This afternoon, at 1:15 pm in Jerome Green Hall, the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) will bring a ground-breaking resolution to the Senate floor: public course evaluations. Well… ground-breaking for Columbia. Resident Know-It-Most Sarah Ngu brings us up to speed on what this means and why it could be a BFD.

Why don’t we already publicize online course evaluations?

We used to. Up until 1994, Columbia published a course catalog with course evaluations, but it seems to have “gone out of business” as they were sold to students. See photos of evaluations of past course guides. As it stands, the Business, Journalism, SIPA and Law Schools all have public course evaluations; Harvard, Yale and Princeton have had open course evaluations for several years now.

Isn’t CULPA enough?

CULPA draws polarizing views, but this issue is beyond course evaluations.

“It’s about effecting the beginning of a culture change, a culture of openness and transparency. It brings faculty and students closer. There’s mutual accountability,” Frouman says.

“One of the problems with closed systems is that students don’t feel their opinion matters and have no idea where this is going to. Opening it will make students take it more seriously, response rates will go up—these things benefit faculty as well,” Sara Snedeker, BC ’12, co-chair of the course evaluations subcommittee.

“This is also a great opportunity for the University to examine the evaluation process in general and make sure that we’re asking the questions we need to be asking,” Ryan Turner, SEAS Grad ’12, co-chair of the same committee.

So… what’s this Senate thing?

Formed after the riots of the ‘60s, the Senate is a representative body of the entire university, including faculty, administrators and students. Bringing this resolution to the floor forces it on to the Senate’s discussion agenda. The actual voting will most likely occur on April 27th (the entire Senate convenes monthly). If the resolution does pass, it doesn’t make publicizing evaluations compulsory for all schools, but it encourages schools to do so with the expectation that they will implement it with consideration of each school’s needs. The Senate is comprised of around 60% faculty, so their resolutions will hold weight with the rest of the faculty.

The details of the resolution

The resolution will be refined in the next few months, but here is what it recommends:

  • Publicizing selective quantitative results, such as workload and value of the course, and at least one qualitative question (“Would you recommend this class?”)
  • There will be a grace period of two semesters for junior faculty who just started teaching
  • Open course evaluations would not apply to graduate students who teach classes, but they can opt-in
  • Syncing with SSOL and/or Directory of classes
  • Aggregating statistics of faculty over time

Who is for it?

President Bollinger, Provost Coatsworth, Dean Valentini, and professors like Richard Pious, Susan Elmes, etc…

Support this?

Then sign this support-statement. And show up to the Senate meeting today.

Some professors have resisted this for numerous reasons: privacy issues, concern it’ll turn into popularity contests, and pressure to ease up on the workload.

“If the students don’t show the teachers how important it is, it’s not going to happen,” Alex Frouman, chair of SAC.