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Student Launches Website For Feedback on Courses

By Wendy D. Widman, Crimson Staff Writer

The initiator of organized student complaints against the professor of a popular economics class has now set his sights on addressing bad instruction throughout the College.

Aaron J. Greenspan ’05 launched a website—which he has titled “CriticalMass”—last week where students can post complaints and suggestions about the quality and caliber of teaching at Harvard, in an effort to synthesize student voices into a plan for improving instruction.

To promote the website, Greenspan has been advertising it on various House e-mail lists.

“Basically, this is a combination of many experiences from last semester,” he said. “I’ve had a less than stellar academic career so far, not because of grades, but because professors seem unconcerned about my performance.”

After finding that several other classmates had similar complaints, Greenspan said he thought that something should be done.

“I decided that there should be some kind of forum where students could voice concerns about academics,” he said.

The site takes its name from Economics Department Chair Oliver Hart’s comment in response to Greenspan’s written complaints about the instruction of Lecturer of Economics Robert H. Neugeborn ’81 as course head of Economics 1010a, “Microeconomic Theory.”

Hart told The Crimson in response to Greenspan’s letter, “If one person complains and no one else does, we’re probably not going to respond. There has to be some sort of critical mass.”

Greenspan said he hopes his site will attract a critical mass of student reaction, and in the end help to develop a sense of what are the main problems and biggest issues with teaching at Harvard.

The site is divided into four categories where students can post their comments: past correspondences with professors, a general comments section for new student complaints, a lists section where students can “black list” their least favorite classes and an issues section that addresses the most common areas of complaint.

“This is supposed to be a constructive endeavor,” Greenspan said. “Harvard is the foremost academic institution and they should live up to that standard.”

Metin I. Eren ’05 has already used the site to discuss an issue that has bothered him.

“I posted a note about sections and whether or not they are a waste of time,” he said. “People can’t be afraid to tell the University their opinions.”

Greenspan agreed that students must speak up.

“Students talk about grading, TFs and professors, but when it comes to talking to the administration, students are rather timid,” he said.He said he intends to collect comments from his site and organize them into a plan that he can present to the administration for immediate consideration and action.

But Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 said he doubted the utility of Greenspan’s effort.

“Usually bulletin boards of this nature generate more heat than light,” he said.

He added that the University is already receptive to student opinion.

“My door is always open to students,” Gross said.

In addition, students have traditionally used the CUE Guide to voice their feelings about the quality of instruction in specific classes.

Former Editor-in-Chief of the CUE Guide Pawan Nelson ’04 said he thinks that the guide is an already-effective means for students to critique instruction.

Some students agreed that the CUE Guide may provide a more thorough representation of opinion.

“One good thing about the CUE Guide is that everybody is supposed to fill it out,” said Travis M. Beamish ’04. “The website will have more extreme views, and it might not be representative of Harvard as a whole.”

The CriticalMass website is located at harvard.thinkcomputer.org/projects/criticalmass.html. Students must register to use the site, with registration limited to students in the College.

Staff writer Wendy D. Widman can be reached at widman@fas.harvard.edu.

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