How to Avoid Incompetence

Jennifer Bandy has an interesting post up over at Dartblog. She was one of the students fortunate enough to sup with the Trustees over the weekend. On the whole, the recent trend of more trustee/student interaction is very positive—as was Haldeman’s encouragement of the students to ask the trustees at their table tough questions. This, however, is a bit disconcerting:

My favorite moment of the luncheon was when Mr. Carson asked the students at the table if any of us ever had a truly incompetent professor at Dartmouth. He clearly expected to hear “no” and to make the point that to maintain a high level of quality, they aren’t always able to supply the quantity desired by students. Indeed, Carson seemed taken aback when the students noted that in fact we have all experienced such a professor during our time at the College. Instead of expressing regret over this situation and a commitment from the Board to continue searching for dedicated and talented professors, he blamed the students. He suggested that if we utilized the Student Assembly provided course guide, we would never take classes with incompetent professors.

As any student can attest, the SA Guide is far from the be-all and end-all of separating the professorial wheat from the chaff. Even a cursory stroll through the guide shows that the students who comment on classes or professors are students who either hated the prof. or loved the prof. This makes sense. Though SAD tries its best to get students to review all their classes, only about 5-10% do so. And the only significant motivation for reviewing is either to wish the professor harm or to wish him well. Case in point:

I will never take another class with [redacted]. I feel sorry for myself that I had to go through her class during my first term in college.

And from a different review of the same professor and class:

[redacted] did a great job of connecting all of the students — she really created a free discussion atmosphere, where everyone could voice their opinion and really LEARN and UNDERSTAND what others were saying. The free-writes really helped me to get into writing.

The point is not that the guide is worthless, but that it’s a rather laughable the trustees would chastise students for not making proper use of it.