Faculty to vote on more accessible course evaluations

Next week, Tufts faculty will be voting on an Educational Policy Committee (EPC) proposal that would make the numerical averages of teacher ratings available online to all students who filled out their evaluations for the previous semester, as well as incoming first-year students, according to EPC Co-Chair and Professor of Mathematics Montserrat Teixidor i Bigas.

The vote will take place at the next faculty meeting for the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering on Oct. 8, according to Teixidor i Bigas. A majority of faculty votes are needed to approve the proposal.

The plan was drafted last semester in an effort to increase transparency regarding professor and course approval ratings, and a plan to move forward was discussed at this past month’s meeting.

“It also includes extending slightly the period during which evaluations can be filled out and making it possible [for a student] to revise his or her evaluations after submissions, during that time period only,” Teixidor i Bigas told the Daily in an email.

According to Anne Mahoney, a lecturer in the Classics Department and Co-Chair of the EPC, the faculty still has to reach an agreement on this prospect. The EPC, however, has already determined a favorable stance, backing the idea that the student body needs additional information about what courses, faculty and workloads are really like.

“Right now, the only real resource that students have to this end is a website like Rate My Professors,” Mahoney said. “And with sites like those, they don’t know who even enrolled in the course or if the ratings are real. This is a problem when students only have so many courses they can take and so much time to take them.”

The committee also hopes that the approved proposal will increase incentive to complete the forms at the end of each semester, since only those who have returned their most recent evaluations will be eligible to view the numbers online.

“I personally hope that if the proposal is approved, students will be encouraged to fill out all of their teaching evaluations and will give more thought to what they write,” Teixidor i Bigas said. “I see as the main benefit to students the fact that faculty are likely to receive more feedback and therefore will be able to use it to improve their teaching. Students will have a more reliable source of information than the ones they use at the moment.”

Mahoney explained that the idea of student-accessible course evaluations had been in the works during the past few semesters but was more difficult due to privacy concerns as well as technological roadblocks.

“We’ve known for many years that it is legitimate policy for students to have ready access to these numbers,” Mahoney said. “It’s always been the general consensus that we wanted to do it, so it’s about time we’ve put [the idea] into practice. I say the sooner the better.”

Mary Richardson Professor of History Ayesha Jalal explained that there are some concerns about the proposal.

“The idea of having some of the evaluations put [online] raised controversy, especially among junior faculty members up for tenure,” Jalal said. “There are obvious privacy concerns.”

According to Mahoney, only the overall numerical one through five ratings for the course will be visible, but not the individual student comments. Mahoney said this was due to the occasionally “inappropriate” responses professors might receive that students would not otherwise want published.

Still, Mahoney said that many students are on board with the idea so far and most agree it will require a trial-and-error period to see the benefits of the change.

“It’s an interesting concept, but part of the reason they use course evaluations is so that the professor has the ability to change the course,” Greta Jochem, a sophomore, said. “So hopefully students wouldn’t let a subjective, negative aspect of the evaluation keep them from taking it. At the same time, I could see it giving teachers an extra push to upgrade their classes.”

Until an agreement is reached next week, Jalal said that the EPC otherwise continues to focus their attention this semester on reframing the World Civilizations core requirement as well as strengthening resources for Tufts’ online courses.