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May 09, 1986 - Image 7

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1986-05-09

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The Michigan Doily - Friday, May 9, 1986 - Page 7

'U' stifles
student voice

By Kery Murakami
A report in the mid-1960s on the
role of students in University
decision-making said, "College is
not a preparation for life. It's life
itself." This above all else, reflec-
ts the importance of students
having influence on the policies of
the institution. Not token, rubber-
stamping power, but the actual
ability to make decisions.
A university is life itself, and
students do not need to be
sheltered. The issues one hears on
the Diag are not training-wheel
issues before entering the "real
world." They are real issues.
Blacks are really dying in South
Africa and the University's in-
vestments do really help support
the apartheid regime.
A courageous man named
Nelson Mandela is really rotting in
prison, and an honorary degree
from the University might have
expedited his release. Research
done by University faculty for the
Department of Defense really
produces weapons and the very
real potential of death.
So what better time to begin con-
fronting the hard realities and
moral dilemmas of modern
The first and foremost obstacle
students must face in this Univer-
sity is the secrecy that shrouds
much of its policy-making. The
University's executive officers
disappear behind closed doors
every Tuesday afternooon to
discuss tuition levels, program
cuts, honorary degrees - issues of
more than superficial interest for
many students.
The honorary degree policy is so
hush-hush that a large group of
students who worked on urging the
University to give Mandela a
degree did not find out he was
ineligible until last month. The
policy is so secret that members of
the Board of Regents never
thought to tell the students of his
ineligibility even when students
spoke to them at their meeting.
In fact, it took a sit-in before ad-
ministrators decided to discuss
the matter with students. Ad-
ministrators are fond of talking
about academic freedom,
especially when conservative
speakers are met with protesters
or when students disrupt military
research on campus. But they hide
behind closed doors when setting
And then there is democracy.
Students study it. We are told by
speakers how wonderful it is. Yet,
the University is hardly a
Murakami is the editor of the
Daily's New Student Edition.

democracy. The University
President has the power to
overrule any law, including the
guarantee that the Michigan
student assembly ratify any codes
of conduct that have nothing to do
with academics.
Students' main channel to ad-
ministrators are the five minutes
a limited number of speakers are
allowed to have once a month at
the regents' meeting. These
speakers are often greeted with
blank expressions, and rustlings of
paper by the regents.
The only way, it seems, that
.students can raise an issue on
campus is through political
protests. It was not until a group of
students sat-in on Vice President
Henry Johnson's offices last year
that the University began acting to
prevent rape.
What kind of a democracy
requires its citizens to get arrested
to raise issues, to hold sit-ins to
learn information, to sit in the cold
of night to protect a shanty
because campus security won't
protect one wooden structure on
the middle of campus, to wash
racist graffiti off the walls of the
graduate library because the
University never bothered to do
The 1968 report on decision-
making stated, "A University
should be the center for creativity
and innovation, criticism and
challenge, debate and dissent. The
vigorous assertion of dissatisfac-
tion and demands for change, and
efforts to influence both the inter-
nal policy of the University and its
posture and role in the larger
society are indicative of an in-
tellectual vitality the should be
welcomed and fostered."
Unfortunately, this is not true of
this University. An intellectual
vitality does not exist behind
closed doors. One step towards
restoring this vitality would be to
put a student on the Board of
Regents. It would only be one per-
son to represent student interests
but one more voice in policy-
making than students now have.
Another step in the right direc-
tion would be to re-evaluate the
regents' reaction to three studies
on students in decision-making
done in the 1960s. There is no set
policy to guarantee students input,
although the regents were kind
enough to say student par-
ticipation is a good thing in one of
their bylaws.
Without a set policy, the Univer-
sity has a system of in loco paren-
tis democracy, where ad-
ministrators can grant student
participation when it serves them,
yet restrict input when it does not.
Students of this University
should not remain passive in a
soporific preparation for life. This
is life.


