Academic Senate makes narrative evaluations instructor optional

UCSC's Academic Senate has voted overwhelmingly to modify the campus's undergraduate narrative evaluation policy to make it instructor optional.

The Senate has been reconsidering the campus's iconic narrative evaluation system for more than a year; the action today (April 23, 2010) follows a vote ten years earlier in which faculty made letter grades mandatory, in addition to written evaluations.

Now, with a 45-5 vote, the Senate revised the student-evaluation policy again to allow instructors to prepare a written evaluation if they wish. Proponents said students could also request a written evaluation if one were not offered and could appeal if an instructor refused.

Larger classes, heavier workloads, a mandatory 15-day deadline to file the narratives, and computer programs that create less personal written evaluations all were cited as reasons for change.

"This will revitalize our narrative evaluation system that most of us don't take seriously," said Brent Haddad, professor of environmental studies and a member of the Senate's Executive Committee that recommended the change.

In introducing the debate, Senate chair Lori Kletzer called the proposal "historic legislation." The goal, added vice chair Marc Mangel, professor of applied mathematics and statistics, "is to keep the best part of the narrative evaluation and eliminate some of the things that have become negative."

Others argued that the latest revision is tantamount to killing the system entirely. UCSC Alumni Association President Amy Everitt (Stevenson '92) argued passionately for reform, not elimination, and said she "predicts a slow death" for narratives.

Politics chair Dan Wirls, one of five no votes, called the result "death by voluntarism."

In the end, dissatisfaction with the status quo across all academic divisions led to the move to make narratives optional. As John Johnson, president of the Graduate Students Association, put it during the February debate: "We want them, but we don't want to do them."