A personal matter

By Mary Chan

A funny thing happened when I started to fill out my pretty new maroon Teaching Evaluation form. I had to give my id number.

Granted, the information blurb at the top of the new Universal Student Ratings of Instruction Instrument states that “You are asked to provide your id number so that the university can access relevant statistical data (e.g. major, year, gender, age).” The university wants my major? Fine. My year? No problem. My gender and age? Female and second. But the university wants my id number? I don’t think so.

My id number is unique; it ensures that I cannot be confused with anyone else. Giving my major, year, gender and age is not such a big deal, and I don’t mind spending an extra minute filling out a few more bubbles to provide this information if it means I don’t have to give my id number.

After all, there’s more than one female 19-year-old in second year biology. But there is only one person with my specific id. Normally, I don’t shrink from expressing my opinion, whether something is either good or bad. But the danger in forcing students to identify themselves on something as sensitive as Teaching Evaluations lies in the lack of privacy and protection. How honest can students be if they know their names will be attached to this rating? Can they be sure this scantron sheet won’t remain on some kind of permanent record? Will they be intimidated into filling out scantron upon scantron of glowing reviews?

Of course, most students attending university, that bastion of free speech and democracy, shouldn’t mind attaching their name to an opinion, but what gives the university the right to demand our id numbers? My id number, and thus my identity, is a private matter, something personal I should have the right to withhold if I so choose, not because I fear it will be divulged (for the evaluation assures me “your id will NOT be revealed to the instructor(s)”) but because I simply would rather not.

But I must. For “Instruments which do not include an id number that would indicate you are a student registered in the course or course component will not be considered.” My translation? Give us your id number or your opinion won’t be counted. Maybe I won’t go so far as to say that this is blackmail, but I do think it is unfair. I feel I am being penalized for demanding a right to honestly grade my professor without any possible repercussions, and for refusing to give personal information on the principle that it is private and, in my opinion, not helpful to the university.

There are other parts of the new forms I find odd. I’ve never been able to figure out why we are asked to give the grade we expect to receive. Are students so vindictive that we would punish professors who give us bad marks with a bad grade? I certainly hope some of us are more rational and realize that the most constructive criticism usually arises from a need for improvement. Simply filling in “unacceptable” for all the questions helps no one.

Upon finishing my first Ratings Instrument, I was rather disappointed that there wasn’t a place for comments. I realize that comments would be useless since my professor won’t see these sheets, but I wonder where I can freely and anonymously give constructive criticism as it relates to curriculum, teaching methods or even the speed at which my professor goes through overheads. My professor won’t be able to know that I find his constant movement in class distracting by looking at means and standard deviations processed by a computer. He can’t know how much I appreciate his use of examples by seeing that 129 students out of 421 “somewhat agree” that “the course material was presented in a well-organized manner.” What part of “the overall quality of instruction” did more than 75 per cent of students find to be “very good?” There are a myriad of criteria defining whether a professor is good or bad that cannot be distilled to 12 questions where the answers range from “unacceptable” to “excellent.” In order for professors to get constructive feedback, students must be given space to expand their ideas and be specific.

Of course, this is the first time the new Universal Ratings system is being used, and there are things to be refined. But for a product of two years of discussion and work, the results seem flimsy and simple (and I’m not just referring to the scantron sheet). It will be interesting to see how the ratings process progresses and develops, and whether students accessing the results will find them helpful. Until then, I may actually be forced to talk to my professors and tell them how I feel. God forbid.

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