Faculty To Revisit Course Evaluations

Professors will vote again on whether to require evaluations

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will revisit a proposal next month to increase both student and professor participation in course evaluations.

The legislation would require professors to offer evaluations for all courses with five or more students, allow students to rate their courses after final exams instead of before exams, and make grades available earlier to students who participate in evaluations.

If passed, the reforms would take effect this spring.

Two similar proposals failed to gain Faculty support over the past two years, but proponents of the new legislation are hopeful that introducing the measure earlier in the year will give it traction this time around.

German literature professor Judith L. Ryan, a member of the Faculty Council—the 18-member Faculty governing body that moved for the legislation to appear before the full Faculty—said that the proposal addresses some of the drawbacks of the existing evaluation system.

“This way students will be able to comment on a fairly substantial part of the course...the final exam,” she said.

Ryan added that teaching fellows frequently depend on the ratings as part of their resumes.

“If a professor opts out of the evaluation, the TFs working for the professor are unfairly disadvantaged,” she said.

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Theda R. Skocpol has supported these changes as chair of several committees on pedagogy.

“I believe that most faculty at Harvard believe we should be doing this,” she said. “It’s taken for granted at most other institutions.”

But some professors have said that the measures undermine faculty autonomy.

German professor Peter J. Burgard warned last spring that “we should not have a Harvard version of RateMyProfessor.com.”

Logan S. McCarty ’96, an assistant dean of the College and a member of the committee that drafted the most recent legislation, said that no substantive changes have been made to the legislation since it was last considered in May.

Supporters of the proposal are hoping that by introducing the legislation earlier in the year, professors will be more open to its passage.

“Faculty felt they didn’t have enough time to think about it, debate it, and it came up at meetings that had a lot of other items on the agenda,” McCarty said.

William M. Ruben ’10, one of the four student representatives on the committee that drafted the legislation, called the proposal “a better bill this time around.”

—Staff writer Maxwell L. Child can be reached at mchild@fas.harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Alexandra Hiatt can be reached at ahiatt@fas.harvard.edu.