Student course evaluations should be public

Open course evaluations could help students in choosing professors for their next semester

For my Speech Communications class, for our final two speeches, we have to talk about a change we want to see here at RPI. My proposed topic is that of publicizing course evaluations to students. This idea has been implemented in varying degrees at universities across the country, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth, Stanford, and others. Through my research, I think that having some variation of open evaluations here at RPI would be beneficial to students.

The main benefit of implementing this would be the information provided to students. I know as a freshman, before I learned more about RPI, I perused the site Rate My Professor to see what a professor was like. This information, in most cases, was old and not a complete view of the professor. Releasing course evaluations would provide many more responses that are more current and accurate. This information would help students create better, more manageable schedules with professors that are the best for them.

Through my research and interviews, a couple of concerns have come up that I would like to address. The first is that some of the qualitative comments could potentially be sensitive and the student may not want that publically released. I think a good option would be to have an opt-in button to say that they are comfortable with the comment being released to the student body.

Another issue is that releasing these evaluations could have negative effects on faculty member’s careers. Even with evaluations being restricted to students with an RCS ID, there is potential that the evaluations could be leaked to the general public. Possible future employers, say at other universities, could look up this information and that could impact their decision to hire or not hire somebody. This is a valid risk, but I don’t think it would be a large or widespread issue.

All the details surrounding this proposal would need to be made by a joint committee made up of students, faculty, and administration in order to come up with a tailor-made plan that would fit RPI’s needs and culture. I am planning on pursuing this during the 2017–2018 school year with the help of student government. The University of Michigan’s student government proposed and implemented open evaluations during the 2015-2016 school year, and I think we could do the same here at RPI.

Evaluations aren’t perfect, but they are better than any other resource that we, as students, have access to. They have been successful at other universities, the cons have solutions, and the pros are solid. Opening up the course evaluations to students is a proposal that should be implemented at RPI.