With response rates lagging since its course guide went from paper to the Web in spring 2005, the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) turned to the gridiron for help.
With a 50 percent response rate as of Friday, this semester’s campaign to get students to fill out CUE evaluations enlisted a cross-section of undergraduates, including a freshman and a football star, to join the litany of deans, professors, and elected student body representatives who typically lead the way in promoting the CUE.
“Generally we pick students who can reach many of their peers about the importance of filling out the CUE,” said Undergraduate Council (UC) President-elect Ryan A. Petersen ’08. The UC appoints the four student members of the CUE.
This year’s student promoters, including star running back Clifton G. Dawson ’07, were not the first undergraduates to send Harvard-approved messages about the CUE’s merits to the entire student body during reading and exam periods. But they were not from the UC, as has usually been the case.
“I think its good that the CUE guide is seen as important to all students, not just UC reps,” Petersen said.
“This was not my idea,” one of the student writers, Black Students Association Political Action Chair Jay R. Lundy ’09, wrote in an e-mail. “I just said ‘yes’ when requested to write a personalized message that would be sent to the student body.”
Student Affairs Committee (SAC) vice chair for undergraduate education and CUE member Matthew R. Greenfield ’08 said only “a few hours” elapsed between first being invited to write an e-mail and seeing his letter sent out to the student body last Sunday.
Despite the glitzy lineup, however, the strategies do not seem to be working to raise response rates.
Student members of the CUE said their fall semester meetings had focused on the Report on General Education, and not their eponymous guide.
Tracy E. Nowski ’07, a CUE member, said potential plans to stoke student participation for the CUE guide were “never raised in official CUE meetings.”
According to Greenfield, this marked a departure from the norm. In the two semesters before this fall, there was a specific committee dedicated to CUE publicity, he said.
A monetary reward for the House or class with the highest participation rate replaced the posters and table-tent advertisements the CUE distributed in the past.
“The Registrar’s Office has been in charge of all of this,” said Greenfield of the ’06-’07 CUE campaign.
But in an e-mail written to Tom D. Hadfield ’08 and posted to the UC’s e-mail list, Registrar Barry S. Kane wrote that his office was not responsible for the CUE e-mails in question.
“In general,” Kane wrote, “the Registrar’s Office exists for the rather mundane purpose of implementing decisions made by others. We do not create policies, rules, or strategies.”
Kane also wrote that faculty are given the option to have their students complete their evaluations in class, but that none have chosen to do so thus far.
But in the end, Kane wrote, the onus falls upon students regardless of the tactics employed by CUE promoters.
“If evaluations are not completed in meaningful numbers, then ultimately students are deprived of the data that they claim they use to make their course selections.”
Peterson said he thinks another semester of low response rates, which seems to be in the making, will ignite change in coming semesters.
“Difficulties associated with the course evaluations this semester will force faculty and students to rethink how we do the CUE guide and how it can best serve the Harvard community,” he said.
—Staff writer Nicholas A. Ciani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.