The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
LSA senior Cooper Charlton, Central Student Government president, said Sunday that course evaluation data could be released for student use as early as fall 2016.
The organization has gained the data from a Freedom of Information Act request, Charlton said, but cannot release it until it secures approval from the Provost’s office.
CSG has been advocating for the release of course evaluations since Charlton’s party, Make Michigan, took office this fall. Charlton said two committees led by Sean Pitt, LSA junior and CSG chief of staff, and Anushka Sarkar, LSA junior and CSG chief programming officer, have submitted reports to the office of the Provost regarding the construction of a new course evaluation instrument and a new release policy. If approved, the University of Michigan will release the course evaluation data.
This is the first time CSG has submitted a FOIA request for course evaluations since 2011, according to Pitt. He wrote in an e-mail that the recommendations formed by the committees will be considered by the University in determining what information will be collected and released from course evaluations, and are not directly related to the FOIA request.
In 2011 and prior, the Michigan Student Assembly, now known as CSG, regularly filed Freedom of Information requests to release course evaluation data for a course selection advice site. Pitt said though these efforts have fallen by the wayside in past years, the current assembly’s two committees have put a particular emphasis on obtaining this data again.
However, the push to release the data has sparked concerns on campus, namely from faculty, over potential biases and impact on tenure. In October, the Faculty Senate voted to delay the public access of the numerical evaluation data.
In response to the concerns, CSG exceutives pointed to a report released by the University of Michigan Learning Analytics Task Force, created in 2013 by former Provost Phil Hanlon at request of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. According to the report, there is virtually no correlation between student grades and perceived workload and biases based on gender, race, ethnicity or citizenship status in regard to course evaluations. Chaired by Physics Prof. Tim McKay, director of the LSA Honors Program, the task force was operated for three years and consisted of faculty members from several schools and colleges.
Certain other parameters have also been put in place regarding the effects of the data release for the instructors. Pitt said first-year instructors will not have their evaluation data released publically.
Sarkar and Pitt said their committees are the result of a three-way partnership between the CSG Executive Committee, University Provost Martha Pollock and the Faculty Senate.
“As Cooper and the rest of the Executive Committee have promised, students will now have access to previously unavailable information to improve their course selection process, including evaluation data, by backpacking for the fall of 2016,” Sarkar and Pitt wrote in a joint e-mail.
Pitt also noted that along with the course evaluation data, the University is working on another tool to aid in course selection. The Academic Reporting Toolkit 2.0 is a website that aims to be a one-stop shop for the course selection process. Pitt said the tool will contain information about not only the professors who taught the course and when, but also the students who had previously taken it — including their majors and grades of an average student.
Pitt said CSG executive committee’s push for the release of course evaluations stems from recognizing the high cost of University courses and wanting students to be supplied with as much information as possible when selecting their courses.
“Students are paying thousands of dollars for each and every course that they take here,” Pitt wrote. “Most are taking out major student loans and many are working between classes just to be here. When we recognized how little reliable information there was to help students select the courses that they spend so much time and so many resources on, we knew we had to make a change.”
Pitt said during a CSG meeting last semester that releasing course evaluation data will allow students to form expectations of courses without resorting to third-party sources like the website RateMyProfessors.com. In a later interview, he noted that as an out-of-state student, he and many others have particular interest in accurate course information.
“Each course I take here costs thousands of dollars and I’m spending so much time and energy to be able to be a student here and it’s important that I can take courses that actually contribute to my growth and education,” Pitt said. “I only have two sentences to look at on the course selection website, that doesn’t really give me a basis from which to make a decision.”