Campus Conversation on FCEs to take place Wednesday

The Faculty Senate hopes campus democracy will shed some light on how students feel about their classes.

This Wednesday, the third installment of “Campus Conversations” will focus on Faculty Course Evaluations (FCEs) and how to improve the method of delivering them.

“There isn’t anyone who shouldn’t be concerned with this issue,” said Neil Guzy, a Coro Fellow in Local Democracy and a 2006 Carnegie Mellon graduate. “If students don’t fill out the FCE, other students and professors don’t benefit.”

Guzy is one of the organizers of the deliberative poll, which seeks to generate a campus discussion in which participants will bring an informed opinion that will later be used as a consulting power.

According to Robert Cavalier, a philosophy professor and co-director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy, the idea for deliberative polling on campus began with President Jared Cohon’s Diversity Advisory Council.

“We began to see that active random sampling creates a diverse background for perspectives,” Cavalier said.

In the poll, participants receive information about a subject, gather in randomly sampled groups, discuss questions with experts on the topic, and take an exit poll. Policy makers then consult the poll’s results to reach decisions about the subject.

The benefit of the poll, Cavalier said, is the sense of democracy that it creates, allowing students and faculty to voice informed opinions.

According to Cavalier, topics grow out of current campus discussion. Last fall, the first deliberative poll focused on moral values in campus life in regard to student file-sharing, and this spring, the topic of discussion was the Academic Bill of Rights.

“What we can do with the deliberative poll is create the opportunity for students to become informed,” Cavalier said. But students are not the only ones who gain knowledge on the subject — faculty also participate in the discussion, allowing the groups’ opinions to interact.

“The process invites synthesis from various levels,” Guzy said. “It’s fundamentally important to have a wide range of participants in the process.”

According to Guzy, the Faculty Senate suggested holding a deliberative poll on FCEs in order to find a way to increase student participation.

After the FCEs moved from a hard-copy delivery to an online method, many professors stopped trusting the evaluations, according to a handout generated by Cavalier and the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

With student participation below 30 percent, most felt only those students who strongly liked or hated a class filled out an evaluation.

When FCEs moved online, they became an optional method of feedback for students to fill out on their own time. Prior to this, professors had distributed paper copies of the evaluation for students to fill out while in class.

Following Wednesday’s Campus Conversation, the Faculty Senate will use the poll’s results to make recommendations to the provost on the format of the FCEs.

Cavalier said the idea of deliberative polling is spreading to universities across the country. This fall, he will publish an article about his work on the Campus Conversation in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Cavalier and the Coro Center are also working on a proposal with a ward in south Pittsburgh. If approved, they will take the deliberative poll to the larger community this spring to examine local issues in the ward.

“Democracy is such hard work to get everyone involved and make it look easy,” he said.

The poll, titled “Campus Conversations: A Deliberative Poll on Faculty Course Evaluations and the Methods of Delivering Them,” will take place in Porter Hall 100 on Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.