Verbum Ultimum: Open to Change

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 11/6/14 8:38pm

On Monday, the faculty of arts and sciences voted to open course reviews to students during course election period. We commend professors for taking this step, and we look forward to choosing our classes with more information. The long-overdue measure should better inform student choices and incentivize both more effective teaching from professors and more thoughtful evaluations from students.

But Monday’s vote is merely the first step. Next, we urge faculty to vote to require their peers to open their evaluations, instead of having an opt-in rule, and expand the information available on this database. Without these steps, students will continue to rely on outdated, faulty data for certain classes, which will perpetuate the cycle of misinformation in course election.

As it stands, unofficial websites guide student choices. But resources like the Hacker Club’s course picker do not provide the amount or quality of information that we deserve when choosing classes. Most Dartmouth students take 35 or 36 classes here over the course of their four years. When tuition is almost $47,000 annually, and the average student takes nine classes each year, that breaks down into a sticker price of $5,200 per course — and that’s before calculating the cost of textbooks. No one needs to be told that this is an enormous amount of money. We deserve to get the most out of that five thousand dollars, which means being thoroughly informed as to the pros and cons of each class before we sign up. And to be thoroughly informed, we need a formalized and official system with the full weight of the College behind it. We thank the faculty for taking this first step.

We acknowledge the concern that some junior faculty may see a higher rate of critical reviews due to their inexperience, but this should not be a reason they are excluded from the system. Students deserve to know what they are signing up for.

The policy approved by faculty members is weak. When creating Dartmouth’s public course evaluation system, we urge those behind it not to go the way of Harvard University’s analogous system, which recently dropped difficulty ratings from its reviews. One reason why we must be informed before enrolling in a class is to ensure that we can handle it along with our other classes and obligations. At an already elite liberal arts institution, Dartmouth’s quarter system makes for an intense and stressful environment. Public course reviews will allow students to balance their academic course load within this environment. Removing a difficulty ranking limits the utility of such a tool. Let’s hold our own system to a higher standard.

The quality of our undergraduate education has traditionally been one of Dartmouth’s strongest suits, and we must remain constantly vigilant to maintain that strength. Publicizing course reviews to students will incentivize professors to listen to their comments and concerns, and will highlight strong teaching practices while punishing poor ones. Professors will be held widely accountable for unconstructive teaching habits — aggressive and public criticism in class, unfair attendance policies, needlessly harsh grading — and rewarded for strong ones. If no students sign up, a professor re-evaluate his or her teaching methods. And professors with popular classes will be able to single out what makes their style successful, and communicate those methods to colleagues. Open communication and conversation between students and faculty will lead to more information and better classes for all parties involved.

With all the talk about Dartmouth’s social scene, we must remember that first and foremost we are here for the best education possible. To that end, all professors must be mandated to open their courses for public review, instead of the proposed opt-in system. And, just as they are now, students must evaluate their classes before they can view their final grades. Making course reviews public will strengthen that education and lead to better, more fulfilling classes for both students and faculty.