Official from SGA outlining academic reforms

To the Academic Administration and Faculty of Emerson College:

Thank you for your continued dedication to Emerson College. This year, the Emerson College Student Government Association evaluated the issue of college affordability through the lens of students’ academic experiences — our students deserve to get the most out of the money they spend to study here.

SGA compiled a number of suggestions that we would like to use as talking points for a discussion with you. Below, we offer several specific steps the College ought to take towards improving the overall academic experience for undergraduate students, including feedback regarding: instructor evaluations, open communication, tenured faculty members, registration, submitting course ideas, professor training, and attendance policies.

When crafting these initiatives, SGA worked to combine constituent feedback with past personal experiences. If implemented, we believe these suggestions will help make the quality of our learning experiences comparable with the rising price of our education. Please consider and utilize this document when planning for the 2012-2013 academic year and beyond.

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Instructor Evaluations

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  • Release a statement regarding what happens with course/instructor evaluations after they are filled out by students.
    • A large majority of students report feeling that their evaluations are useless end up in a pile of unread paperwork. Please release a statement to let us know what happens to evaluations — how do they affect professors? Our classes? Who looks at them, and how are poor reviews handled? Overall, do they make a difference?
  • Develop and publicize a system which holds teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations accountable.
    • We recommend an update in faculty contracts which mandates that evaluations are used to determine effectiveness and are therefore instrumental in maintaining employment. Students have reported less than positive experiences — semester after semester — with certain professors, but nothing has been done to address these concerns.
    • 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.
  • Allow students to see past scores and comments.
    • Students put effort into writing evaluations for websites like ratemyprofessor.com because others can read their feedback. We would like for departments to display relevant and constructive feedback from evaluations to help students make choices regarding course and instructor selection, as well as to tailor schedules to their learning goals and career objectives.
  • Make midterm evaluations mandatory for all professors via eCommon.
    • Feedback should be given and changes should be suggested while there is still time to adjust the learning environment, teaching style, or course content. End-of-semester evaluations may be beneficial for the professor’s next class, but they do nothing for students who feel that they are wasting thousands of dollars without an outlet through which to express their concerns.
    • We understand that students already have the ability to express grievances mid-semester, but the process is not conducive to encouraging participation. Currently, the procedure reads,

      “Students should address their concern about a policy decision directly with the office responsible for administering the policy. Similarly, students should attempt to resolve their complaint directly with the person with whom they have a complaint. In the event that the student believes that a satisfactory resolution has not been reached, the student may bring their concern to the next immediate level of authority.

      “An unresolved complaint about the behavior/performance of a faculty member may be brought to the chair of the academic division in which the faculty member teaches.


“The student’s academic advisor and the Office of the Dean of Students will assist students who have complaints or grievances and need help in determining the procedures to be followed.”


Students should not have to go out of their way to contact an office or an authority figure or have to bring their potentially uncomfortable concerns up directly with their professors. An anonymous evaluation, administered mid-semester via eCommon, is necessary to increase student satisfaction and course quality.

  • Begin a discussion with SGA about refining evaluation questions; in their current state, they are not structured in such a way as to accurately encapsulate classroom experiences.
    • Asking questions regarding how knowledgeable an instructor is about a subject does not reflect the many other factors involved in creating a positive learning environment. Currently, evaluation questions are formatted such that students must express the many other facets of their experience into the blank comment fields rather than offer quantitative scores.
    • We want to see evaluations tailored towards teaching styles, student learning experiences, and efficacy instead of things like “course difficulty,” which is ambiguous.
    • Different kinds of classes require different kinds of evaluations. Students cannot evaluate a dance class the same way as a speech class, or a broadcast practicum the same way as a VMA seminar.
  • We ask that departments create a feedback box where students can waive anonymity to request follow-up responses from their professor, department head, or both.
    • Students have filled out evaluations, asked for feedback, and have never received responses. These students, who have willingly waived anonymity, deserve to know that action steps are being taken to correct the problems they have addressed.


