Wednesday, September 12, 2007

there for everyone to see

New faculty orientation at Northwestern yesterday. Most interesting part was the description of how NU has a system of online course evaluations in which anybody with northwestern.edu domain access can read all your evaluations from students. In fact, when students are registering for courses, there is a link to a course's previous evaluations right next to the link where they would sign up for it.

So: at UW-Madison, your salary is public but your course evaluations are private, and at Northwestern, your salary is private but your course evaluations are public. Which would you prefer?*

Anyway, upon completing this post, I am going to block out everything else today, including you, dear readers, and get some writing done. My authorial back is against the wall with a couple of paper deadlines I have coming up, and that doesn't even include the talk I am giving at Cornell on Monday. (The world is laughing at Britney Spears for a disaster borne of underpreparation. I am not. At least I won't be wearing a sequined bikini-thing in Ithaca.)

I am set up here at the dining room table of my apartment. I spent a good deal of time yesterday unpacking my boxes, but it was like trying to ladle out a lake, especially as presently there is not nearly enough shelf space for all the books I brought with me. Plus, it's unclear whether the computer whose specs I worked out with an IT person in July has yet been ordered.

* "Public" to any user within the university's respective domain, and public in the sense that anyone with copy-and-paste capability can circulate more broadly. Prior to last fall, Wisconsin's salary information was on the web, and memorably one commenter posted a link to my own salary. Wisconsin changed to making salaries public only within the UW domain--in a strange moment of official candor, the spokesperson's stated that the reason for the change was that having the salaries accessible to all on the web made it too easy for other universities to poach UW faculty members because of how low the university's salaries are (at least, how low they are prior to receiving a retention offer).

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

one tally for uw

Anonymous said...

It's a different class of students you'll see, that's for sure.

I think publicizing the professor's reputation helps students select classes. Sociology has somewhat of a mickey-mouse reputation among undergrads trying to fulfill requirements, and it's seen as a soft major there. (The opposite of an NU econ major.) Not sure if this is true at public universities too, but you are definitely going to see a student body more concentrated on accountability and after-college goals, ie. careers and money.

Plus, being home of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, this is not a drinking school, and the academic expectations of your students will probably reflect that. Good luck -- be serious and I'm sure you'll do fine with the different demographics of your students there.

Have you found Buffalo Joe's yet? Excellent cheesy waffle fries, if you're feeling homesick for Wisconsin, and jumbo RC from the tap. Life is good.

jeremy said...

Sociology is an easy major, relatively speaking, lots of places. Why this is so is an interesting question with a multipart answer.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear your take on the soc as easy major. To answer your question, I think I'd rather have the salary be public. I think that kind of transparency is good, and there are other outlets for student evals (ratemyprofessor, etc.). I never found the evaluations I got to be very helpful for improving teaching, but perhaps they could help students see what I was like, so in that sense maybe it would be good to publicize them since then they could be more useful. This was the boilerplate UW evals--soliciting feedback throughout the course was helpful. Honestly, though, my gut reaction to the question of which should be public was based on what I would be less embarrassed to have people see, and some evaluation comments are so abusive that I don't want to see them again, and I'd never want anyone to read them. However, I guess people will make these kind of comments in an (ahem) anonymous forum, everyone understands that, and there are public areas where people can do so anyway. So I guess actually I'd vote for making them both public.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have evals public (especially just to the university community). I'd rather someone have access to all the comments, rather than just the comments of those who are motivated enough (for good or bad) to post on ratemyprofessor. At least this way, they get a more complete picture.
-andrea

Anonymous said...

Why not have students post their final grade along side their comments?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I've just about had it with the idea that students at private schools are academic powerhouses compared to students at public schools. Many, many students are lazy and shiftless. The rich ones can afford to be.

Anonymous said...

Many, many students are lazy and shiftless. The rich ones can afford to be.

Not at a good private school. That's the point. You have to make the cut to get in, and to get out. Smaller sizes help eliminate the loopholes too.

Please don't start with a GWB Yale whine either; that one's old.

jeremy said...

I think there is obviously more variation among publics and among privates than there is between the average public and the average private. Making any general statement about publics and privates by comparing the University of Iowa to Northwestern, for example, is very misleading.

Ang said...

I never really cared what people thought about my salary. Maybe if I made spectacular wages I would care more, or be more embarrassed or something. But it just never bothered me.

Teaching evals, on the other hand, scare me. I don't even go to RateMyProfessor.com at all, because I don't want to deal with seeing something staggeringly mean.

eszter said...

You are missing a serious downside of easily available locally public evaluations. You can have a wonderful class with a wonderful professor who is not willing to cave in and give everybody an A. One or two bad evaluations from those who did not get their desired grades can kill a course. I've seen this happen before (not at NU, but it may well happen here, too). Class enrollment can plummet. It's actually quite sad. I like the above suggestion that the student's grade should be added next to the evaluation.

Anonymous said...

Please don't start with a GWB Yale whine either; that one's old.

It might be old, but it's still true.

Captain Crab said...

"wearing a sequined bikini-thing in Ithaca" might be a way to get by with less that needed preparation.

Anonymous said...

Really the Kennedy males are more apt an example than the GWB/Yale thing, but the 359 generality about private school holds.

Ang said...

"Making the cut" is a far more complicated set of situations and factors than it seems to be presented as here. It's just blog comments, I get that. But still.

marc said...

Since students know their comments will be public, might this change what they write? They're still anonymous of course, but now they know they have an audience. RMP is often written in a "take this prof" or "stay away" advice column format, written for other students. I wonder how NU evals compare in this context?

Anonymous said...

I've only once been evaluated in a place that makes them public, but I didn't notice major differences (from other evals, not in comparison to RMP).

Since most of these weren't public, I can't be sure of the difference in effect, but I have *always* had one or two students hate me (not necessarily those that fail or do poorly, though I always have these as well), but I still don't have a problem filling courses or getting generally positive evals. I still say that can be a benefit of having them public - future students can see that two out of 30 (or whatever) disliked you, rather than 2 out of some unknown number; it puts the negative comments in better context.
-andrea

Anonymous said...

"I'd love to hear your take on the soc as easy major."

Me too.

Mr. B. said...

Hmmm...

I went to NU many years ago.

Damned good school, although I did not realize it at the time. With respect to standards, I doubt that I could have gotten in nowadays.

We used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what classes to take and from whom for registration in the old "pig on its back" Deering Library.

So I think that is how these ratings should be taken. It's a (relatively) small school with very good students and excellent teaching faculty. I had perhaps two bad classes while I was there.

Knock 'em dead!

Mr. B.