The Other Side of the Boycotts - A Response to Our Dear Friend Alex
(Disclaimer: this is not an official WT position. This is a response to the opinion discussed below.)
As I’m sure you know, the SGA recently proposed a boycott of course evaluations. And for the first time in a long time, students actually feel inclined to care about something their student government is doing. I mean, whether or not you care, you can’t deny the fact that this issue has raised some controversy. So here’s what I think.
Having access to course evaluations would be invaluable. As it is, we spend 15 minutes for every class filling out evaluations, and then that information is never made available for us to use. Yes, ratemyprofessor is helpful, but can you imagine how great it would be to have access to even more reviews? That aren’t just rants from angry students? That actually show what many different students think beyond “he plays a mean piano” or “so-and-so rocks”?
I firmly believe that the professor makes or breaks the class. I don’t care what the department is, what level class it is, anything – it’s all in the professor. And yes, some profs here at UVM are great! I think I maybe had one of those last year. But some are not. As class sizes continue to increase, those of us who are stuck still taking intros (I’ve got two majors I’ve barely started) need to know which profs are the great ones. Which ones are going to put in the extra effort to try to get to know each of their hundred students? Which ones are going to hand off all the work to one of their 12 TAs? Which ones will be worth the effort? If I’m going to put in a few hundred hours of work for a class, I want the professor to meet me halfway. I’ll do the learning, but s/he has to be willing to do the teaching, and do it well.
Earlier this semester I was having problems with some of my professors. I don’t like paying $40,000/year to sit in a 200 person lecture hall where the prof mumbles things up front for 50 minutes and I learn less than what I could have from the textbook. I was discussing this with a woman on the administrative staff, and she said that professors at UVM are selected for a few different qualifications, but mostly it is those who are well published and well known in their field. Sounds like exactly what we want, right? Right. Well, she went on to point out that it’s usually just assumed that those skills in a field will translate into skills in the classroom, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you get fantastic teachers who only do a little bit of research. Or you get fantastic preeminent leaders of a discipline who have few people skills and aren’t all that great at teaching.
So my point is that no, I don’t trust the university to select the professors that are best able to teach me the information. Just because they know a lot about a topic doesn’t mean they know how to teach it to us. Just because they know a lot about a topic doesn’t mean they want to teach it to us.
Becoming a premier research institution has very clear costs for students. Access to course evaluations would be a very effective way to make sure we don’t get lost in the numbers.
There is the argument that students would simply choose easy classes. Forgo the ones with bad evaluations for easy bullshit ones. But come on, can you have any less faith in our student body? If a class is hard, but worth it, students will write that in their evaluations. You’ll be able to see which classes were the “I learned a TON even though it was hard” classes, and you will take them. Yes, you will get the slackers who aren’t going to learn anything no matter what class they’re in, but you’ll also get the students who would like the challenge. Access to that information will simply allow us to plan more effectively. Maybe there are 4 super hard classes I want to take, but now I can see that they’re going to be super hard and I can spread them out over a couple semesters. Maybe I have another time commitment this semester and I want to take a lighter load. I am the one who’s taking the classes, I am the one who’s paying for the classes, and I am the one who has the right to choose (with the help of as many student evaluations as possible) the classes that will be the best for me at that time.
So really, what is more relevant to you, as a college student, than the quality of your education? You can propose boycotts on all sorts of other things, but this is something we all have in common. This is something we’re all in together. And if the SGA just wants to draw attention to themselves, so be it. It’s working, isn’t it? Are they not finally getting students to care about something they’re doing? Usually when they ask for student opinions on their actions, no one even notices. Now they’re getting more student opinions than ever before. Your comments, no matter which side you’re on, are more helpful than the usual silent resentment students feel. You can say boycotts aren’t the way to go about this, but if the goal was to raise awareness, you can’t argue that they haven’t worked.
