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:: By Amy M. Braverman

:: Illustration by Bill Jaynes:

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Chicago Journal ::

College Report

The rating game

photo:  college report sites
“Hot for someone his age,” says one comment on

While Chicago (and other) undergraduates wax sarcastic on public Web sites such as (see below), they strike a more serious tone on the course evaluations professors hand out at quarter’s end. “An extremely effective and enthusiastic lecturer and discussion leader,” reads one positive comment on a comparative-lit evaluation. “Sometimes dwells too long on certain points rather than keeping discussion moving forward” is a noted weakness.

Begun in the late ’60s or early ’70s by students—who distributed, collected, and collated the forms—the evaluations’ cost and administration were eventually picked up by the College, though, Associate Dean Michael Jones, AM’83, PhD’88, asserts, “it’s still a student process.” While the medical, business, and law school deans require faculty to hand out evaluation forms, he says, “we don’t do that. These are still designed by students and distributed through the collegiate divisional offices.” Faculty use them voluntarily, and Jones estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the courses have evaluations—since 2000 available online via the U of C network. Though the forms don’t necessarily affect tenure, once grades are turned in faculty often make copies for themselves as a record of their teaching. And the evaluations do, of course, educate students registering for classes.

Student processors censor the rare obscenity and personal attack. “The lectures were boring” stays in, for example, but “the lecturer was an idiot” comes out. “Sometimes I’m surprised at how little negative comments there are,” Jones says; the most common remarks include “knowledgeable” and “really knows his or her stuff.”

Noting room for improvement, Student Government plans to shorten the forms this fall, and next year Jones hopes to upgrade the site’s search functions.

A sampling of Chicago students’ blunt—and funny—comments on

He seems at first as though he’s going to be amusing, and the Bob Dylan references are cool, but afterwards you just get bored.

As others have said, the soul of generosity and kindness: but this does not a great professor make.

His board notes may be all over the place, but he’s brilliant.

He was arrogant, but not more than any other professor here.

Of the debates we have had, the most passionate have been on the use of footnotes.

Can pick his nose, fling the finding at the student in the first row, expound wisdom and make you feel like you are blessed to be the landing zone of such brilliant nasal refuse.

It was criminal how boring he made such exciting material sound.

Chain-smoking, joke repeating, but awesome.

Call him Mr. Tangent.

Awesome hippy momma. She does rock... you will love her.
The classic cheesy physics prof: part bumbling idiot, part ultra nerd.

Amazingly clear on Foucault. And he actually knew the guy.

I don’t think this man even exists outside of his own brain.

He’s like James Joyce, only if he were a geneticist. Completely full of himself and his lectures are streams of consciousness with no coherence whatsoever.

Just pretend you know what he’s saying and laugh when he laughs.

You know that annoying kid who sits in the corner of the class and occasionally jumps in with completely random and irrelevant comments—that’s [him].

He appears to be smug, especially when he uses the word “combinatorics.”

This guy looks and acts just like the guy on the Aqualung album.

He is obviously very brilliant. I was just too stupid.

If you've ever wanted to talk to Socrates, take this man’s class.

Hot for someone his age.

[She] is like Betty Boop with the mind of Heidegger: bubbly, goofy, brilliant.

Exams were truly sadistic.

The beard. What else can you say? The best facial hair of ANY U of C professor, hands down.

This is one of the most brilliant men, the very very very best teacher, and one of the most fascinating courses that I have ever been exposed to. Sell your organs or children to be there if necessary. Seriously. (Very difficult class.)

Literally, the man does not speak logical, sensical English. He does make funny noises and makes the class laugh.

Take a class from him while you can. I think he was around when the religious myths he teaches were first created.

Brilliant, interesting, fun. Sexy in the scary scholar way.

A ray of idiosyncratic sunshine.

Ridiculous grading system that requires students to vomit up exact key phrases in the midterm and final.