Every student at Binghamton University has taken a student opinion of teaching (SOOT) survey at the end of a course, but since the surveys and course grade distributions are not made public to students, we never reap the benefits during course selection and registration.
This Editorial Board believes the University should follow the examples set by other public universities and make SOOT survey results and grade distributions public. While we acknowledge that these methods do not always paint the full picture of a professor or a course, they would certainly be beneficial to students and are more accurate than other methods of faculty evaluation. Rate My Professors, for example, typically shows student opinions that highlight extreme viewpoints — usually, students only feel compelled to post when they really love or really hate a professor. This, among other unofficial methods, can be incredibly misleading.
When students choose classes, the only way to get a read on potential professors is by going on Rate My Professors, talking to academic advisers and asking friends for recommendations. Since SOOT surveys are not made public, these sources are the only way for students to access information about professors, however, they are not always the most reliable. Often, students can end up in courses with professors who don’t cater to their learning style or just don’t suit them overall.
BU is somewhat unique in that it does not make SOOT survey results and grade distributions public. Other public universities like the University of Colorado and Indiana University Bloomington provide statistics on grade distributions and course evaluations. At the University of Oregon and the University of Michigan, the student newspapers even compiled the data in easy-to-use search engines to ensure that the information was accessible to all students after obtaining the data through state public records laws. As BU seeks to reach the level of these other public universities, this information should especially be made public here — we are a public institution in New York state, where government employee personnel records are not considered confidential. If we have access to our professors’ and administrators’ salaries, we should have access to their course evaluations.
Grade distributions — knowing how many students in each class received each letter grade — is another key component to being fully informed when registering for classes, but one that is, again, inaccessible to us. Upon requesting grade distributions from the University per freedom of information laws, we were told that we would be charged $6,160. The breakdown of this high price tag is as follows: BU estimated that it would take 280 hours of additional programming and setup that is not normally necessary in order to obtain this information, and they would charge us $22 per hour. Not only is it ludicrous to charge so much money for information that other universities make public at no cost, but grade distributions should be easier to compile because students are already receiving their grades digitally.
Aside from not providing the information to students, it seems as though the University does not collect the information in a completely uniform way. The English department, for instance, gives professors the choice between distributing an English department-specific evaluation form and directing students to the universitywide general version of the SOOT survey on MyCourses. Most professors opt for the hard copy that is specific to the English department, which can cause discrepancies between survey methods, possibly skewing survey results. This Editorial Board believes that the process should be standardized.
It can be incredibly challenging to navigate the hundreds of classes offered at BU, especially for underclassmen who don’t have as much experience with choosing courses that will best suit them. We as students produce the data that makes up the course evaluations and grade distributions, so there should be no reason to hide it from us.