CONTACT: Marisa Cigarroa, News Service (650) 725-9750;
Students will have more information to use for course guide
A revised policy that encourages the release of student evaluation summaries of faculty sailed through the Faculty Senate on Thursday, Oct. 30, garnering high praise from students who are designing a course guide.
The senate also approved a new policy on research data storage and access and heard a comprehensive report on the museum.
The new policy on evaluations makes the release of students' summaries the "preferred position," but it reserves the right of deans to withdraw parts or all of the evaluation summaries of a particular course for fairness and equity purposes. The previous policy mandated that only a tear-off portion on the evaluation sheet was made available to students.
"The tear-off comments we've been receiving in the last couple of years [tended to be] from the students who were the most passionate," said Emily Andrus, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University. "We are really looking for more of a general sense of what people are thinking of the class." The evaluation summaries, Andrus said, will help students produce a more responsible course guide.
Ramón Saldívar, vice provost for undergraduate education, sees it "as a vital tool for good advising standards." John Shoven, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, also voiced his support for distributing more information to students.
"Maybe I'm too much of an economist, but I tend to think that the efficiency of markets depends on consumers being informed. And in that spirit, I think the students who are choosing courses should share the information we have about the quality and characteristics of the courses that are being offered," Shoven said.
Shoven, however, stressed the importance of getting the majority of students in a class to fill out the evaluation forms.
"It's quite frequent that I see courses with 28 students and only seven forms [are filled out]," he said. "I really don't know what the students felt about the course because there are 21 people that didn't fill out the forms. If less than half of the class fills out the forms, he said he probably would decide against releasing the information to students.
While the new policy elicited considerable support from the senate, one senator expressed concerns about the added stress that untenured faculty might feel as a result of having the evaluation summaries made public.
"I'm wondering if more can be done to extend the protection that's envisioned here for the untenured faculty beyond the first year of teaching," said Paul Roberts, professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Hester Gelber, associate professor of religious studies and chair of the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement (C-AAA) that drafted the policy, said that the deans certainly would have the prerogative to exempt non-tenured faculty.
"This is an umbrella document under which the various schools can make the decisions they feel necessary as to what to put forward and what to withhold," she said.
The revised policy also adjusts the minimum size of classes subject to evaluation from eight to two and exempts classes that are taught on a first-time experimental basis from scrutiny if the faculty member teaching the course decides to exercise this option.
In other business, the senate unanimously approved a new policy that calls for research data to be archived for a minimum of three years after a project's final financial report and made available for review under appropriate circumstances. The policy, which was prompted by new federal regulations, gives considerable flexibility to the principal investigator for deciding what data should be retained.
In a continuing series of reports to the senate from various corners of the university, Thomas Seligman, director of the university museum, discussed the museum's history, from its founding to the present.
Asked why Stanford should have a museum, Seligman said part of the answer lies in the university's history.
"When the university was created," he said, "the founding grant focused on the museum five times and six times in the amendments . . . so this is very, very central to the Stanfords' conception of what this university should be."
In 1905, he said, the museum was the same size as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The 1906 earthquake changed that all but the central portion of the museum and the block behind it to the west was destroyed.
"The museum never really recovered," Seligman said. "There was no effort on the university's part, I think, to bring the museum back in any meaningful way. Both the Stanfords were dead and there was terrific damage to the rest of the university and the energy went elsewhere."
So, over the period from 1906 until the mid-1950s, the museum was effectively closed. In 1963, Lorenz Eitner was appointed chair of the art department.
"The deans told him, sort of casually, 'There's a museum over there. If you want to do something with it, you can,' " Seligman said. "For the next 26 years, with very little university support, but with significant community support, Lorenz continued to . . . develop collections and bring those into the museum."
By the 1970s, Seligman said, the museum's collection was being used regularly by the art, anthropology and classics departments for teaching purposes. It continued to grow until the 1989 earthquake, when it went back into a hermetic mode, said Seligman, who was hired in 1991 to develop a plan for the museum's future and to raise funds to help rebuild it.
The museum, replete with a new wing, cafe, shop and new teaching spaces, is scheduled to reopen in January 1999. There are about 20,000 pieces in the collection, making it the 12th largest collection among university museums.
"In relation to the Harvards and Yales, we are qualitatively inferior," Seligman said, noting that Harvard has 150,000 objects in its collection. The newly re-opened museum holds much promise for strengthening the collection and for bringing traveling exhibits to Stanford, he continued. Whether these goals are achieved, however, depends on the faculty, staff and students, he said.
"The why of the museum is not a given in my mind, nor is it a given in the mind of the staff," Seligman said. "It exists because of this history that I've tried to indicate. It'll only be valuable, it seems to me, if those of you in this room and your colleagues and your students and those in the future figure out interesting and effective and important ways of putting it to use."
By Marisa Cigarroa