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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Faculty committee seeks to limit Course Evaluation access

Photo by Jen-Feng Liu for The Lafayette
Some Student Government members drafted a resolution in response to the Faculty Teaching & Learning Committee’s proposal.

The Faculty Teaching & Learning Committee is looking to limit access to student course evaluation data. 

If approved, the student evaluations will be accessible only to the instructor, department heads and promotion-tenure review chairs. These potential changes were presented by economics professor Christopher Ruebeck, the chair of the Teaching & Learning Committee, at last week’s Student Government General Body meeting.

The proposal was mainly credited to increased faculty support for making evaluation data more private to professors. Restricting data from students, according to Ruebeck, would lessen competition among faculty.

“We’re truly thinking about students and faculty,” Ruebeck said. “So we can first think of a kind of privacy. How would students feel if every student on campus could look at every student’s grades?”

The Teaching & Learning Committee also pointed to bias in course evaluation data, which often discriminates against underrepresented groups. The course evaluation introduction page urges students to “make an effort to resist stereotypes about professors.”

As Lafayette seeks to increase faculty diversity, many professors of color are new to the college and ultimately untenured. Ruebeck said that the competition among untenured professors alongside the potential for negative public reviews often lowers morale.

“It’s those new faculty that also face the most pressure because of the tenure decision that comes eventually, and visiting faculty as well face that pressure,” Ruebeck said. “It’s of interest to think about the work environment from the faculty’s perspective.”

Similarly, members of the committee pointed out that fear of low ratings may lead to less risk-taking in a classroom environment. Professors may use a more basic teaching approach instead of utilizing evidence-based teaching practices that have the potential to create exciting classroom experiences.

“The current practice has been tied to feelings of a negative work environment, marginalization, and the creation of power differentials,” committee member and engineering professor Lindsay Soh wrote in an email. “Additionally, the scores, and the need to keep up appearances, may lead to taking fewer risks in the classroom and stifling of teaching innovation.” 

The committee released study results at the Student Government meeting, which surveyed similar colleges and their policies for showing evaluation scores. Of the 14 schools surveyed, only American University and Fordham University released data to students. Similar liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Bates and Colgate do not release data to students.

If the proposal is passed, many professors and students are looking to find new ways that students can preview what a course is like prior to registration.

“We’re working with students to think about how to help students make their choices. There’s information available in syllabi, and you can request that from a professor pretty easily,” Ruebeck said. “We’re aware that students talk to each other and talk to their advisors as well about courses and what the course might involve.”

Soh mentioned that an open-minded approach and being aware of the course material improve the learning experience.

“I believe that a student should want to take a course because they are interested in the topical material and content of the class.  The instructor is the facilitator; if a student has preconceived notions that would inhibit their learning from that instructor, I believe that this bias is detrimental to both the student and the class dynamic,” Soh wrote.

Despite many faculty members praising the proposal, some Student Government members don’t agree with it.

“It’s really helpful to have the course evaluations available to students. It’s a good resource to have when you’re choosing courses or deciding what professors you want to have,” Student Government Representative Yuko Tanaka ‘26 said. “It’s definitely a resource the college should keep open to students.”

On Tuesday, four members of the Student Government drafted a resolution in response to the Teaching & Learning Committee’s proposal. If passed, the resolution will be given to the faculty, which is set to vote on the Teaching & Learning Committee’s proposal at its May 18 meeting. 

The group concluded that there should be a more amenable solution than simply cutting Course Evaluation access. Several recommendations for altering the proposal include requesting that the administration not block availability to students until a better solution is reached.

The resolution supported ensuring that the bias disclaimer is visible when viewing course evaluation data and requested that questions on the evaluation form be adjusted to make reading evaluations fairer.

“We invite any feedback at the next General Body meeting, for anyone who cares,” Student Government Parliamentarian Trebor Maitin ’24, a sponsor of the draft resolution, said. “Resolutions are the opinion of the Student Government and representative of the student body. We especially want student feedback on the Course Evaluations.”

The resolution will be reviewed by the Teaching & Learning Committee over the next week and is set to be voted on at the May 4 Student Government General Body meeting.

The administration will discuss these changes in the coming weeks and ultimately will be decided on by the Office of the Provost.

Disclaimer: Managing Editor Trebor Maitin ‘24 did not contribute writing or reporting.

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About the Contributors
Andreas Pelekis, News Editor
Jen-Feng Liu
Jen-Feng Liu, Staff Photographer

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