Western has recently experimented with electronic professor evaluations as a way to cut down on paper use. However, faculty and student opinions are split on the usefulness of the system itself. Photo illustration by Joe Rudko/The AS Review

Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review

As fall quarter draws to a close, students are bombarded with their worst academic nightmares. Essays, tests and final projects spring up from the ground, and due dates collide with each other in a hectic five-day period.

Among the test reviews and class periods dedicated to working on assignments left until the last minute are the brief but inevitable professor evaluations. Instructors are exiled to the hallways to twiddle their thumbs while students unleash their true feelings about their courses behind closed doors.

Western graduate student Aaron George feels the evaluations are beneficial to the learning process.  He said he took a course last winter where a particularly large percentage of his classmates had a problem with the professor. The evaluations provided a forum where students could constructively discuss how they felt about the class, George said.

“I definitely don’t think they are a waste of time,” he said.

George added that his professors usually take note of every comment. One quarter, he recommended a book to his professor in one of his comments and his suggestion was implemented into the course the following quarter.

Western student Sam Vogt said he believes that student critiques of professors should be done in person, since putting a face to the comments would help professors to better understand the context behind them.

Associate history professor Scott Pearce said that Western faculty unionized in 2008 and created the United Faculty of Western Washington. A collective bargaining agreement made between the faculty union and the university mandates each member of the union have all of their students complete evaluations at the end of every quarter.

Mark Kuntz, a professor of theatre arts, has a set of binders in his office that hold every evaluation his students have given him during his nine years teaching at Western.

He said that the evaluations are a big part of whether or not faculty members receive promotions, pay raises or tenure.

Kuntz said that when he received the results from his students’ evaluations, he sits down and reads every comment sheet. The most common request from his students is to update the technology he uses in his classroom, which he regularly does due to the suggestions.

He said one problem with the evaluations is that they don’t properly measure how much a student has learned during a quarter. Instead, they only gauge the student’s satisfaction with the professor.

John Rybcyzk, a professor at Huxley College, said he feels having evaluations each quarter is repetitive, and that it would be just as productive if they were required only once per year. He said he still changes 10 to 20 percent of the material in his courses each quarter due to student feedback.

Rybczyk teaches a course called “Environmental Studies: A Scientific Approach 101,” which is currently the largest class on campus. He said he understands with an introductory class there will be negative comments, but his own dream would be for the students who were minimally involved in the class to refrain from making comments that aren’t constructive on the evaluation forms. He added that he has received some particularly odd comments over the years, including a request to “wear tighter pants,” and the occasional “you suck Rybczyk.”

Kathryn Murray, an office manager in Western’s Testing Center, said the center distributes 32,000 teacher evaluations every quarter to university departments. Western spends at least $6,000 on the evaluation forms every year, she said.

In order to cut down on the amount of paper used for the evaluations, last year the university tested the use of electronic evaluations instead. The initial trial run involving students from 20 different classes showed positive results.

Kuntz said he favored the use of electronic evaluations. He added that the biggest problem in the development of the electronic evaluations is making sure students are able to complete them, since many students don’t have access to computers during the class period.

“I’d like to see how they’re managed,” Kuntz said. “I think they should be electronic and every student should be required to fill them out.”