SGA calls for improved prof evaluations and academic policy

by Stephanie Bradbury / Beacon Staff • April 12, 2012

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SGA President Tau Zaman.
SGA President Tau Zaman.

After a week of discussion fraught with email discourse regarding its approval, Student Government Association passed a proposal last Thursday to reform the college’s academic policy, altering the way students evaluate professors and revoking a widely implemented three-absence class attendance rule.

The proposed academic overhaul, outlined in a letter written by President Tau Zaman and Vice President Caitlin Higgins, was submitted to faculty and administrators. 

“All of these things are about making classes worthwhile,” said Zaman, a junior political communication major, in an interview with the Beacon. 

The student government called for an instructor evaluation system that holds professors more accountable for negative reviews through required teaching workshops, and a system similar to the teacher grading site Ratemyprofessor.com to make student aware of comments professors have received in the past. 

“All departments should investigate negative claims and should explore the option of providing teaching workshops to instructors who receive unsatisfactory feedback. Consistently poor reviews should result in probation or termination,” reads the initiative.

On changing the college’s attendance policy, which allows professors to mandate their own practices for taking attendance beyond the college’s limit of three unexcused absences, the SGA invited faculty to engage in an open discussion about encouraging students to be responsible for their own attendance in a class, rather than penalize them for missing a certain number of lectures. 

“Students do not miss classes that they are active, engaged, and invested in — course content should be meaningful enough that missing out on such valuable information would push them to avoid absences,” the statement says. 

In the letter, the SGA cited studies published by the American Psychological Association and the Chronicle of Higher Education that claim attendance policies can create a classroom environment of disinterested students. 

Higgins said she predicts the proposal will be received well by faculty members, but administrators will be slow to make any concrete changes.

“We anticipate spending next year working with faculty to discuss and implement changes, but overall, these suggestions will greatly improve the quality of academic life at Emerson,” said Higgins.

In regard to professor training, the letter suggests the college require professors to familiarize themselves with the technology in the classroom. 

“It is not uncommon to have class with a professor who does not understand how to use the technology available in a classroom; it is frustrating to waste class time while a professor fumbles with trying to raise volume, lower a screen, or use the Internet,” the letter says. 

SGA also asked for the administration to predict demand for classes and open extra sections as needed, and to consider the elimination of specific prerequisite courses. 

After a lengthy joint session meeting April 3 — at which the initiatives were on the agenda for discussion — resulted in questioning of the academic reform from SGA members and additional time needed for approval, Higgins emailed the SGA stating she was disappointed. 

“It’s incredibly disheartening and disappointing when we ask for feedback, receive none, and then run into a wall of issues,” the email to SGA and Beacon SGA reporters said. 

Melyssa Cantor, the journalism senator, responded to the email in agreeance with Higgins. 

Zaman responded saying the disagreement and frustration from Higgins and other SGA members is part of a healthy and normal discourse, and an additional scheduled meeting is not a reason to stress. 

 

Heidi Moeller, Beacon Staff, contributed to this report.