Friday, December 09, 2005

Dental School Blogger Suspension: Chilling the Teaching Evaluation Process

In the wake of the scandal produced when the Marquette Dental school suspended a student because of some comments (including negative comments about a professor) on his blog, Dr. Thomas Taft, Director of Educational Development and Assessment in the school sent an e-mail to all students. It assured them that, if they complete the standard University teaching evaluation forms at the end of the semester, their answers will be held confidential.

This was in apparent response to fears, on the part of at least some students, that negative assessments on the teaching evaluations might get them punished, much as the student blogger was punished for negative comments about one of his professors.

We can’t say how widespread this fear was among Dental School students. It might have been expressed by only a few.

Still, this shows how important university objectives can be harmed by actions which chill free expression. The official Marquette teaching evaluations are of vastly more importance than anything posted on any blog.

The text of the e-mail follows:
From: Taft, Thomas
Sent: Wed 12/7/2005 6:12 PM
To: MUSOD-DL-Class-2009; MUSOD-DL-Class-2008; MUSOD-DL-Class-2007; MUSOD-DL-Class-2006
Subject: Course Evaluations

Dear Students,

As you all know, Susan and I have a very strong interest in having as many of you as possible complete the course evaluations. They are important and to let you know how important we are offering the two i-pods as incentives. I also want you to know that neither Susan nor I can ever track a comment to a student. The software simply does not allow it. We only know if you have actually completed the process.

And last but not least, please do not let the current controversy influence how you approach the evaluation process. It is important that we know if there are problems. They are addressed as soon as possible when there is a consensus among students. Please be candid. I have always approached this from the perspective that constructive comments are best, especially if they are critical of the individuals teaching. Someone is always more willing to listen if they are not called names.

I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I think I’ve always dealt fairly with the students in the school. Please complete the evaluations!

Thanks!

Dr. Taft

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