On the last day of classes last semester, I faced a moral dilemma. As I sat with my number two pencil in hand, filling out the end-of-the-semester course evaluation, I didn't really know what to do. Everyone applauded the professor at the conclusion of the class, the professor thanked us for being such good students and such a receptive audience, and then he left the room to allow us privacy to fill out our evaluations. A hush fell over the room as students began to furiously bubble in their opinions of the course and the professor onto the scantron. Did he merit a one, two, three, four or five? And then came the "additional comments" section. The professor had been a good professor -- when he showed up to class. He had graded our papers fairly, though it took him nine weeks to do so. And overall he had been responsive to our needs -- when he checked his e-mail three weeks after the fact. But for the most part, I felt our applause was unnecessary and unearned. What should I write for my additional comments? Enter moral dilemma stage right. Essentially, in my hand was the power to make or break a Penn professor. In a bizarre dream sequence-like moment that usually only occurs in cartoons or Saved by the Bell, the good person inside of me (deep, deep, deep inside of me) popped up on my shoulder. Clad completely in Penn gear, she said in an angelic voice: "Ariel, don't ruin this professor's teaching career by writing about your frustration with his teaching patterns! His career lies in your hands! "He's not even tenured yet. Remember, sometimes honesty isn't always the best policy -- lie, lie, lie!" So I happily began to lie on my course evaluation. "Professor X was a good professor and responsive to students' needs." There. I felt satisfied. I had safely avoided irrevocably damaging someone's professional future because of my personal gripes. But then, as I was about to tuck my evaluation into the grey folder, never to be seen again, I stopped dead in my tracks. In an incredibly disturbing moment -- which will no doubt come up in therapy someday -- I realized that I'm the person I hate. Let me explain: As the middle of the semester rolls around each Penn student has to select courses for the next semester. Many of us will consult the University of Pennsylvania Undergraduate Course Review to find out the lowdown and dirty on professors we might take classes with. But for the most part, the evaluations of professors listed under certain courses are pretty tame. The evaluations give an opinion that is usually non-committal or extremely impressive -- but seldom negative ("Professor X was a good professor and responsive to students' needs" -- neither a glowing nor damning report, and utterly useless.) Only in the "notable quotes" section do we get to read the truths we really need to hear when picking classes: "Professor Y is terrible. I'd rather be sitting in a room staring at a wall than be at his lectures," or "Avoid Professor Z like drinking year-old goat's milk left outside the Quad on sunny days." I'm the person I hate because I often don't tell the truth on course evaluations like the "notable quotes" people -- and I'm not alone. After speaking with several other students after my course evaluation of Professor X, I found out that most people "didn't want to hurt his feelings," by writing the truth. The net result of this "nice" behavior is that Penn preserves the careers of professors who aren't that fabulous, thus providing us with more classes with professors who are only average educators. Worse yet, professors who have the ability to improve never learn what they're doing wrong because we're too busy being nice on our course evaluations to tell them about their goat-milk-like qualities. And in the end, everyone is hurt by our relatively sedate comments -- both professors who never learn what they're doing wrong, and students who are searching for truthful evaluations of professors in the Course Guide which they will only find in the "notable quotes" section. Penn prides itself on its extremely intelligent professor pool. But in order to keep the University as one of the best schools in the nation, we need to constructively criticize what's wrong with our classes and professors when there is a problem. We need more opinions that tell it like it is. From now on, we've got to leave our moral consciences at the door, and feel no hesitancy about explaining the curdled goat milk for what it is.Comments powered by Disqus
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