If you were to stroll through any University library prior to the beginning of each course registration period, I bet you would see ratemyprofessor.com — a website that rates and comments on countless professors from higher institutions across the country on criteria from overall quality to easiness of instructor — beaming from many students’ computers. While it shouldn’t be the only resource students use to select an appropriate course, it definitely serves a purpose when debating which professor — or even which graduate student instructor — would best suit an individual’s needs. In my experience, the website is a pretty helpful tool when constructing the ideal schedule.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to use ratemyprofessor.com, read the University’s brief — sometimes very brief — course descriptions, talk with friends and meet with advisors, I always end up changing and modifying my schedule within the first week of classes. My grounds for dropping or switching a class always comes down to one of a few reasons. One, I wasn’t a fan of the professor, or two, my vision of the progression the course and its material was completely wrong. And after seven semesters at the University, you’d think I’d have this process down to a science, but clearly I still struggle with it. However, a recent discussion with a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts institution in New York, introduced me to its course selection process, which could potentially be uniquely beneficial to both students and faculty if implemented here at the University.
Prior to the start of classes at Sarah Lawrence, students are subject to an interview with the professor of each class they wish to enroll in. The interview, as described to me by the faculty member, is a way for the professor to meet the potential student and discuss the course material in greater depth. After this process, students will select the courses that fits their interests. Likewise, faculty members must select the students they desire to enroll in the class. If the selection is mutual, then the student can register for the class.
Though a process similar to this probably wouldn’t be feasible at the University of Michigan if instated for all classes, it still could be productive and beneficial for certain classes and schools within the University. And while it may seem like a grueling and extensive process, it may be one that the University might consider setting up for schools or majors with a smaller enrollment, or even for upper-level seminar classes that are competitive to enroll in and cap at a small number. Some University classes and programs already require some sort of application process, but it isn’t as thorough as the one implemented at Sarah Lawrence.
There are a few reasons why I think the Sarah Lawrence program might be more of a help than a hindrance applied within the University community. First, the students could potentially gain from this experience. Students would be able to learn more about the course requirements, materials and the professor prior to setting foot in a classroom. They would have an opportunity to express their interest and desire in the course topic or realize that the course is no longer right for them. Whatever their reasoning may be, this process would give students the ability to “shop” for classes that they feel will be most beneficial for their growth as students, their educational experiences and even assist their search toward a desired career path.
At the same time, professors and faculty members could benefit from the program as well. Faculty members would be able to choose the students who they think would best succeed and add to the success of the course. Through this required interview process, the faculty members would be able to gauge which students they felt could lead a discussion, contribute individual insight and be productive members of the classroom — creating a stimulating and successful environment for both teachers and students.
While the faculty member from Sarah Lawrence with whom I discussed the program admitted that the process takes up a significant amount of time and energy, she also stressed that she was extremely pleased with the results. And maybe students and faculty members at the University would be too if the process were implemented. Who knows how (or even if) this process could work, but we can’t rule it out until we’ve given it a try.
Laura Veith is a senior editorial page editor.