Course evaluations are anonymous for a reason

Every once in a while, one can hear the insidious murmuring of professors who feel that course evaluations should be conducted in a less anonymous fashion. But, the anonymity of course evaluations is precisely what guarantees their integrity in the first place. The argument from the pedagogic corner of the ring is that the omission of student information from each form opens the door to dishonesty, and worse, pure trolling. Profs will say that because their salary, tenure track, and career outlook are all in some respect tied to student evaluations of their performance, that there is no room for the potential off-hand remark. It’s true that undermining a person’s career while hiding behind the wall of secrecy is probably quite mean; the whole fear is actually a phobia. That is to say, like the phantom of voter fraud it’s just that, a mere specter.

Another ready-made argument that profs frequently resuscitate from the morgue of nullary logic, builds in a supposed protection for the student from the inherently imbalanced power dynamic between educator and pupil. It is suggested that by withholding course evaluations from professors until after final grades are faculty approved, the potential for retributive action is disappeared. But what’s the point? Why would we take a relationship that innately disfavors the student in favor of the professor and exacerbate that asymmetry?

Course evaluations simply have to be conducted with the promise of namelessness. And indeed with the acknowledgement that students (mature adults) are not inclined to give wildly mischievous responses. It is in the arena of freedom and privacy that the most genuine sentiments arise. That is the ambiance that should permeate the entire process of appraising a professor’s capacity to deliver a curriculum with efficacy. We are, after all, peers in the sense that we all inhabit this particular parcel of academia.

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