To the Editors of The Crimson:
If I were considering taking a particular introductory course and if I read in the Confi Guide that the course lectures were "incomprehensible to those without previous training," it is unlikely that I would give further thought to taking that course. How unfortunate it would be if that claim turned out to be entirely inaccurate. Such a description was given the lectures in Phil 8 by this year's Guide, and it is the belief that that description is inaccurate that prompts this letter...
First, as a general observation, I think that your sampling techniques, whatever they are, should be revised to yield a more representative sample of student opinion. Second, your sampling procedures should be explained in a preface to the Guide, so that its users can assess the degree of confidence they should place in its findings. This past year the Committee on Undergraduate Education evaluated 36 courses using a computer-tabulated questionnaire that was distributed in the courses evaluated, thus insuring a valid sample. On a numerical scale of one to five representing the gamuts clear--muddled, dull-lively, and thought provoking--pedantic, Phil 8 scored respectively 1,9,3,7, and 1.8. In each case Phil 8 was higher than the average of those courses evaluated. Given that the course had an enrollment of 44.5 per cent freshmen and very few students with any previous preparation in philosophy, the CUE evaluation results are just plainly incommensurable and irreconcilable with the reported results of the Confi Guide poll. Given the additional fact that the CUE sampled 98 per cent of those enrolled (though the response rate was 91 per cent of those polled, or 89 per cent of those enrolled), the hypothesis that most strongly suggests itself is that the Confi Guide sample was sharply distorted. One wonders whether the Guide's poll is as inaccurate in other courses.
The CUE results were also incompatible with the Confi Guide's characterization of most Phil 8 sections as "lackluster."...
It should be mentioned that the subjective questionnaires were consonant with the CUE results in their evaluation of the quality of lectures. I phoned The Crimson on three occasions last spring and summer offering them the use of those questionnaires in the Confi Guide's evaluation, but the offer was not accepted. I also suggested that the CUE results (then in Dean Kiley's office) be examined. Apparently they were not.
The second paragraph of the Guide's evaluation claims that the instructor in Phil 8 had planned for a small group of freshmen considering philosophy as a concentration and more than several philosophy concentrators thoroughly acquainted with the course material and method. That's just false, and it seems silly to impute intentions to others in such a context without querying them regarding those intentions. In fact, I expected no concentrators to take the course and I intended the course for students who had had no previous acquaintance with philosophy at all...
Inaccuracies such as the above could be eliminated from the final draft of an evaluation by checking that evaluation with the course instructor. Also instructors should be questioned with respect to the changes they anticipate making in the course in response to student sentiment. Phil 8 this year will be different in a number of respects from the course offered last year, but readers of the Guide have been led to assume that it will not. By failing to determine what changes are to be made in a course, you miss the opportunity to make the Guide as informative as it might otherwise be.
In addition, the general narrative through which departments are introduced to the reader should be checked with a representative of the department under discussion in order to eliminate factual inaccuracies. For example, the final three paragraphs in this year's discussion of the Philosophy Department have been lifted verbatim from last year's Guide. The first two of those paragraphs were inaccurate last year, and the passage of time has only compounded that inaccuracy. A Philosophy Department representative could have pointed out that tutorials in philosophy now deal entirely with historical texts and that the Department now has two survey courses in the history of modern philosophy. More survey courses are planned for the future.
I think that the Confi Guide is a potentially useful aid to undergraduates. I hope that its potential can be better realized. Michael Hooker, Chm., Bd. of Tutors Department of Philosophy
The editors of the Confi Guide regret this error and urge students who might be interested in Philosophy 8 to visit it today or Monday at 11 a.m.