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May 05, 2009 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2009-05-05

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4

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

* 2e Mictpigan &I(4
Edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan since 1890.
w - s420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
tothedaily@umich.edu
JAMIE BLOCK ROBERT SOAVE RACHEL VAN GILDER
EDITOR IN CHIEF MANAGING EDITOR EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
Unsignededitorials reflect theofficial position of the Daily's editorialboard. All other
signed articles and illustrations represent solely the views of their authors.
Smoked out-
'U' shouldn't enact outdoor smoking ban

Failing course feedback
University should acknowledge importance of student response

At the end of every semes-
ter, professors and GSIs across
campus say at least a few words
reminding students to fill out
course evaluations. But when the
CTools course evaluations ser-
vice failed, many students lost
the chance to follow their teach-
ers' suggestions. To prevent the
loss of this valuable data in the
future, the University should
make online evaluations more
reliable. The University must
assure students and teachers that
it values the feedback process.

but the evaluations couldn't be
restored. The University had
only received a fraction of the
expected number of evalua-
tions when CTools failed. Some
colleges created supplemental
surveys to get feedback, but the
University itself has not offered
a new evaluation.
The most pressing concern
from this failure is the loss of the
data that comes from teaching
questionnaires. Course evalu-
ations give students a forum to
discuss concerns about courses

ations. But the University won't
do this, arguing that responses
may be skewed since grades
have been posted. The Univer-
sity isn't giving students enough
credit. It could still collect the
data and compare it with previ-
ous semesters to see if the results
are skewed instead of completely
ignoring student concerns.
The failure of online course
evaluations has had a significant
effect on course feedback, and
the University must prevent sim-
ilar failures in the future. One
suggestion would be to move
course evaluations a few weeks
earlier in the semester. But in
the mean time, the University
should have offered supplemen-
tal evaluations to ensure that
student voices are heard. With-
out student feedback, the Uni-
versity cannot rightly call itself a
growing learning community.

f the University has its way, it won't be so This semester was the see- and professor:
easy for smokers to light up on campus. and time that evaluations were sors and GSIs
offered on CTools instead of to improve tea
The University has decided that the entire on paper. The switch was to. class requirem
campus will go smoke free in two years, includ- save paper and class time, but use the online
it ultimately failed to help stu- information t
ing outdoor areas. While the University has a dents. On Apr. 20 at about 9 based on previ
responsibility to teach its students about the p.m., CTools unexpectedly shut A natural r
down. The University was soon of this useful
negative effects of smoking, this ban goes too far. able to bring CTools back online, to be the crea
The University should offer help to students who
want to quit while still recognizing the right to HARLAN KADISH AND KYLE ORMSBY I

s and lets profes-
use this feedback
ching methods and
nents. And students
compilation of this
to choose classes
ions responses.
esponse to the loss
data would seem
tion of new evalu-

smoke in open spaces.
The proposed ban will outlaw
smoking on all University prop-
erty as of July 1, 2011. Univer-
sity Chief Health Officer Robert
Winfield, co-chair of the Smoke
Free University Steering Com-
mittee, explained that the deci-
sion was made to improve the
health of the University commu-
nity. He says the cost of health
care for smokers is at least
$2,000 more than it is for non-
smokers, and fewer smokers on
campus may reduce the Univer-
sity's healthcare expenditures.
Inmanycases,theoverallhealth
needs of campus come first. The
1987 ban on smoking in most Uni-
versity buildings and following
2003 ban in residence halls were
necessary to protect University
students and staff from the health
risks of secondhand smoke. But
eliminating smoking in outdoor
spaces has a negligible benefit
for nonsmokers and substantially
inconveniences smokers. The ban
will force smokers to frequently
travel off campus to places where
they can smoke. Smokers who live

in University dorms and apart-
ments will be even more affected
by the ban.
By banning smoking in outdoor
spaces, the University is not pro-
moting public health, but taking
away a personal choice. The' role
of the University is not to play the
angry parent. Instead, it should
educate people on the issue.
The University can do much
to discourage smoking on cam- .
pus without banning it. It already
plans to offer discounted quitting
treatments and free counseling to
smokers. It could prohibit smok-
ing at entrances to buildings to
protect non-smokers from expo-
sure to secondhand smoke.
Despite the health risks, smok-
ing is still a personal choice. The
University's recent decision to
ban smoking throughout cam-
pus, including outdoors, puts a
severe burden on smokers and
essentially eliminates the right to
make that choice. The University
shouldn't deny students and staff
their rights, and it shouldn't treat
smokers like children.

GSIs need student input

On Apr. 15, GSIs asked their
students an important question:
"How did we do as instructors this
term?" It's exciting for teachers
when students are eager to express
their opinions, as they often are at
the end of the semester. But this
time, most students didn't get the
chance.
That's a shame, because stu-
dents aren't the only ones learning
in University classrooms. Every
day, teachers experiment with new
teaching methods andactivities.
End-of-term teaching evaluations
helpustobothrefineourclassroom
manner and choose the most suc-
cessful of our teaching techniques.
When the CTools evaluation sys-
tem was abruptly taken offline on
Apr. 20, this cycle of experimenta-
tion and feedback came to a halt.
This early closure infuriated
learners on both sides of the podi-
um, but teachers and administra-
tors shouldn't be so surprised at
this. After the fall 2008 semester,
the University delayed the release
of evaluations until well after the
next semester had begun. Feed- ,
back came far too late to influence
the next round of syllabi, textbooks
and course requirements.
Similarly, an Office of Public
Affairs website linked to in an
e-mail by Provost Teresa Sullivan

cites "reasons not yet understood"
for this semester's failure. But we
can take a guess at the reason: The
University unwisely embedded the
evaluations process within anoth-
er computer system of "highest
priority:" CTools. We conjecture
that when, for still murky reasons,
that system crashed, the Univer-
sity chose to sacrifice the part for
the sake of the whole.
CTools has become invaluable
for instruction, especially when
finals approach.But with the details
of the crash so obscure, we worry
that both the network and Uni-
versity administrators in charge
of the evaluations may not be held
accountable. Even worse, we worry
that spring and summer semester
students may not have access to
any evaluation system at all.
Students deserve a voice in
the shaping of their education.
And although evaluation meth-
ods abound, student question-
naires directly link students and
instructors and play a crucial role
in graduate students' professional
development. In response to this
concern, the Graduate Employ-
ees Organization has formed the
Teaching Evaluations Working
Group to ensure the success of
evaluations at the University.
TEWG seeks full disclosure on

the errors of the fall and winter
evaluations, progress reports on
implementation for the spring and
summer semesters and the assur-
ance - perhaps through an online
or paper backup system - that the
University won't settle for "65 per-
cent of the expected responses,"
as they do now, according to the
Office of Public Affairs's website.
The University only collected 62
percent of the number of responses
it expected to collect. As mathema-
ticians, we can tell you that 65 per-
cent of 62percent is only 40percent
of students whose feedback was
recieved by the University.
When GSIs walk to the chalk-
board, we take responsibility for
the quality of education at the
University. Our students also take
responsibility by offering feedback
in office hours and through anon-
ymous evaluations. As another
semester begins, we hope that the
Office of Evaluations, the CTools
Implementation Group and the
provosts and deans will join us in
this responsibility and privilege
to better the education of the stu-
dents at the University.
Harlan Kadish and Kyle
Ormsby are members of the
Teaching Evaluations
Working Group.

Editorial Board Members:
Emad Ansari, Ben Caleca, Erika Mayer, Patrick Zabawa

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