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Students, UC Outraged at Decision to Withhold Course Difficulty Ratings

By Meg P. Bernhard and Noah J. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writers

Responding to what Undergraduate Council President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 described as possibly “the dumbest decision” he has seen administrators make this year, undergraduates expressed outrage Friday about a recent announcement from Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris that the Q Guide will no longer display course difficulty ratings.

The change, approved in a Faculty Council meeting in late September, was relayed to students in an email sent by Harris Tuesday night. Days later, students have responded on a wide scale by voicing their concerns over social media and even replying to Harris’ email.

In a mass email sent to undergraduates on Friday, UC leaders said they are working to overturn the decision and encouraged students who feel that this decision was “ unfair” or “poorly thought-out” to contact Harris.

Mayopoulos, for his part, said that while he understands the rationale faculty may have had in making this decision, it was “wrong.”

In his email, Harris wrote that the  withholding of the difficulty score, along with other changes to the Q Guide, are intended by the faculty to make the course and instructor evaluation tool “a more accurate, sophisticated, and helpful mechanism for learning about and choosing courses.”

Mayopoulos, however, called change an unprecedented step to withhold valuable information from students.

“This is a proactive step by the Faculty Council to try to limit the amount of information that students have when making course decisions, and I’ve just never seen anything like it,” Mayopolous said.

Students voiced two main concerns about the way in which faculty legislated the change: that they had forgone student feedback and did not communicate the change to students until eight months after the decision had been made.

“[The decision] shows a real lack of concern for student need and student opinion—to go completely behind our backs like this, ” Oreoluwa O. Babarinsa ’15 said.

Kim F. Soffen ’16, who, like others, said that she has scraped existing Q Guide data and sent it to other students through some of her organizations’ email lists, agreed that administrators should have sought student opinion when considering changing the guide.

“I honestly don’t think that’s a great idea because the students are the ones most affected by this,” Soffen said.

Additionally, many students said they believe that concealing the difficulty score, which is useful in devising a balanced course load, from the public purview will only intensify stress levels.

“It can be a problem for people who are trying to make a schedule that is balanced for their mental health and balance their extracurriculars,” Elliot A. Wilson ’15 said.

UC Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 said that he believes no student should enroll in easy courses “just for the sake of getting good grades,” but added he did not think many students purposely seek such classes for that reason.

Goffard also said the Q Guide revision has the potential to harm students.“It is a misguided decision and one that I think will have a lot of unintended negative consequences on students,” he said.

UC representative Brett M. Biebelberg '16 sent Harris an email outlining potential problems with the change and asking the faculty to reconsider their decision, to which Harris responded. According to Biebelberg, he and Harris will discuss the matter later this week.

In the coming week, the UC is expected to draft a position paper on the matter and formally vote on a stance, according to Mayopoulos.

Harris could not be reached for comment.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

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