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Letter to the Editor: Correcting the Record on Potential Q Guide Updates

By Jay M. Harris

To the Editor:

I write to correct inaccuracies reported in the March 22 article “Admins Updating Q Guide to Allow Reporting of TF, Prof Misbehavior.”

The Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy formed a subcommittee in the fall of 2018 to review our course evaluations, known as the Q guide. The decision to undertake a review was prompted by the recognition that it has been more than 10 years since the last review, by awareness of the extensive research regarding student evaluations that has appeared in recent years, by faculty interest in improving the questions, and by the fact that the current technology supporting the Q is obsolete and replacing the tool provides an opportunity to think about the Q’s structure and content.

During its review, the subcommittee identified three main goals. First, making sure the Q allows students to provide feedback to course instructors on the quality of their instruction, while also enabling instructors to evaluate specific elements of the course. Second, making sure the Q provides needed information to students who may consider taking the course in the future. Third, providing information to department chairs and administrators to be considered in evaluating the effectiveness of the instructor.

At no time was there discussion of using the Q to allow students to report “inappropriate behavior by teaching staff” as it relates to Title IX or other breaches of professional standards. To be clear, Harvard has a dedicated group of professionals who are here for students, including the College’s and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’s local Title IX Coordinators, the University Title IX Office, and the Office for Dispute Resolution. Staff members in the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response are also available to provide support and assistance.

What I shared with those in attendance at the March 21 town hall, in response to a question from the audience, was that the subcommittee was discussing adding a question to the Q about whether the teaching staff has created a welcoming environment conducive to learning. The intent of such a question would be to have students share their views on matters such as, “Are questions welcome?”, “Are you comfortable engaging in debate, where appropriate, or challenging assumptions?”, and so on. The question—should some form of it be included in a future version of the Q—is not intended to invite reports on breaches of professional conduct, as the Q is simply not the proper place for such reporting.

The subcommittee will continue discussion with different constituencies before finalizing its report to the Standing Committee.

Jay M. Harris is the Dean of Undergraduate Education.

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