Neal Hannan ’03 notes that the New York Times article on faculty evaluations mentioned Williams.

In the never-ending power struggle between teachers and students, there have been a few seminal events: the first pop quiz, the first tack on the chair, the first student-written faculty evaluation and the first snarky comment on ratemyprofessors.com.

In 2002, Williams students started their own, Factrak, which only they have access to, a restriction intended to increase the chances that reviewers actually went to the classes they’re reviewing. Williams professors, however, are no less divided about it. ”In a certain sense I’m more uneasy,” says Alan White, a philosophy professor whose reviews are mixed. ”Ratemyprofessor,” he says, ”looks less like good information because students know the various ways it can be abused, whereas Factrak can look like better information precisely because of that limitation.” No matter how small the pool, he adds, an evaluation without knowledge of the evaluator’s tastes and experiences is useless.

False! All information is potentially valuable. The great thing about Factrak, which I have never seen, is that all the comments come from Williams students. Nothing ensures such control at ratemyprofessors.com and similar sites. Williams students know a great deal about their peers and so can use the information presented to good effect. Diana Davis ’07 writes:

I’ve decided not to sign up for Econ 251 in the fall so as to have the prerequisite for Morty’s tutorial in the spring, because the factrak reviews for both professors teaching the course are terrible.

In White’s view, Diana is stupid to rely on such “useless” information, especially since she is a senior and has learned, White hopes, that “an evaluation without knowledge of the evaluator’s tastes and experiences” does not improve course selection.

In truth, Diana (like hundreds of her peers) uses Factrak precisely because it is so useful. Comments:

1) It would be nice if alumni could read and add comments to Factrak. My opinion of some courses changed in the years after graduation.

2) Why aren’t Factrak’s usage statistics public? Enquiring minds would like to know how many entries there are for each professor/class, how many entries have been added this year, how many entries were checked in the weeks around registration and so on.

3) Perhaps it is time to revisit the status of Factrak at Williams. In particular, I think that the information in Factrak should be public, perhaps even included in Willipedia. (Exceptions could easily be made for faculty in their first year, untenured faculty and so on.)

4) One of the reasons that advising at Williams is sub-optimal is that much of the necessary information is hidden away, inaccessible unless you know what you are looking for. The more open the information is, the more useful that it will become.

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