To Reply or Not to Reply?

Written on:March 31, 2012
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Soon it is going to be time for course pre-registration. With the new course schedule almost done and April approaching, students once again have to think what classes to take and with whom.

SG’s website provides a forum for unofficial discussion of professors, so students can check out comments on the professors they intend to take classes with. These are evaluations that can be read and replied by everyone and give the option of commenting anonymously. Yes, replied by everyone, even professors.

Jeffrey Nilsen, Associate Professor of Economics, is the only professor in AUBG who decided to engage with students on the evaluations page after reading comments about himself. “I felt it was an attack,” he said, explaining that some students’ posts about him were “kinda bitter.” He considered his unusual low number of pre-registered students last year as a direct effect of the negative evaluations on the SG website, although there are also many positive ones.

However, it is not so much the reason for defending as much as the very act of engaging in student discussion of this type that rendered strange to some students. Some consider it “Kind of weird. If a professor is trying to defend why they did something, that probably means they are getting defensive because they probably didn’t do a good job,” said Ryan Terry, an exchange student from the USA.

“I don’t think it’s weird, because when somebody punches you, you punch back,” said Nilsen. As every public place, the SG forum is a platform for discussion and in a discussion each side needs to have a representative. “A professor has a right to answer,” said Kelsey Boeding, an exchange student from the USA. “But at the same time that’s saying something about your teaching style and your confidence in teaching,” she said.

As in all public discussions, each side lays out facts that best present their case, allowing for a level of subjectivity to slip through what is supposed to be constructive criticism. This is why some students don’t consider these comments a reliable source. “I wouldn’t make my choice of class based on somebody’s opinion because it is really subjective,” said junior Ayjeren Rozyjumayeva. This subjectivity can be expressed in student’s negative opinion. “You get some students who got bad grades and they want to get even. That’s basically what the deal is, I think,” Nilsen said.

Still, some students do rely on faculty evaluations and consider them valid. “I checked with professors I had courses with and the comments were correct,” said freshman Adriana Izmirova. She considers professors’ answers an invasion of students’ privacy. “I think this [the evaluations forum] should be a private zone where only students can express themselves,” she said.

So, should a professor engage in debate over his teaching skills or should he/she read the comments without answering, like they do with the official professor evaluations we send at the end of each semester? The SG forum is there for all to write, the rest is a matter of perspective.

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