MSA wants evaluations to be released

by Tracy Ellingson

Members of the Minnesota Student Association on Tuesday wrapped up their 1996-97 session and their last forum under the Helen Phin and Eric Hanson administration in near complete agreement.
In a business-as-usual meeting, MSA representatives almost unanimously approved a mission statement requesting that the University allow student access to professor evaluations. The statement was drafted by a task force made up of members from the University’s Student Senate Committee on Educational Policy.
“A lot of people are talking about this,” said Joe Skupniewitz, a member of the task force. “It looks like if we can get enough student support of this, we really stand a chance of (making it happen),” he added.
Although student access to professor evaluations has been discussed in the past, this year’s student senate members have made the issue a high priority and one that will likely carry over into next year, if necessary.
MSA President-elect Jigar Madia, who is the current speaker of the Forum, and Vice President-elect Bridgette Murphy, during the campaign touted making professor evaluations available to students as one of several goals for their administration.
“It’s just a matter of building a consensus between the faculty and the administration,” Madia said.
But one of the obstacles in making professor evaluations available to students is the Minnesota Data Practices Act. The act ensures that all personnel information gathered by government agencies, including the University, is kept private.
The law makes it impossible for students to gain access to professor evaluations without their consent, something the task force learned earlier this year.
Kevin Pomasl, a member of the task force, led an effort at the Capitol to lobby legislators to change the act and allow evaluations to be viewed via the World Wide Web, but the group’s efforts failed.
Although a few legislators helped with the effort by introducing a bill that would change the act, the bill was stopped and sent to a committee that will review it later this year.
One of the reasons the bill stalled was because of differing views about the issue. Some students felt the issue should be handled voluntarily by University professors. Others, such as Pomasl, say the release of evaluations should be mandated by law.
“There was just too much conflict,” said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, who will chair the review committee. “If there’s clearly a consensus on what needs to be done, then the committee is more likely to move on it.”
Pomasl said the task force’s statement is a step in the right direction, although he had hoped there could have been a stronger push to make access mandatory.
“(The statement) doesn’t say a whole lot,” Pomasl said, explaining that many professors wouldn’t respond when given the choice to submit their evaluations. “It’s just a big paragraph with a lot of intent.”