonly referred to as professor evaluations)? Well, it’s certainly not for a lack of effort. A dedicated cadre of student leaders, including Matt Curry, Kevin Pomasl, Corey Donovan, Helen Phin and Matt Musel, has tirelessly advanced this issue for more than a year. They’ve held countless meetings with regents, administrators, faculty members and legislators, all in the name of access to professor evaluations.
In early October, These students approached the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Educational Policy, a critical element of faculty governance here at the University, with a relatively modest proposal that offers professors the option of publicizing student evaluations. Although there was a provision that faculty members would have to sign a waiver allowing publication, the committee refused (and continues to refuse) to see the merits of this plan.
The conspiracy theorist in me suspects faculty representatives are attempting to capitalize on the glacier-like speed of the bureaucracy to bludgeon this initiative. At the very least, they should be charged with a delay-of-game penalty.
How will these evaluations affect teaching and class selection? Is this just a built-in system for easy A’s? No. In fact, evidence from other universities shows that classes where students learn the most (not where they are best entertained) are the ones with the best student evaluations.
In fact, the concept isn’t completely foreign to our University. Currently, at the Carlson School of Management roughly 95 percent of faculty members voluntarily publicize their student evaluations. Students say they are very satisfied in informal surveys.
So after concerned students ran into speed bumps at the University did the quest for access to these evaluations end? Thankfully not.
Earlier in the legislative season, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, introduced a bill to amend the Minnesota Data Practices Act to allow disclosure of student evaluations. A similar bill may be introduced in the House as early as March 13 by Rep. Alice Johnson (DFL-Spring Lake Park).
These bills are a panacea to students. Access to summary statistics of student evaluations of faculty members empowers students to make more informed choices. It allows students to more accurately match their preferred learning style with an instructor’s teaching methods. It recognizes and rewards the best teachers, and it enhances the quality of undergraduate education.
The bills in the House and Senate have support on both sides of the aisle, and legislative titans like House Minority Leader Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, have stepped forward as co-authors.
The future of these bills, however, is in question. As I mentioned earlier, the Senate bill was introduced on March 6. Before it can continue along the legislative path and become a law, however, it must first receive a public hearing before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices. The chair of that subcommittee, Sen. Dan Betzold, DFL-Fridley, has not yet scheduled any such hearing. Worse yet, preliminary indications point to continued inaction. Without constituent pressure, this far-sighted proposal might very well wither away in subcommittee, never to see the light of the Senate’s general chambers.
Additionally, the corresponding bill in the House has not yet been introduced (although it already has a chief author and four co-authors). After its introduction, it also requires a public hearing.
We need access to summary statistics of student evaluations of professors, and I hope our elected representatives are listening. If they aren’t, we must remind them.
In elementary school, I remember (with a little distaste, mind you) submitting report cards to Mom and Dad for approval — that’s how they kept tabs on my educational progress.
Now that my name is on the tuition statements, however, I’m responsible for managing my intellectual and academic aggrandizement. Choosing professors who are the best educators is certainly in my best interest, but that isn’t possible unless student evaluations are published.
Without help, the drama at the Capitol might unfold as a tragedy of Sophoclean proportions, and we, as students, will lose. So for the sake of the University and your own education, please contact the following legislators and plead for student access to professor evaluations:
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices: Sen. Don Betzold, 296-2556. Chairwoman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices: Rep. Mary Jo McGuire, 296-4342.

Editor’s note: This is Greg Lauer’s last column at the Daily. His contributions throughout the year have been appreciated and he will be missed.