Course evaluations should be made public

A proposal before the Faculty and Student senates would allow students to look up course ratings.

In 2003, student government leaders at the University of Minnesota pushed to make student course evaluations accessible to the students. More than a decade later, the evaluations may finally go public.

A Faculty and Student senate proposal would allow students to see what others have to say about a certain course on the University website, the Minnesota Daily reported this week.

Teacher evaluations are private data under state law, and public colleges cannot release them like other state documents. Under the proposal, students would only be able to see the course ratings.

Releasing course information but keeping evaluations about teachers private makes sense. Course ratings will give students sufficient information about classes without establishing a popularity contest among faculty.

However, as we stated in a March 10 editorial, the state Legislature should revise the law so that willing parties could review teacher evaluations under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. It doesn’t make sense that we give teacher evaluations so much protection. 

Critics say that making course evaluations public will result in courses catering more to student satisfaction than the quality of education. Whether classes change because of student evaluations is up to the instructor, but when students are paying $463.85 or $704.24 per credit at the University, depending on their residency, it’s important they have enough information before enrolling in classes for the semester.

There is an assumption that students merely evaluate courses on whether it was an easy class or not, but this is false. Students routinely recommend classes on the basis that it was a fulfilling learning experience and that they enjoyed the material.

We hope the senates approve the proposal and give students more information for selecting courses.