Promoting Communication

  • Initiate a discussion involving a wide cross-section of student and faculty representatives to discuss refining academic policies — particularly to make them consistent across departments and schools.


Tenured Faculty

  • Begin a discussion with SGA regarding tenured professors. Students often feel these faculty members are untouchable.
    • We want to better understand the process of evaluation regarding tenured professors. Are they held to the same standard as adjunct faculty? What happens if a tenured professor receives poor feedback?


Course Descriptions

  • Release a statement on how course descriptions are decided and updated.
    • Oftentimes, these descriptions do not accurately reflect the material studied or the processes by which students learn the course content. How are these descriptions written, and by whom? When are descriptions updated? If multiple sections of a class exist, individualized descriptions should reflect a professor’s teaching style or specific area of focus.
  • All topics classes need descriptions.
    • Furthermore, summer courses should have course descriptions listed before summer registration begins.
  • Alert students when faculty are assigned to classes.
    • While we understand that all instructors are not selected for certain classes in time to appear on the registration website, we urge you to keep this information as up to date as possible. Please be conscious that people are choosing classes — especially those with different sections — based on different instructors.
    • During the past academic year, SGA members have been able to contact departmental staff who have revealed the identities of the ‘TBA’ professors. If the information is available, students should be alerted and the registration website should be updated.


Registration, Enrollment, and Submission of Class Ideas

  • Develop a system to predict demand for classes; open sections accordingly.
    • An overwhelming number of constituents report dissatisfaction every semester following registration because they could not get into the classes that they wanted. It is important to develop a system to better predict the demand for a particular course and to offer more sections or hire faculty accordingly.
    • Consider surveying students to find out what courses they plan to take ahead of time so that the College may attempt to accommodate them as necessary.
    • Communicate how class sizes are determined and why they are justified. Make very clear in which cases students can earn exceptions to the rule and obtain permission to override limitations.
  • During registration, open major-specific courses to students who have a declared a minor in their respective departments.
    • Many juniors and seniors with declared minors have expressed frustration in the fact that these core classes fill up with freshmen and sophomores before major restrictions are lifted. Upperclassmen should not be the last to register for the classes that they need in order to complete their minor, and in some cases, to graduate.
  • Make course prerequisites very clear before registration.
    • Students searching through the course catalog can often be confused by the option to click on the name of the course, or click ‘View Catalog Entry.’ They reveal similar information, but only one lists all of the requirements. Sometimes the other link will reveal some of the prerequisites, but not a separate category also labelled ‘restrictions.’ This has caused many students to think they are qualified for a class and then attempt to register, only to be shut out by the system and made aware of some previously unannounced prerequisite/restriction that wasn’t easily accessible.
    • Please look into a collaboration with I.T. — students would appreciate the creation of a search option in the course catalogue which would only display courses that a student is allowed to register in for the following semester (based on whichever courses they’ve taken thus far, department they are in, and year of graduation). This option would prevent misunderstandings by making very clear which courses they can take in the upcoming semester, since restricted classes would be filtered out of view while the filter is selected.
  • Consider eliminating unnecessary prerequisites.
    • We recognize that prerequisites are to ensure students come in to the class with a working knowledge of certain subjects to better participate in discussions, or skills to handle particular tasks, but requirements need to be better justified–particularly ‘class restrictions,’ such as those allowing only Juniors or Seniors to take a class (or more puzzlingly, some new courses which only allow Freshmen to enroll). Students of any age can enroll at the College, and the difference in maturity, experience, or know-how between students only a year apart seems difficult to distinguish.
    • Be more transparent as to why certain prerequisites are placed. For each class, provide a description explaining what students are required to know from those previous classes, and why it will inform their new course experience.
  • Publicize new courses being added to the curriculum.
    • Some departments individually make students aware of which new courses are being offered in the following semester. Everyone else must search through the course catalogue themselves to know which options are available. Compile a list of new courses each semester and post it to an easily accessible location, like eCampus or eCommon.
  • Create input boxes on an Emerson website where students can suggest classes that they would be interested in taking.  
    • Students want to be more involved with deciding what classes and educational experiences are available. We ask you to create a place — perhaps on eCommon or eCampus — where students can select a field of study, enter a class idea (and a brief description, if necessary), and submit it for consideration.
    • In the past, SGA has had to push for foreign language expansion by aggregating survey results. Creating a forum through which students can voice concerns will reduce our role as a polling organization and increase our ability to better serve our constituents.


