Why UMN students want access to their evaluations of professors

Please let us see what we’ve written. (MPR Photo / Alex Friedrich)

Some University of Minnesota students are asking the U to give them access to their fellow students’ evaluations of courses and professors.
The U administers the evaluations at the end of every semester. Students fill them out, but the information is kept by the university.
Graduate student Cody Mikl, who chairs the group of student reps to the Board of Regents, says looking at the formal assessments would help students choose their classes more wisely.

He told me:

“The primary concern of students is the quality of the instructor at the front of the classroom. A part of it is workload, but more of it is: How well do they do at teaching the content of the course? And do you actually learn what the coursebook says that you’re going to accomplish?”

He says word-of-mouth recommendations are limited, and websites such as Ratemyprofessors.com don’t provide accurate information.

“Students who are motivated to put a post on those websites have had a bad experience with a professor. And that might not be the same experience that the rest of the students had in the class, could be unique, and bottom line: It’s skewed data, and something that’s not very reliable.”

University officials say much of that information is considered part of an employee’s personnel file, and so is confidential. That’s because it’s the U’s evaluation system. General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said if students had their own system, data practices restrictions would likely not apply.

But students argue that some of the information in the U’s evaluations — such as course workload, difficulty and whether the student would recommend a class — is not personal.

President Eric Kaler said he understood their desire to make informed decisions, and that U officials will try to find a way to give students access to nonconfidential information.