Lok BADt

Prof. praises RC evaluations

By Carl Cohen
Faculty members have the duty
to evaluate the intellectual per-
formance of their students. Partly
this is for the sake of the Univer-
sity in whose name degrees are
awarded, and partly it is for the
sake of the world without, often in
need of an impartial report on the
achievements or capacities of
students. Principally, however, it
is for the students themselves.
For a .host, of reasons judgments
about the quality of work done by
students in the courses they take
at the University is essential and
valuable. What form should they
In the Residential College, here
at the University of Michigan, we
long ago decided that, where it is
feasible, the standard grading
system (A, B, C, etc.) should be
replaced by onesrelying chiefly
upon evaluations. I aim to ex-
plain why we made that decision
and have consistently reaffirmed
it. First, however, the workings of
the RC system must be explained.
In most Residential College
classes formal faculty reports on
the work of students have three
1) Pass or Fail report; a P or an
F is formally recorded in the
student's record.
2) Evaluation, long form; a full
single sheet of remarks, in English
prose, is prepared by the faculty
member for each student at the
end of the course. Typically it will
describe the nature of the course
work done, the quality of written
work submitted, the nature of the
student's participation in class
Cohen is a professor of philos-
ophy in the Residential College
and the MedicalSchool.
This is the first part of a two-
part series.

work, and, in general, the
strengths and weaknesses of the
student's performance in that
course. Copies of this long form go
to the student and to his RC
record; but it stays in house and
does not become part of the formal
transcript later prepared.
3) Evaluation, short form; an 8
to 10 line paragraph, summarizing
in prose the quality of the
student's work in that course, is
submitted in additionto the long
form. This short evaluation
(which goes to the student also, of
course) becomes part of the RC
student's formal University Tran-
Grading systems vary in the
degree of bluntness, or
refinement, with which their
categories permit evaluation. The
normal "pass/fail" system is
much blunter than standard letter
grades, offering two categories
rathersthan five or (with pluses
and minuses) thirteen. The
Residential College system,
although using Ps and Fs, is in
many ways the polar opposite of
normal pass/fail systems, since
its extensive use of English prose
permits, indeed encourages,
categories of evaluation unlimited
in variety of intensity. The RC
system plainly does not bypass or
simplify the task of student
evaluation; on the contrary, it
complicates that task by vastly
widening the range of evaluative
possibilities; it is a highly refined
system for the evaluation of
student work.
The merits of evaluations, as
contrasted with standard grades,
are easy to identify, and they are
appreciated with enthusiasm by
Residential College students. Two
major faults of the standard
system are overcome:
a) Letter grades, even with the
use of plusses and minuses, oblige

the instructor to amalgamate all
dimensions of evaluation into one.
A student's work may have been
creative, even brilliant at times,
and yet erratic; or it may have
been pedestrian, and yet
meticulous and solid. "B -" may
be the report in both cases, but the
opportunity to sort out the dif-
ferent respects in which perfor-
mance has varied is denied by the
standard system, simply because,
for the record, one and only one
letter category is permitted.
Prose evaluations overcome this
problem completely.
b) Letter grades, even with
plusses and minuses, are unhap-
pily uninformative; they com-
monly fail to tell the student, or
the outside reveiwer, what he
very much wants to know. "I
gather that you found my work to
be good yet not excellent - but
why?" "Although this student
plainly did fine work, did she show
aptitude for wholly independent
study, or for research activity in
that sphere?" The answers to such
questions (although they may be
conveyed informally or by letter in
some circumstances) remain, so
far as the official University
record is concerned, permanent
mysteries. The RC system using
evaluations overcomes this shor-
tcoming completely.
Systems relying upon
evaluations may therefore be
seen, without a doubt, to be: a)
more refined than those using
standard grades, because all the
richness of English prose may be
found in expressing judgments: b)
more just than those using stan-
dard grades, because they are
able to attend to the varied aspects
of student work and C) more in-
formative than those using stand-
ard grades, because they are able
to express what single categories
in a linear series cannot.

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