A reader, Vivek Rao, writes in:
I think that student evaluations of faculty should be made available, but we should be wary of their shortcomings. There was a study finding that student evaluations of professor depend in part on the professor’s looks and whether he is an easy grader.
The study is here.
There are a number of methods that have much the same utility as student-review of their professors, but are absent the pitfalls. A number of schools have introduced a peer-review structure for professors; doubtless this is equally or more unpopular with professors, territorial as they are, but the reviews carry the weight of non-specialists who nonetheless understand the expectations of the field. Their criticisms, I imagine, are far more likely to be taken seriously as well, rather than simply appeased by inflating grades.
Concerns about the structure or the “reasonableness” of the workload could be addressed by predistributing syllabi, as many professors do, or by instituting a “shopping period” where students turn in their registration cards only after a week of sitting in various courses. That these measures are already in place at Harvard, as well as a voluntary student-review, makes the wisdom of implementing a universal, mandatory student review questionable.