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Faculty Senate discusses course evaluation forms policy; hears report on Law School

A proposal to change several aspects of the current policy regarding teaching evaluation forms was withdrawn after members of the Faculty Senate expressed conflicting opinions on whether deans should be encouraged to release statistical information to the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) for its student course guide. A revised proposal may be re-introduced in the future.

In other business at the Jan. 23 meeting, President Gerhard Casper reiterated Stanford's commitment to developing freshman seminars. Casper made his comments in response to what he called a "terribly slanted" article in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education under the heading "Few Departments at Stanford Sign Up for New Program to Teach Freshman."

On the contrary, Casper said, 25 to 30 of Stanford's 66 academic departments have now responded, proposing 85 to 100 freshman seminars. Given that 26 of the 66 departments are in the Medical School, whose faculty are welcome but not expected to teach freshman seminars, Casper said the response has been "phenomenally good."

Policy on teaching evaluations withdrawn

Mason Yearian, chair of the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement (C-AAA), presented a large set of proposed policy changes regarding teaching evaluation forms to the senate. The changes were withdrawn after senators disagreed on the extent of information that should be released to the ASSU for its student course guide.

Teaching evaluation forms compile three types of information: demographic information, such as class and major, about the students who took the course; narrative comments in a tear-off section designed by the ASSU; and tabulated data from multiple-response questions in such areas as teaching, intellectual content and organization.

While the first two types of information automatically go the ASSU, the tabulated data currently is not released.

The proposed policy would allow the deans of each school, after consultation with faculty, the provost and the advisory board, to release portions of the tabulated data to the ASSU for its course guide. Individual faculty members also would be allowed to release additional data to the ASSU, as is the case now, Yearian said.

Doug Natelson, ASSU senate representative, wasn't satisfied with the proposed change to make limited data available to students. Releasing as much statistical information as possible would go a long way toward helping the ASSU produce a more accurate and comprehensive course guide, he argued. The consultation process outlined in the proposed policy, he said, would hamper that effort because it would create administrative hurdles in getting even limited statistical information to students.

Nick Thompson, ASSU vice president, suggested that a clause might be added to the policy that encourages deans to release as much information as possible for the course guide. Emphasizing that the goal of the course guide is to help students at Stanford make informed selections about the courses they choose to take, Thompson assured senators that the ASSU would not be forwarding data to U.S. News and World Report.

His comment prompted Casper to voice concerns about the release of statistical information to students for the course guide, which is posted on the World Wide Web. The president said he could imagine a circumstance where a dean might want to test something about the faculty through these evaluations "that should not be put o