UC Santa Cruz considers evaluation change

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 28, 2000

SANTA CRUZ — Professors at the mellow and proudly unique University of California campus in Santa Cruz rejected a contentious proposal Monday that would have ended the school’s practice of requiring that students get written evaluations in every class. 

In a packed meeting of UC Santa Cruz’s Academic Senate in a science classroom, a majority of the 170 professors in attendance voted down a call to eliminate the rule. A similar plan, which said written evaluations should be optional rather than required, failed to come to a vote. 

The decision was cheered by the dozens of students at the meeting, many of whom had also protested the school’s recent decision to make letter grades mandatory rather than optional. 

“I didn’t come here specifically for the evaluations, but it was a big part of it,” said Bryan Gilstein, an 18-year-old freshman from Guilford, Conn. “They show progress better than grades and show it’s more about the learning process than the end product.” 

Ever since UC Santa Cruz opened in 1965, students have been attracted to the school’s alternative style, embodied in its status as one of the nation’s only major research universities with narrative evaluations instead90 of grades. 

“Only UCSC was gifted with the non-grading system,” a 1970 grad wrote in a recent online forum on the issue. “Otherwise, UCSC is just another cookie-cutter college that happens to be surrounded with redwoods.” 

Under the traditional system, the 11,000 students got grades only if they wanted — and some people suggested that made UC Santa Cruz a haven for slackers. Others said the system hurt Santa Cruz students competing for jobs, fellowships and graduate programs. 

That led professors at the hilly campus to vote early this year to make grades mandatory beginning in fall 2001. 

With that settled, some professors next wanted to tackle the other half of the equation – the mandatory evaluations.  

Those who wanted to eliminate the narratives said they were conceived when classes were smaller and instructors had the relationships and the time with their students to describe their work in rich detail. 

Some said the evaluations have become formulaic and follow rigid templates that are almost worthless to students applying for jobs or graduate school. 

“I think it clutters the students’ files with things that are hard to comprehend by an outside person,” said Manfred Warmuth, a computer science professor who sponsored the repeal of the narratives. 

People in favor of the narratives said the process forces students to work hard throughout the quarter rather than simply cramming for tests.  

Supporters said that has helped, rather than hindered, Santa Cruz students’ pursuit of doctorates. 

“It intones that there’s something more substantive to higher education and intellectual enterprise than simple vocational training,” said Patrick McHugh, 22, a senior majoring in politics. 

However, even the opposition conceded that the evaluations can take valuable time from professors. Consequently, the Academic Senate passed a resolution that reminds professors they have full control over the length and depth of the narratives and calls for streamlining the process. 

On the Net: 

School Web page: http://www.ucsc.edu 

Summaries of positions on the evaluation issue: http://www.senate.ucsc.edu/NESconsi.der/Contents.html