Senate Assembly members voiced overwhelming support for a proposal floated last week to increase the number of classes scheduled on Fridays. The straw poll — which isn’t binding — was conducted at Monday’s meeting of the Senate Assembly.
Classical Studies Prof. David Potter, chair of the body’s Student Relations Advisory Committee, said the committee has discussed the possibility of increasing the number of Friday morning classes in response to excessive alcohol consumption among students.
“The number of lecture classes for first- and second-year classes that occur with a Friday section have declined significantly in the course of the last couple of years which has really led to a much more intensive culture of student drinking on what is now known as ‘thirsty Thursday,’ ” Potter said.
The issue was first raised at a Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting last week, and was brought to the full Senate Assembly on Monday.
In an interview last week with The Michigan Daily, University Provost Martha Pollack said she supported the idea of having more classes on Fridays, and noted that schools and colleges are already encouraged to hold 15 percent of their classes on that day.
Specifically, the committee suggested the central administration mandate 100- and 200-level courses with 10 sections or more have a required lecture on Friday.
Potter said while the decision to hold more Friday classes will not alleviate dangerous campus drinking entirely, it is a step in the right direction.
“We’re not talking about something that is going to change the entire culture of the University overnight, nor are we suggesting that the majority of our students aren’t extremely serious,” he said. “What we are suggesting is that there has been an upsurge in alcohol-related issues and that if Friday becomes a regular school day … the issue of drinking will decline.”
SACUA chair Silke-Maria Weineck, professor of comparative literature, said University officials have expressed support for the proposal, but would prefer the initiative be driven by faculty, not the central administration.
“The administration has signaled to us that they would be very open to such a suggestion coming from the faculty, but they don’t want to be the ones introducing it because it would, of course, require that quite a few of us actually show up on Friday to teach classes,” Weineck said.
Weineck also proposed offering some sort of incentives for departments willing to have more classes on Fridays, especially those with large introductory courses.
“We haven’t discussed this in any detail but maybe the University could offer some incentives for departments willing to do that,” she said. “If you have the Econ 101 and Psych 101 as a required lecture on Friday morning, you take out a lot of drinking.”
Senate Assembly discusses release of student data
The issue of whether or not to publicly release student course evaluations also generated debate among members of the Senate Assembly.
Biology Prof. John Lehman, a SACUA member, said that last November, Pollack, the University provost, asked the University’s Academic Affairs Advisory Committee to consider the release of numerical responses in student course evaluations to the following four prompts: overall this is an excellent course, overall the instructor was an excellent teacher, I learned a great deal from this course and I had a strong desire to take this course.
Lehman said he presented the proposal to the Senate Assembly and conducted a straw poll among members of the assembly that same month. Among those who responded — which was about half of the assembly — close to 60 percent supported releasing the scores.
In their April meeting, Lehman said, AAAC members discussed creating alternatives to two of the four prompts — overall this was an excellent course and overall the instructor was an excellent teacher — because of concerns that they were based on popularity, not student-learning objectives.
According to Lehman, Pollack said she would ask the Center on Research for Learning and Teaching to formulate new questions. However, Lehman said as of SACUA’s Sept. 11 meeting with Pollack, those questions hadn’t been generated yet.
Lehman said student representatives at the AAAC meeting said they want the evaluations made public to help answer questions such as which professor they should select for courses taught by multiple people and the difficulty of the course.
“We need to take notice of the fact that student faculty governance has unanimously called for the release of this information, they’ve transmitted all of this to the provost and met with the provost,” Lehman said. “It certainly seems to me speaking with her that she’s receptive to this.”
Weineck, the SACUA chair, presented several caveats to releasing course evaluations to the assembly, such as that faculty might teach to the evaluation, the evaluations might hurt junior faculty seeking tenure, race and ethnicity courses tend to score lower in evaluations because the course content is uncomfortable and data shows students treat female faculty and faculty of color differently in evaluations.
Comparative Literature Prof. Catherine Brown said reworking the course evaluations so that students actually care about the results could boost response rates and make the evaluations a better student tool.
“The percentage of people that respond to the evaluations is tremendously low,” she said. “So my concern would be that folks would be making their decisions based on extraordinarily low response rates.”
In a straw poll, the assembly voted to bring the issue of releasing student evaluations to the faculty as a whole during the next Senate Assembly meeting on October 19.