MSA to conduct teacher evaluations

Chad Hamblin

The Minnesota Student Association might have the remedy for students who are sick of boring professors.

MSA President Tom Zearley announced this week that the group will conduct its own teacher evaluation survey and release the results on its Web site – similar to the students’ rental survey.

Originally, the Student Senate planned to release the University’s official teacher evaluations, but the project stalled because it is illegal to release the evaluations without instructor consent. Because the Student Senate couldn’t do it, MSA picked up the project.

Zearley said he expects it will take several years for the project to fully take off, but when it does, it will be a valuable resource for future students.

“Granted, I’m gonna be out of here in a year and a half, but I really want to try setting up and working out the bugs while I’m still here,” he said.

In the meantime, the Student Senate will try to encourage teachers to release the public portions of their official evaluations and try to help MSA with their independent Web site, said Nathan Wanderman, chairman of the Student Senate.

Wanderman said he was frustrated that the Student Senate probably wouldn’t be able to release the official evaluations.

“I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be released, but that’s the way it works,” Wanderman said. “I’m pretty ticked off about this whole thing.”

William Durfee, a professor who was chairman of a committee in the Senate last year to review how teachers are evaluated, said most independent teacher evaluation Web sites often have very polarized results – either extremely positive or extremely negative.

“You’re getting information from a very small number of students,” he said. “It would be helpful if it has a high response.”

Durfee said that if MSA can get 70 percent to 80 percent of students to use its Web site, it would be more accurate.

Still, the more information students have about a course and its professor, the better, Durfee said.

Zearley said he wants to make the Web site as fair as possible to avoid getting polarized results.

“We’re not trying to get purely negative responses or purely positive responses,” he said. “The trick will be to get the students to fill out the evaluations.”

Zearley said the questions on the MSA teacher evaluation Web site will be very similar to the official evaluation questions, with the possibility of a few additions.

Currently, portions of the official teacher evaluations can be made public with the teacher’s permission, but very few teachers have done this.

Craig Swan, University vice provost for undergraduate education, said it’s important to respect the privacy of professors. Still, he said, the University is working on getting more teachers to release their evaluations.