Group wants teacher evaluations public

by Chad Hamblin

University student Greta Tracey learns by doing.

“Some people do fine listening to lectures, but I would rather apply the lessons,” she said.

Throughout her three years at the University, however, Tracey has had some professors who haven’t given her the chance to apply those lessons and she gets stuck listening to “dry, boring lectures,” she said.

Tracey said if she were able to see how professors or teaching assistants taught a class before she registered, it would “definitely” help her learn more.

The University’s Student Senate said it wants to do just that. Nathan Wanderman, chairman of the Student Senate, said he wants to use the teacher evaluations that students fill out at the end of each semester to give students an idea of what to expect.

Wanderman said the goal is not to point out good teachers or bad teachers. Instead, he wants to match an instructor’s teaching style with a student’s learning style.

“We want to pair the right student with the right professor,” he said.

Wanderman said it’s really hard for students to know about a class from a paragraph on the One Stop Web site. With more information, students will know what the class is about and fewer students will drop it, he said.

“Everybody wins,” he said.

If students know more about a class, it will be better for them and their professors, said Marvin Marshak, University professor and chairman of the Senate’s Faculty Consultative Committee.

“I don’t want students in my class who don’t want to be there,” he said.

The Student Senate can’t make the entire evaluation available because many questions are used to help decide tenure, raises and promotions, making them private under Minnesota law, said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education.

However, a few questions regarding teaching style are public information and not used for personnel decisions, he said.

Currently, instructors must approve before survey responses become public. Less than 10 percent of instructors have done that, said William Durfee, a professor who chaired a committee in the Senate last year to review how teachers are evaluated. Many professors don’t know the results can be released, he said.

Marshak gave a different reason why teachers might not release their results.

“Most (professors) are swamped with 20,000 e-mails with this, that and the other thing, and it just gets overlooked,” he said.

What Wanderman and the Senate said they want to do is make those public results available, even without the instructor’s permission.

Speaking independently of the Senate, Durfee said forcing instructors to release the results probably wouldn’t happen.

“That’s a real long shot,” he said.

Durfee, a professor who already has his results available on One Stop, said it might be better to encourage instructors to release the information instead of forcing them to do it.

Still, Marshak said, he is glad students are working on getting more evaluations on the Web.

“It’s been discussed before, but it seems to me that this is a more-organized effort and has a better chance for success,” he said.

Wanderman said this approach is better than having an outside Web site that does not use official evaluations. With that option, there will not be as many results and they will be heavily polarized – either very good or very bad, he said.

The Minnesota Student Association wants have on the outside Web site, president Tom Zearley said, but only if the Senate’s idea does not work.