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SAAC Success: Professor Evaluations to be Available Online in Fall 2011

At the close of previous semesters, students completed evaluations for every secular studies course, and the Dean's office compiled the data about each professor and his or her courses. After students received their grades, professors were able to read through the evaluations. After that, the only time the information in evaluations would again be perused was, briefly, during a faculty member's tenure evaluation process. Students remained in the dark, never given access to the evaluation results they generated.

This is all about to change. After extensive research and many meetings, the Student Academic Affairs Committee (SAAC), alongside Professors Gillian Steinberg, Ariel Malka, Shalom Holtz and Paula Geyh, developed a new set of course evaluations that will be handed out at the end of this semester. The results of those evaluations will be linked to the SAAC website (YUSAAC.com) and accessible to Yeshiva students with a Banner User ID and password.

Before this development, the common methods of discerning a professor's pedagogic proficiency– either themesorah of a family member or friend, or RateMyProfessors.com – had serious flaws. Information passed down for generations might be helpful, but many students lack a strong bond to elder YU students, and many current professors are recent arrivals. Additionally, RateMyProfessors contains only a small sampling of information about professors in Yeshiva with, in many cases, no feedback more detailed than a "chili pepper."

Instituting this development was no simple task. Professors want their courses "to be fairly and truthfully represented," explains Professor Steinberg. The professors on the committee were impressed by the SAAC members, who are promoting a way for students to make better informed decisions on their class choices other than by asking a friend which professor gives the easiest "A."

Professor Steinberg told The Commentator that these new questions were made with the educationally motivated student in mind. "The SAAC forms…ask questions student representatives feel will be the most useful to students planning their schedules." This contrasts with the Dean's evaluations which "help him determine whether faculty members deserve raises, reappointment, or promotion."

Some questions on the new form include, "Does the professor respond to emails within 3 business days?" and "Does the information in the syllabus accurately reflect what happens in the course?" Students respond with the familiar multiple choice answers that reflect the two extremes.

This puts a new weight on students to provide thoughtful answers to twelve multiple-choice questions. "The more accurate your evaluation, the better the feel others will have about the professor," comments SAAC Vice President Rafi Blumenthal (YC '11), who led the SAAC subcommittee on this issue. For now, the evaluations only have multiple-choice questions. In the future, the SAAC looks to add short responses to invite more detailed student responses.

Raffi Holzer (YC '12), SAAC President, believes that the SAAC is not finished advancing this service, and even more student-faculty cooperation is needed. "Course and professor evaluations are essential, but we can do more," he said. "Hopefully we will succeed in getting professors to post their syllabi before registration so students can make better-informed course choices."