Not giving up yet

This week saw a firestorm of controversy surrounding the Student Association’s boycott of teacher evaluations. Although I am not surprised this action turned some heads and ruffled some feathers, I was disappointed with the comments made by some professors and teaching assistants who claimed to have “no problem” releasing their information, but didn’t think that a boycott was warranted. I welcome

the controversy surrounding the boycott and I hope it leads to some sorely needed cooperation.

Let’s take a short look at the history of attempts to publish teacher evaluations at NIU. Three or four times in the past 12 years, attempts to hold instructors to this level of accountability have failed. Until a few weeks ago, I could not understand why, but after receiving a seven percent response rate on the letters and release forms we sent out requesting permission from professors to release their evaluation information, I am convinced that I know the reason these past attempts have died: a lack of meaningful support from the professors and administrators at this institution.

At NIU, the real decision-makers are those administrators and faculty members who hold their vote year after year. Unfortunately, they can and do count on efforts and ideas dying when student leaders graduate.

Behind closed doors, professors will tell you that they would not mind their evaluations being published, and administrators will tell you “off the record” that they think it’s high time that students on this campus had an instructor evaluations book. These same professors and administrators, however, can not be expected to stand up for the students in a University Council meeting for fear that they might alienate their colleagues who do not want students to get their foot in the door. We need vocal, institutioal support, and the past four attempts to publish teacher evaluations have shown that this kind of support is hard to come by.

No one likes a boycott, neither myself, the senators who passed the resolution, nor those professors who will be affected by it. Our efforts to send a strong message through a boycott are justified when one considers both the history of student attempts to publish teacher evaluations, and the bureaucratic system of shared governance which places students at a strong disadvantage in the decision-making process. We do not want this year’s attempts to publish teacher evaluations to constitute a fifth failed attempt to provide this service. We hope that favorable decisions will be made regarding publication of teacher evaluations before the evaluation process begins again next spring, but we will be prepared to launch a more timely, broad-based boycott at that time if institutional support is not gained before then.