And teachers will still get their feedback if the evals are posted online. They’ll be able to respond to it and change their teaching style according to evaluations. If they’re successful, then the evaluations we see should improve with time. If they choose not to make any changes, then we’ll be forewarned.
The bottom line is that we’re paying for this. I firmly believe that somewhere in my $40,000 tuition, I have a right to this information. It would sure as hell be helpful, anyway. It’s time we take a small sliver of our huge ass tuition and put it towards something that would truly benefit students.
Standing strong and supporting the boycotts,
Surprise! the SGA does something people notice!
(Disclaimer: this is not an official WT position. This is an editorial that will only print on this blog. There will be more, perhaps differently opinionated WT coverage to come.)
In lieu of taking visible, public action about things of actual importance (did the school budget that was so vehemently debated a couple years ago suddenly stop being an issue?) the SGA is suggesting a boycott. Of what you ask? Of Killer Coke? of plastic water bottles? of uggs?? No.
They are suggesting we boycott course evaluations.
To this i’d like to say: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!
Has there ever been anything more unworthy of a boycott in the history of boycotts? …Businesses that followed racial segregation in the south! Corporations that exploit child labor! Prof. Smith’s performance in Fall 2010! It goes together right?
And if you think that the mystifying idea would be cleared up in the subsequent email — perhaps the SGA is leveraging against the admin, throwing a wrench into the system in order to put pressure on them for…something…anything productive… — the email describing the reasons for the boycott fails to make the situation any less absurd.
Am I missing something? Isn’t the way a university works that you take the classes in the subject that wish to pursue and trust the school to teach it to you — not to take whatever course you perceive to have the best teacher? And what kind of college student will willingly take a class that they know has higher marks for amount of work required? Isn’t the point of college to push ourselves academically, to take chances, take on new challenges? Not choose classes based on which ones are easiest/the least work? Because that’s absolutely what it’s going to come down to. Nobody would really care about the rest of the data. Just being realistic here. Some of the best classes I’ve taken here were ones that I know for a fact people in my classes gave awful evals for because they were difficult. I didn’t even get great grades in them. Had I seen quant data beforehand I probably would have not taken them for the sake of my GPA. But I learned a ton from them, and I don’t regret a thing.
This may be a cynical approach but seriously, do we trust ourselves more than the department heads that do the hiring and firing, and are experts in their fields? The school is giving us a service in return for a fee. It’s not representational. If there’s a serious problem with a teacher, students should go to the proper authority, not your peers. It happens all the time. And is word of mouth and social media not enough to get a grasp on profs? Who really goes into a class not knowing what they are getting into — if they so desire information ahead of time all they have to do is ask around. That also happens all the time.
Honestly, I applaud the (usually impotent) SGA for doing something noticeable, I just wish it was something more worthwhile. This smacks of them trying desperately to matter to a student population that doesn’t care about them at all. Someone in the senate actually said at the meeting “What better PR for SGA than to actually get this out, to have SGA be leading this and have it in The Cynic, if it reaches that point.” Glad they have the students in mind and not themselves.
PS I love that in the resolution the first statement is “whereas the overwhelming majority of the student body desires to see the results of evals” i know the polling data supports it by a 93/7 split, but does anybody really know/care about this at all outside SGA? The poll question they used was the definition of “loaded.” The amount of dissent on the boycott facebook page supports that loud and clear. Speaker Chevrier said it best in the recent SGA discussion: “Rate my professor does exist, but some of the classes when I looked at the course catalog, some of the classes don’t even have that one sentence blurb, it was just empty for some of them. To me that’s much more of a pertinent issue. I would like to see, I understand we can’t boycott something that’s symbolic of needing syllabi, but I would go so far as to say that that’s more important, at least to me and the kids that I’ve talked to.”
All that said, I wouldn’t mind having the evals published. I’m just skeptical of the money and time necessary to create the infrastructure. Even if they successfully won over the Faculty Senate, who the hell is going to take on this project? If it costs me an extra cent I am NOT DOWN.