Yesterday, the USenate held a two-hour townhall on “Open Course Evaluations” in the Law School. Around 40 people attended, including a fair number of students.  The details of the proposal can be found here: the basic gist is that the primarily quantitative data will be released online, with at least one qualitative question, “Would you recommend this course to your peers and why?”

Here is the breakdown of the arguments made for and against the SAC’s proposal of open course evaluations:

Pros Cons
1.      Transparency: Open course evals promotes a culture of transparency and openness in evaluation process 1.      Transparency for whom? If you want transparency and accountability, it should be mutual. The names of students should also be publicized.
2.      Better shopping guide: Open course evals provide students with “critical academic guidance” especially in regards to class shopping as there is no real “shopping period” 2. Students should not be “shopping  consumers”: Education should not be treated as a commodity that you consume and review like you do on Yelp
3.      OCE > CULPA: It’s better than CULPA which is overly polarized and has less representation 3. Who cares about CULPA? CULPA’s biased, but professors don’t really care because its reviews are not “sanctioned” by the University.
4.      The question is: What’s less biased? To address concerns of bias, professors would be able to “flag” comments and an administrator would moderate them. Additionally, bias is systemic in society and inescapable, and the alternative is CULPA which is much biased anyways (see pt 3). 4.      Legitimized bias: There are studies that demonstrate systemic gender and racial bias in course evaluations (i.e. Asian American instructors are deemed less credible than white ones). Publicizing them, especially under the University’s sanction, would reinforce biased perceptions.
5. Don’t be paranoid: To address privacy concerns, the system would require a UNI-log-in. Right now, Courseworks requires a UNI-log-in but no one is scared about the “press” discovering posts by students or professors on discussion boards. 5.      Too public: Putting them on the internet, even if it’s blocked by a UNI-log-in process, is too public, and the press can get wind of it, infringing upon professor’s academic freedom (a professor who teaches on the Middle East stated that public course evals would force him/her to self-censor).
6.  Better evaluations: Students will have more incentive to fill out higher-quality evaluations since they know they are writing for the community. 6. Not trustworthy: Students tend to be more exaggerated and extreme if given a public, anonymous forum (see: Obarnard).
7.      Why we behind? Most Ivies already do this; the Business, Journalism. Law and SIPA schools publish most evaluations; CC used to before the early ‘90s. 7. Who cares? “If Harvard burnt itself down, we wouldn’t burn ourselves down” – Professor Bette Gordon.


One thing agreed upon was that students were dissatisfied with the limited information they have about professors and classes before making a choice, and alternatives were brainstormed.

Professors who voiced concerns about the SAC’s proposal for open evaluations include: Marilyn Ivy (Anthro), Bette Gordon (Arts), Tom Panayotidi (Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics), Rosalind Morris (Anthro), Carlos Alonso (Dean of GSAS), Rebecca Young (Women & Gender Studies, BC), Jean Cohen (Political Science).