Tomorrow, each of us will receive an email inviting us to submit Student Evaluation Questionnaires (SEQs) for the semester. In addition to final papers and assessments, students are asked to reflect on their courses and provide feedback by filling out anonymous SEQs. In many ways, SEQs are our opportunity to enhance our academic experience in a meaningful manner. Our words can have a profound impact on the future directions of a class, a lab or a faculty member’s career. While SEQs are a mainstay of finals period, they are crucial to the academic development of Wellesley and should be completed conscientiously and with respect.
SEQs at Wellesley emphasize the importance of student input in lecture and lecturer evaluation. The faculty member being evaluated, the departmental Reappointments and Promotions (R&P) Committee, and the Committee on Faculty Appointments (CFA) all carefully read the anonymous answers after grades have been submitted and use these responses to influence subsequent decisions on the faculty member’s career.
Unless the student provides identifying information in the SEQs, neither the faculty nor R&P nor CFA will know the writer’s identity. SEQ answers are grouped together in a single report, with each response identified as that of Student A or B. Professors utilize SEQ responses to improve the course and teaching methods. In addition, R&P and CFA heavily consider SEQs when determining a faculty member’s reappointment, tenure, promotion and merit reviews.
Unlike research institutions where quality of teaching may be considered secondary to quality of research, Wellesley emphasizes the competency of a professor in the classroom in assessing faculty. While it may be tempting to use the form for vindication after a particularly hard or time-consuming semester, lambasting a professor for a poor grade or a heavy work-load does not warrant vitriolic comments. Rather, as we would want a professor to be fair to us when writing a recommendation or providing feedback, we too should aim to provide constructive criticism.
In that vein, it is unfair to submit serious allegations against a professor’s integrity over SEQs. If a professor supports racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory behaviors in the class, the anonymous forum may seem like a purportedly advantageous way to vocalize those charges. However, accusations of those nature should be made through more formal channels. Wellesley employs an Ombudsperson, who is an independent, confidential, neutral and informal resource that will work with students who are at odds with a faculty or staff member. While speaking directly to a professor’s colleague about their conduct could be intimidating, the confidentiality of an Ombudsperson allows for an involved, equitable process to address concerns for all parties.
In addition, this method allows the professor a chance to defend him or herself against serious accusations. Furthermore, there are still other ways in which to provide feedback about a faculty member. Students may submit letters to the Dean of the College, who chairs the CFA, with or without identifying information. Nevertheless, SEQs are useful anonymous forums, but they should not the first channel to address grave concerns about a professor.
Additionally, not completing SEQs is irresponsible. All students are required to complete them, with the penalty of withheld online grades if not completed. Filling out such questionnaires, in many ways is a service and responsibility we have to future students. We often speak about how to improve the Wellesley academic culture, but there’s a distinction between wanting a better climate and working towards one. While we can save time by filling out SEQs with monosyllabic words, we deny ourselves an opportunity to direct the improvements of a class or the teaching of a class. Certainly, each of us has endured a rather arduous course that could have, in our individual opinions, been taught differently. SEQs are a mechanism to ensure that our siblings do not have to go through the same stress.
Although it may be tempting to neglect SEQs, we must provide conscientious and appropriate feedback as a means to improve our academic experiences. As we expect professors to give decent and thoughtful feedback on an essay or presentation per se, we should do the same for their SEQs.