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Town Hall on Open Course Evals

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).

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  • CULPA says:

    @CULPA Please stop perpetuating the belief that “CULPA is overly polarized.” It is untrue. See

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Seriously, where do we get the idea that OCE is “less biased”? Since nobody has actually *read* the damn reviews, that’s pure speculation.

      Well done, Bwog.

      1. sarah says:

        @sarah That’s the claim made by the SAC: since more people fill out Course Evals, they are more representative of student opinion than the few that write CULPA reviews.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “a professor who teaches on the Middle East stated that public course evals would force him/her to self-censor”

    Excuse me, but we live in a country where said professor faces absolutely no risk of legal persecution based on his/ her political views, because we have the right to free speech. Therefore, this professor simply does not want to put his/ her own name on his/ her opinions. I think there are some SERIOUS problems if professors say things in class that they want to make sure no one hears but their students.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Cough cough Fox News camera crews every day cough cough

    2. Well says:

      @Well If a professor who does not yet have tenure becomes the target of media bullshit, bad things could happen.

    3. Wow says:

      @Wow You obviously are not a Middle East Studies student. Professors have their tenure bids, here and at other universities, revoked/rejected if Fox News, conservative board members, etc. dislike single comments made by professors in class, taken out of context and misunderstood. A brilliant, controversial question asked in an 8000 level seminar to provoke discussion taken out of context, and surrounded by the comments of a disgruntled student, can/could cause real trouble for professors simply trying to stretch their students’ minds.

      1. Ummm... says:

        @Ummm... What, may I ask, is stopping these students from quoting that question on culpa, a public, not-UNI-protected webpage? We’re not discussing letting FoxNews reporters sit in on classes here.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Free speech? Sure. But they will also end up on a terror watch list and be spied on by the government.

  • Shamus Khan says:

    @Shamus Khan So… I teach at CU. And I just want to point out that course evaluations aren’t really great predictors of what you’ll learn in a class (that said, I post all mine online — the good and the bad). But back to the point: want to read more econ? Check out this paper:

    The short version is that course evaluations are related to current and expected grades, but not to learning. And as Bwog notes, other research has shown that evaluations are positively correlated with teacher attractiveness, not being foreign born, and being a man. So… if you’re looking for something that will predict what you’ll learn in a class, course evaluations won’t help you much. Now… you may want course evaluations to tell you what classes you can expect higher grades in. Or you might rather look at a pretty person while taking a class. But most of us have pictures online somewhere.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Maybe that’s true some of the time, but the fact is that I have found culpa reviews invaluable in choosing my courses and I think open course evaluations could only add to that. Personally I have written some pretty nasty reviews of professors who have given me As (and aren’t unattractive I guess, although I don’t really see that as related), because just because I did well in the end doesn’t mean they’re not terrible professors. Similarly, I have given balanced reviews of professors and classes in which I did not do so well. I can’t say I’ve given a completely positive review of a class I did poorly in, but that’s because I’ve never gotten less than an A- in a class I enjoyed (a good professor can really make the difference in what you learn and how hard you work…). I have given reviews for classes I didn’t do well in which explain that I rather liked the professor, but did not enjoy the class, which I think is very valuable resource for future students because if someone had explained to me that the course description was inaccurate and that it was designed more for students with different interests from my own, I might have thought better of taking it.

      Yes, there will always be people who write bad reviews and evaluations of all calculus professors because they simply aren’t good at calculus and can’t get a good grade in it. But I don’t think I’m a rare exception in the sense that I am fully capable of separating the impact of the professor on my learning experience from the grade I received in the end through a mixture of the professor’s influence and my own work ethic and abilities.

      1. agreed says:

        @agreed I had Turro for orgo 1 last year. Though I received an A, it was ultimately the worst class I’ve ever taken. This is not my review, but read it and the amount of “agrees” it has received.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous More people fill out course evals than write Culpa reviews so OCEs should be more representative.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “Students should not be “shopping consumers”: Education should not be treated as a commodity that you consume and review like you do on Yelp”.

    Strongly disagree. Education is already a commodity by virtue of being exchanged for money. Students have to pay a lot for education in this country, and they cannot be blamed for wanting to get the most valuable/best experience in exchange. People take on loans and come out of college indebted to various degrees, so shouldn’t it at least have been worth it?

    1. cc '14 says:

      @cc '14 completely agree with you anonymous (!) (though I wished it weren’t the case, we have to treat education as a commodity) To add to this argument , take GS for example: they have to pay per classes, i.e. they are explicitly paying for the class (we may not think so because we don’t always see the cost directly going to this). Just sayin’

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous While it would be great to have open course evals, what I would really like would be to have sample syllabi for available for every course.

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