English prof attacks new Penn Course Review
In response to errors, Cavitch called site a ‘true embarrassment’ to Penn
November 1, 2011, 12:46 am · Updated April 2, 2012, 1:11 am·
When the new version of Penn Course Review launched Oct. 31, its updated design exposed existing inaccuracies and elicited calls for its immediate takedown.
Within hours of the site’s launch, Max Cavitch — undergraduate chairman of the English Department — emailed the English majors and minors listservs, calling the situation a “fiasco” and warning them not to use the site.
Penn Course Review is a student-run catalog of course and professor ratings that compiles reviews from semesterly course evaluations.
Cavitch wrote in the email that “dozens and dozens of courses in the English Department alone are listed under the wrong professor and/or course title.” In an email addressed to faculty colleagues, Cavitch wrote that he plans to “register a formal grievance with the University Ombudsman’s Office” if the site is not taken down by 9 a.m. Nov. 1.
College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dennis DeTurck confirmed that problems occurred due to the numbering of course sections. Certain departments often reuse course numbers for different courses, causing some classes to be listed with the wrong professor or under the wrong name, he said. The same error occurred about five years ago with the old PCR, which took several weeks of reprogramming to fix, DeTurck said.
The data on the new site is identical to the data on the old site, said Engineering junior Amalia Hawkins, marketing and operations director of PennApps Labs. PennApps, a student-run organization funded in part by the Undergraduate Assembly, designed PCR and is currently working with the Provost’s Office to help fix these problems, which it hopes will be rectified today.
UA president and Wharton and Engineering senior Tyler Ernst said as far as he is aware, the reported inconsistencies had been fixed last night — but hopes to confirm this with PennApps and PCR before 9 a.m.
If the problems are not fixed, the Provost will ask that the PCR site be taken down, DeTurck said.
Though errors accumulated on the old site, this is the first time current members of PennApps and PCR have heard of them.
“We had accepted the data on the old site as fact because no one ever complained about it,” Hawkins, a former Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, said.
In an email, Cavitch urged DeTurck and Director of Academic Advising Janet Tighe to take the site offline “until its flagrant errors and omissions are corrected.”
In another email Cavitch sent to Hawkins, Cavitch called the site a “true embarrassment to the College and the University and an insult to all members of the faculty.”
When Hawkins asked Cavitch for a correct course listing to rectify the issue, he declined to do so, instead writing that PCR has a “long history” of errors. “How dare you suggest that faculty members are responsible for correcting the errors and misinformation PCR has generated and that PCR persists irresponsibly in promulgating?” Cavitch wrote.
Ernst said Cavitch “raised a good point in that the data we publish should be accurate,” but added that he was “shocked” it was done “in such a public form.” It can be easy for some to forget that they’re “dealing with students” who are dedicated to their work, Ernst said. “And when they’re not addressed as equals in a private setting, it’s unfortunate.”
Cavitch did not return multiple requests for comment.
PCR and PennApps are currently responding to other professors who have found errors in the site. As it stands, the errors have been concentrated in the English Department, Hawkins said.
“Unfortunately the way [Cavitch] has gone about making this known to us is not exactly as we would have preferred,” she said. “It has turned it into an ‘us against them’ kind of thing.”