Course evaluation could go public

A University Senate vote may publicize course evaluations but not instructor reviews.

Meghan Holden

University of Minnesota students may get access to their peers’ course evaluations when registering for classes next year.

Some faculty members, administrators and students have pushed for years to make teacher and course evaluations more accessible. The course assessments, at least, could finally be made public when the University Faculty and Student senates vote on the issue in May.

“I think it’s good for faculty, and I think it’s really good for students,” Faculty Senate Consultative Committee Chair Will Durfee said.

For now, there are no plans to make instructor evaluations more accessible.

At the end of each semester, students fill out a Student Rating of Teaching form for each course, giving them the chance to tell their instructors what they liked and didn’t like about the class.

Under the current policy, professors have the option of making the evaluations public. But Durfee said this process hasn’t been effective because few professors — only about 10 percent — opt to release the evaluations.

Under the senate proposal, instructor information would stay private, but course evaluations would automatically go public and instructors would have to choose to make them private again.

English literature freshman Nicholas Ohren said evaluation transparency is important for students so they can be fully informed on what they’re signing up for.

“It’s going to be a huge resource of a lot better information on courses,” he said.

The senates will also consider modifying some questions included on the forms, like the one that asks students what they could do to be a better learner.

Even with increased access to course evaluations and different questions added to the forms, some students say the policy could be better.

Student senate Vice Chair Ben Baglio said he was disappointed that the proposal didn’t include access to teacher evaluations, which kept it from being fully transparent.

“That was the part I was most frustrated about,” he said. “I think students want more.”

Ohren said teacher evaluations weren’t included in the proposal because University attorneys said they’re considered private under state law since they have the potential to affect tenure and promotion decisions — a common worry for faculty when it comes to evaluation accessibility.

“That’s kind of where the conflict of interest comes in,” said chemistry professor Christopher Cramer. “It’s a difficult problem.”

Still, Baglio said he and other students will push for access to teacher evaluations if the current proposal passes next month.

“Eventually, that will be expected,” Baglio said.

Cramer said he also worries that some courses could lose enrollment with the new policy simply because less popular subjects would likely receive lower ratings.

Though the changes could have some disadvantages for faculty, Ohren said the benefits for the students outweigh them.

The University’s releasing evaluations would be better for faculty and departments than students seeking the information elsewhere, like on websites such as Rate My Professors, Ohren said.

Third-party teacher evaluation websites have long been a source for students to give their uncensored opinions about a teacher or a class. But these websites don’t always help students find classes best-suited for them, Ohren said, because they’re often unreliable and biased.

University-posted evaluations would also be simpler to find, he said.

Under the proposal, course evaluations would either be available on the online course guide or on a separate One Stop page where students could access them anytime. 

“As the demand for information and accessible information online gets bigger, there’s going to be more things like that expected of the institution,” Baglio said.