Faculty vote to open course evaluations

by Parker Richards | 11/3/14 8:15pm

Students will have access to course evaluations during course election following a faculty vote at Monday’s faculty of arts and sciences meeting.

At the meeting, present faculty voted overwhelmingly to support the abolition of the Greek system, and a motion that would have made peer-reviewed faculty articles freely available was tabled.

Students will have access to peers’ answers to questions regarding instructor methods, the class structure and the course’s influence on students’ Dartmouth experiences.

Faculty will have the option to review answers that students provide to the open-ended questions and to raise concerns about specific students’ responses to their associate deans before the material becomes available to students.

A hand vote approved student access to quantitative evaluation data on course quality, the amount of effort students put into a course, the intellectual engagement that students felt, the clarity of a course’s objectives and course organization, among other categories.

 

GREEK LIFE

Biology professor Ryan Calsbeek, the chair of the committee on student life, motioned to proceed with a “vote that the College should abolish the Greek system.” The motion carried 116 to 13, with three abstentions.

More than 200 faculty members signed an open letter with the same call. As of fall 2013, the faculty of arts and sciences had 588 tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members.

Faculty Greek System Letter Fall 2014 by thednews

The motion will have no immediate impact, and similar motions have not led to the abolition of the Greek system. In 2001, for example, the faculty voted 92-0 to abolish single-sex Greek houses. In 2000, the faculty voted 81-0 in favor of abolition.

A letter calling for abolishing the Greek system that circulated among faculty members late last month attracted 232 signatures.

Mathematics professor Alex Barnett, one of the letter’s original 19 signatories, said he believes that the perception among students that faculty want to “shut down” student parties and activities is incorrect.

“We support partying, drinking is great in moderation, dance parties, sex, hookups, everything,” Barnett said. “Student social life is really important, community, bonding, but they shouldn’t be run by exclusive, hierarchical, gender-segregated organizations from outside the College.”

The letter called for the adoption of a residential cluster system, which administrators have said will begin with the Class of 2019.

Physics and astronomy professor Ryan Hickox, a member of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee, which presented on its progress shortly before the discussion on Greek life began, said such a system could focus on student-faculty interaction more than systems at peer institutions do.

“This represents a real opportunity for us to be leaders,” Hickox said, noting that faculty have expressed interest in becoming involved in a house system.

The faculty letter cited research linking Greek organizations to higher incidences of sexual assault, binge drinking, racism, homophobia, denigration of women and hazing.

“The emphasis on tradition and secrecy almost guarantees that reform from within will continue to be cosmetic,” the letter stated.

The letter cited a number of New England liberal arts schools that have abolished the Greek system, and noted that none have reinstituted the system.

While students could not attend yesterday’s meeting, Noah Cramer ’16, president of the Gender-Inclusive Greek Council, formerly known as the Coed Council, said he was frustrated with the faculty’s focus on single-sex Greek organizations.

“I feel like this decision by the faculty is one that overlooks the existence of our three houses, and really throws out the baby with the bathwater,” Cramer said. “It’s just kind of frustrating to be once again collateral damage being taken out by the shrapnel spraying from over on Webster Avenue.”

Cramer said that he takes no position on the abolition of single-sex Greek houses, but he said that coed houses have not been heavily implicated in issues of sexual assault, high-risk drinking or exclusivity.

Representatives from the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

While previous faculty motions to abolish the Greek system have done little to effect actual change, Calsbeek and Barnett said that they hope the current campus climate makes the system’s elimination more likely.

“It’s a new time for Dartmouth, a lot has happened in the last several years,” Calsbeek said. “The implications of this vote hopefully carry more weight and have new meaning for folks.”

Barnett said that a series of scandals at Dartmouth over the past several years --— including federal investigations into Clery Act and Title IX violations -— have made many in the Dartmouth community more receptive to change.

“There’s no reason for these organizations to control social life on campus,” Barnett said. “If we’re going to spend money and resources setting something up, it shouldn’t start with the Greek system.”

During the steering committee’s presentation, members expressed concern with high-risk drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity.

Committee member and mathematics professor Craig Sutton said Dartmouth’s culture lends itself to binge drinking. He said that upon entering the College, only 12 percent of students report being heavy drinkers, which nearly triples to 35 percent within just five weeks. He did not compare these figures to data from other institutions.

