Faculty discuss request to make evals public

Marquette Student Government has asked the university to make end-of-semester teacher evaluation forms public in order to give students more information when choosing professors.

The forms, known as Instructional Assessment System forms, give students an opportunity to evaluate a course and its instructor on several criteria, including the instructor's effectiveness in teaching and the student's opinion of the course as a whole.

The suggestion is in the early stages, according to MUSG president Dan Calandriello, a senior in the College of Business Administration. With professor ratings Web site DogEars shut down, apparently to be relaunched later, and students not happy with MUSG's new preferred site, RateMyProfessors.com, students need additional information about professors, Calandriello said.

But based on reactions from faculty, including those on the Committee on Faculty, and Provost Madeline Wake, the idea appears to be a non-starter.

Releasing such information to the public would be a violation of an agreement made between faculty and administration,

Wake said in an e-mail. In that agreement, the administration and faculty agreed that any information contained in IAS forms would be kept confidential.

Another problem is that the forms were designed for a particular purpose and should be used for improving a class, not for any other reasons to be named later, according to Ed Fallone, associate professor of law and member of the Committee on Faculty.

The form helped instructors work with the chair of the department to figure out ways to improve their teaching ability, according to William Thorn, associate professor of journalism and secretary of the COF.

Fallone said he also worried about faculty seeking tenure, for whom first-year evaluations generally were lower.

"It's rare for someone to be spellbinding," he said of first-year faculty.

Bad evaluations could lead students to a poor impression of a newer faculty member, thus affecting factors which could be used against the professor when he or she came up for tenure, according to Kristy Nielson, chair of the Committee on Faculty and assistant chair of the psychology department.

As well, Thorn said, many faculty have reservations about the IAS forms, in part since the form results could leave a mistaken impression of a faculty member's teaching ability.

"These are, at best, a rough approximiation," Thorn said.

Fallone said he believed releasing the forms was also unnecessary, since there were other ways to get information on professors.

"Students talk to each other and use Web sites like RateMyProfessor," he said.

Wake said she would meet with MUSG "to explore how we might provide information on professors which would be useful to students and fair to faculty."

Nielson said faculty didn't want to hide information from students; instead, they wanted students to have the most complete information.

In other Committee on Faculty news:

The committee, which met Thursday, went into a closed executive session during its meeting to discuss a proposed chapter of Students for Academic Freedom at the university. Several faculty members had requested a discussion of the group, Nielson said. She said discussing a student group was rare at COF meetings.

At the request of Mark McCarthy, dean in the Office of Student Development, this part of the meeting was closed since OSD had not had a chance to respond to the group, Nielson said. OSD and MUSG must approve the student group.

Eric Lombardi of the Tribune staff contributed to this report.