by Nicole Balkind | POINT: Publishing course evaluations is the right thing to do.
TuftsReviews.com, the website designed to allow students to speak their mind and research student opinions on Tufts professors, has become a more valuable resource to students on Walnut Hill. Until recently, individual students had to go to the website and write a review on their own time with their own initiative. It was, as could be as expected, not a wild success. As of this semester, initiative and time will not be a factor for TuftsReviews. The administration has allowed the site to publish the numerical results of official course reviews on the website.
This information has long been guarded by academic departments, a behavior that was an unreasonable and unnecessary university policy: The Fletcher School’s professor reviews are released and available in the Ginn Library. The undergraduate schools were slow to release the information, and though the benefits to this change are numerous, some critics have relied on misguided logic when voicing their concerns.
The release of course evaluations will enable students to choose professors that their peers consider effective, engaging and organized. Some opponents fear that with this information, students will avoid less-skilled professors, whose classes will be noticeably empty and more easily identifiable by department heads. These critics fear that the publicity of professors’ performances will result in the lowering of academic standards, as professors will want to be considered “easy” and be popular with their students. This attitude does a disservice to Tufts professors, who are quality academics and strive to maintain the classroom challenge that is one of Tufts’ best qualities. Though they may spout anti-conservative rhetoric at every opportunity, professors will not compromise their curriculum for the sake of popularity. The most popular undergraduate professors on the Hill are the most engaging, but not necessarily the easiest. Sol Gittleman and Jeffrey Taliaferro are both well-known and popular, but Gittleman’s class in Yiddish literature is considered relatively easy, while Taliaferro’s courses on International Relations are considered very challenging. Ultimately, the greater quantity of information now available will have a negligible affect on whether students take easier courses. Those admitted to Tufts are hard workers who are expecting a challenging academic experience. Students who already take the easy road will continue to do so, while those who make the most out of their education will continue to challenge themselves.
Releasing the written comments of the official course reviews is a more contentious step that has not yet been broached. There is, however, no reason why this information should not be available to students. The administration has expressed many concerns about releasing additional information to the student body—an attitude that exemplifies their condescending view of students as immature, inexperienced, and unprepared to hear what their peers think about certain professors. Another concern is that the comments will paint an inaccurate portrayal of professors, because some comments are extremely vicious and inappropriate for publication. Nasty comments about Tufts professors, if published on a public website like TuftsReviews, could pose a PR problem for the University. This makes them better suited for a site like WebCenter, which requires a student login ID, but nevertheless publishable. The University’s first priority must be the welfare of its students, and the administration must release all the course evaluation comments in addition to the already-released numerical data—to do anything less is censorship.
Student evaluations must be as potent as possible because they are the only way students can voice their opinions about specific problems with the quality of their education. The channels that the University expects students to use are unrealistic and self-defeating. According to the official process, a student with concerns about a class or professor must speak to that professor directly first and a dean second. Throughout this process, the professor of the class in question has power over the student’s final grade and the ability to confront them both during and after class. This procedure is extremely biased toward the faculty’s interests and does nothing to protect the students. It is essential that all student opinion data on courses be released—the administration must take this measure if they are truly committed to the quality of a Tufts education. The free exchange and debate of ideas is the cornerstone of academics, but on the Hill, students’ expression is stifled. The fact that the University has directly acted to prevent this, despite the small cost in time or money, demonstrates that their priorities lie with the faculty’s needs rather than with the reason Tufts even exists: its students.
The release of course evaluation numerical data is long overdue, and there is no reason why information about the quality of instruction in Tufts classes cannot be released as well. Any refusal to do this suggests that there is something to hide. Tufts’ motto, Pax et Lux, means “Truth and Light:” Tufts should take its own advice and shed some light on course evaluations.
Mrs. Balkind is a senior majoring in International Relations and Russian and East European Studies.