Professor Training

  • Require that professors familiarize themselves with the technology available in their assigned classrooms before the course begins.
    • 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.


Attendance Policy

  • SGA is considering taking on the modification of attendance policy as an issue — please begin a discussion with us.
    • We understand that there is also scholarly research that outlines the benefits of compulsory attendance policies, however, given the specific needs of Emerson students as SGA has come to understand them, we feel that modification of the attendance policy merits discussion.
    • We need to encourage students to be responsible for their own behavior to better prepare them for the ‘real world,’ in which they are not reminded or told to show up to work. The current attendance policy does not encourage this kind of personal responsibility because it penalizes students simply for being absent when instead they should realize the consequences of their absences by missing out on worthwhile course content. 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.
    • Following this, many students have complained that they could have learned just as much for a class only by reading the assigned texts (due to class lectures only reiterating what was in the reading rather than offering new insights).
    • Several studies point to the downfalls of a mandatory policy. Pintrich (1994) says compulsory attendance reduces perceptions of control, leading to reduced motivation in class. St. Clair (1999) says that if students do not feel they are receiving sufficient value from attending class, they will choose to spend their time doing something more valuable.  
    • We have expressed our concerns with the quality and regulation of our professors. Sperber (2005) views attendance from the perspective of the consumer — if students consistently miss a course, it allows professors to receive feedback on how they are doing. We hope professors will work to make their lessons worthwhile if they expect students to attend class.
    • Finally, Forsyth (2003) claims that a strict attendance policy can lead to classrooms filled with disinterested and unprepared students, who often become a distraction to those interested in the lecture or contributing in the discussion. These students often change the environment of the classroom from one of excitement to one of apathy. Similarly, Sperber (2005) says he would prefer to teach a smaller number of volunteers than a large army of conscripts — this is a sentiment with which we, as a student body, agree.


A Note Regarding Plausibility

The Emerson College Student Government Association is aware that many of its recommendations may require time, research, investigation, or money. In respect to this, we request that the College be particularly sensitive to the student body’s financial needs, and not defer the expenses onto students by increasing their tuition.

As SGA has stated in previous initiatives, we encourage the College to finance these changes by cutting inefficiencies, staggering expansion projects, and diversifying revenue sources. We would greatly appreciate more communication between the Administration of Emerson College and the student body in regards to this matter and we implore the College to take this recommendation to heart.

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The Emerson College Student Government Association would like to express again our gratitude for your hard work and willingness to collaborate with our organization. We would like for this document to serve not as an exhaustive list of demands, but instead as an invitation to a larger discussion as to how we can better give the student body what it wants and needs.

We would like to initiate the discussion and begin laying the groundwork for these Academic reforms before the end of the semester. Please let us know if there are any questions we can answer for you or messages you would like for us to communicate to the rest of the student body. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

The Emerson College Student Government Association

Further Reading:
Forsyth, D. R. (2003). The professor’s guide to teaching: Psychological principles and practices. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pintrich, P. R. (1994). Student motivation in the college classroom. In K.W. Prichard & R. McLaran Sawyer (Eds.), Handbook of college teaching: Theory and application (pp. 23-43). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Sperber, M. (2005). Notes from a teaching career. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(3), B20-21.

St. Clair, K. L. (1999). A case against compulsory class attendance policies in higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 23, 171-180.