“Moving Dartmouth Forward” committee chair and English professor Barbara Will told the faculty that there was “no silver bullet” in addressing social problems at Dartmouth, but she said that students look to professors “as mentors and advisors.”

Will added that professors have a responsibility to set high academic expectations “so that our students can’t party four nights a week.”

Economics professor Charles Wheelan, who did not attend the meeting, said that it was important to wait until the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” committee had released its report to act on the Greek system.

“I would not make any decision about what to do with the Greek system until I had explored what I would do in its place,” he said.

 

COURSE EVALUATIONS

Dean of the faculty Michael Mastanduno introduced a proposal that would grant students access to some parts of the College’s course assessment information. The program would be conducted on an opt-in basis for interested faculty. It was recommended by the Committee on Instruction on Jan. 14. but tabled at a May faculty meeting after facing opposition.

Students would have access to data from nine quantitative questions relating to course quality, rigor, organization and efficacy of instruction.

They would also gain access to three qualitative questions, a version of a Student Assembly proposal. The questions relate to the professor’s evaluation methods, the structure of the class and the course’s influence on a student’s overall academic experience.

Before the information became available to students, faculty would have a 10-day period to review student comments on their courses, and, if they found a comment objectionable, they could bar access. Faculty expressed reservations about the reviews’ relevance and their ability to review potentially hundreds of comments in 10 days.

“Generally, student impressions of classes are correlated with things that have very little to do with pedagogy,” computer science and mathematics professor Daniel Rockmore said.

Others said that this part of the evaluations would give students an opportunity to publicly criticize trivial details, with multiple professors pointing to fashion choices as an example.

Mastanduno said that students overwhelmingly write favorable evaluations.

Professors’ reputations would be protected by restricting course reviews to those with a Banner Student login.

Computer science department chair Thomas Cormen said that he fears that students could “game the system” in some way. When Mastanduno asked Cormen to clarify his complaint, he repeated his protest.

Students will be given immediate access to syllabi when selecting courses.

 

OPEN ACCESS

A proposal that would have required faculty to either submit their published articles into a College-wide repository or receive a waiver from the provost’s office was tabled after faculty members raised objections about the proposal’s wording and the potential burdens it placed on faculty.

The open-access policy would not require faculty to publish in open-access journals, nor would it take away their personal copyright.

The change would have allowed Dartmouth to make freely available copies of its faculty’s research, College librarian Jeffrey Horrell said.

“Millions of people around the world don’t have access to your work because it’s only available in journals that only a small number of institutions, like Dartmouth, can afford,” Horrell said.

The policy follows similar practices at peer institutions, and Horrell said that the College consulted with faculty and administrators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when constructing the proposal.

Horrell said that any professor who requested a waiver so that Dartmouth would not publish his or her article would automatically receive one.

Economics professor Eric Zitzewitz, chair of the committee on faculty, objected to “ambiguities” in the policy’s wording that could, he said, allow a future provost to withhold waivers from faculty. He said that the library should instead adopt an opt-in program.

Zitzewitz also expressed frustration with the fact that the policy did not change after consultation with the committee on faculty, and noted that its language had not changed since spring 2013.

He said he would like to limit the language in the policy that he sees as transferring some copyright powers to the College and to clarify that waivers would be “immediate, automatic and not subject to [administrative] discretion.”

“Our scholarship is becoming what it should have been all along, that is, publicly shared scholarship,” said religion professor Kevin Reinhart, who spoke in favor of the proposal.

Religion professor Ronald Green criticized the proposal due to the fact that it did not include provisions for making past scholarly articles available through the open-access program.

Horrell said that past work, student work and dissertations might be included in future phases of the project.

Economics professor Douglas Irwin said that, although he was a member of the committee on libraries that approved the proposal and is an advocate of open access to scholarly work, he felt that the proposal had to be reconsidered due to the process that had brought it before the faculty.

“If the [committee on faculty] unanimously rejects something, and those concerns are not addressed, that’s a problem,” Irwin said.

At the end of the meeting, College President Phil Hanlon announced that Mastanduno had asked not to be considered for another five-year term as dean of the faculty, but that he would instead consider a two-year term.