As we rapidly approach the University’s bicentennial, Central Student Government is taking the chance to look back at the historically significant changes that University students have inspired in higher education for our country over the years. One of those major changes was the collection and release of course evaluation data.
The history of course evaluations at the University is undeniable. Course evaluations were established for students, by students, in 1969. Anyone who indicates otherwise is spreading a false narrative.
What’s more, Prof. Tim McKay provided members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, and subsequently CSG, with a 1969 student viewpoint in The Michigan Daily that clearly explains the true history of course evaluations. Students, with the University’s support, established the Association for Course Evaluation, which offered students access to course evaluation data and counseling to help their peers obtain a reliable student perspective on courses in their selection process.
After seeing the success of the ACE office, every single department in LSA — then referred to as the Literary College — requested copies of the results, which were then used for promotion and tenure decisions. Individual professors also began approaching the ACE office hoping to obtain the student feedback for their own benefit, and their graduate student instructors’ benefit. The history here is unquestionable; students brought this service and offered it for the betterment of all, and now students are unable to access that very service.
On Oct. 26, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs voted to continue denying students access to course evaluation data, in a shortsighted and disappointing decision that does not reflect the original purpose of course evaluations. Instead, they have attempted to indefinitely postpone student access to this data by calling for a new instrument with no clear timeline. While we appreciate the Faculty Senate’s willingness to collaborate moving forward, this vote represents a roadblock to ensuring informed academic decision-making by students.
The University currently stands at odds with its peer institutions because it doesn’t provide course evaluation data to its students. Harvard University; Yale University; Princeton University; the University of California, Berkeley; Pennsylvania State University; University of Virginia; New York University; Stanford University; the University of Chicago; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; California Institute of Technology; Columbia University; Duke University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and countless other institutions are all successfully providing their students with course evaluation data, while our own administration is not. Once leaders in course evaluation, the University has since fallen far behind our country’s other top schools.
The CSG Executive Board has never wanted this to be a battle between professors and students, and we have worked hard to make that abundantly clear. Our goal is to share the true narrative surrounding course evaluation data and its historical significance, which clarifies why we have course evaluation data in the first place.
We are focused on ensuring that students ultimately have access to course evaluation data. The current evaluation instrument certainly has room for improvement, and the CSG Executive Board will readily participate in the proposed University-wide committee to review the current evaluation instrument. However, we will not accept an outcome that does not give students access to the data that was, without question, originally collected to support students’ course selection decisions. That being said, it’s also unrealistic for us to enter a course evaluation review process and expect that a radically different instrument will somehow satisfy all involved.
For that reason, we will stand resolute in ensuring full student access to course evaluation data by the time of course selection for Fall 2016 courses, whether it is provided by the University or a student organization.
We fully recognize the role that students must play in this. Ever since the school transitioned from paper to electronic course evaluations, student feedback has dropped notably. Even still, according to a report given to SACUA ahead of their vote, the decline in response rates has had no statistically significant impact on the evaluations. That being said, it’s important to note that course evaluation data will only be helpful for future students and faculty if current students take it seriously, but it is equally important to recognize that students need to be incentivized to take course evaluations seriously.
What incentivizes students to legitimately care about and be invested in course evaluations today? Currently, nothing tangible. What would incentivize students to do so? Giving class time for students to fill them out or requiring students to fill out their course evaluations before they receive access to the data are two options. These are solutions that CSG is ready to support, but using statistically insignificant decreases in student participation in course evaluations to argue against their release is disingenuous.
Moving forward, CSG President Cooper Charlton will be meeting with representatives of SACUA and University administrators to discuss our next steps regarding course evaluation data this week. At the meeting on Wednesday evening, we will maintain our commitment to the release of course evaluation data to the students of the University, signifying a return to the original purpose of course evaluations. Additionally, we will call for the University to release the data to students through academic advisors for the current course selection period, and for full access to the data by the selection period for the fall of 2016.
CSG President Cooper Charlton, Anushka Sarkar, CSG chief programming officer, and Sean Pitt, CSG chief of staff, on behalf of the CSG Executive Board. If you are interested in joining the conversation, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.