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McAllister on Rudolph

Professor James McAllister writes (with respect to this post):

With all due respect to the late Fred Rudolph, a superb historian of so many facets of the college’s history, these two letters written by Harry Garfield in 1909 and 1924 do not sound like someone who “had no trouble with the role of Williams as an instrument of the upper class.” Obviously, Garfield was not a Marxist or socialist, but he was certainly not comfortable with elaborate displays of wealth at the college, was proud of his efforts to provide scholarships to the less fortunate, and took great offense when at the idea that Williams was only a place for the wealthy. Always important to remember in this context that his father grew up in extreme poverty and did not amass any substantial savings before being elected to the presidency in 1880. Garfield had a healthy appreciation for capitalism, but one always tempered by a recognition that the rich had a responsibility to act in the larger interests of society.

I believe that James is the Williams professor with (by far?) the greatest knowledge of Williams history. Are there any other contenders for Fred Rudolph’s crown?

Those two letters are fascinating! Should we go through them in detail?

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On SCS Forms and Teaching Evaluations

Much of the best content at EphBlog is almost a decade old. Consider this comment from Professor James McAlister about Student Course Survey forms:

Ronit’s argument that SCS forms should not be the primary determinant of teaching quality is dead wrong. What are the alternatives? You could have professors determine teaching quality, but in this case I suspect many professors would be tenured or denied tenure simply because of how their colleagues view them in the classroom. What professors view as good teaching is likely to be substantialy different than what students view as effective teaching. In fact, the entire incentive structure would lead professors to teach in a manner designed to impress fellow profs than it would be designed to impress students. I can understand why professors might prefer this system, but why students should advocate such a system is beyond me. There is a reason why places such as Harvard have some brilliant researchers who are terrible teachers–their fate does not depend at all on students. Why would we want Williams to adopt a system in which professors would not have any interest in how students assess their teaching?

As Morty likes to say, anecdotes are not evidence. Even the worst professors at Williams have their defenders and the best their detractors. Without the SCS forms, tenure would become a process in which such anecdotes become all important. What the SCS system does is to quantify individual assessments into meaningful numbers that can be used for real comparisons.

The last point I would like to make is that many people seem to feel that profs can game the system by awarding high grades and giving students little work. As anyone who has ever seen SCS data would verify, Williams students generally punish professors who are not demanding in their expectations. The other thing to note is that the SCS forms capture such efforts. A prof who has great teaching scores, but is getting them on the basis of inflating grades and not assigning work (that does happen)is not fooling anyone. If a professor was unable to get good teaching scores without high grades and substantial requirements that would be duly noted in any review. It is also true that it would be noted if a professor received somewhat lower teaching scores but was a tough grader and had high standards.

No one would deny that there are problems in all forms of teacher assessments, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill on democracy, it is the best system of all for both students, profs, and administrators.

Indeed. The entire thread is worth reading. There is a great senior thesis to be written evaluating some of the factual claims that McAllister makes above. Any chance that the Administration would allow a student to access this data? I doubt it.

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Currently browsing posts filed under "James McAllister"

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