Knodell declines proposed public course evaluations

After the Student Government Association asked students to boycott course evaluations, Interim Provost Jane Knodell responded on Dec. 5, declining to support the resolution. “The timing of your resolution made it an almost certainty that we would be unable to meet your ‘demands,’ to say nothing of the fact that I’d like not to think of ours as a community that proposes change and innovation by way of demand,” Knodell said in an e-mail. SGA President Kofi Mensah sent a campuswide e-mail on Dec. 2 to students asking them to participate in the boycott. “The [SGA] at the University of Vermont calls for a publishable questions section, drafted by the [SGA], to be added as part of the course evaluations offered at the end of the spring semester 2011,” the resolution stated. The SGA asked the provost, council of deans and United Academics to realize students’ desire to have access to course evaluation results by Dec. 1, the resolution stated. “Use this opportunity to stand with us and take a stand against course evaluations and show the faculty and administration that we are serious about this matter,” Mensah’s e-mail stated. Knodell said that she recieved the resolution on Nov. 15, right before Thanksgiving break, and was unable to consult with those necessary to make a decision in that time frame. “Further confounding our ability to make progress was the fact that your resolution did not include the publishable questions themselves,” she said. SGA Senator Asher Lober said that he was not surprised that the SGA did not hear back from the administration by Dec. 1. “The administration’s lack of response was expected,” he said. “Student perceptions of academic quality at UVM mean nothing to them. They are quite content to dole out merit pay and deliver promotions to tenure based upon research records and research records alone. They don’t feel the need to enter into a dialogue with anyone who doesn’t already hold a doctorate.” In addition to providing more information to students, publishable evaluations would show information about changes students want, Mensah said. However, many students are not backing up the boycott. Sophomore Dan Suder said he doesn’t like the idea because he thinks class evaluations have an important place. “Services like RateMyProfessor really work fine,” Suder said. “The argument that they only contain extremely polar opinions is true, but I question the difference we’d see when results of course evaluations were shared.” Academic Affairs Committee Chair Gisele Nelson said that she feels some students may not be taking the course evaluations seriously. “Students that don’t like filling them out might use the boycott as an excuse for not filling them out,” Nelson said. However, the SGA is not asking students to deny professors of feedback altogether because they recognize that evaluations are used to improve classes, she said. “[The] SGA strongly encourages students to use the ‘comments’ section of the course evaluations to provide productive feedback to professors,” Nelson said. In addition to flyers around campus to notify people of the boycott, students will make announcements to their class after the professor has left the room and before evaluations are filled out, SGA Vice President David Maciewicz said. “The declaration of a boycott is a most unfortunate position for the SGA to take,” Knodell said. “If students choose not to participate in the course evaluation process, it will only serve to diminish their voices, and I urge you to reconsider the advice you have given your colleagues and rescind your call for a boycott.”