As I’m sure is true at most colleges and universities, the faculty at Yale are fiercely independent. Many of them chose their careers specifically so that they could have complete intellectual freedom and maximum control over what they do. Departments have to be very careful when they poke around in a professor’s classroom, but the fact is that every once in a while, things can go very wrong. Usually departments hear whispers from students during the semester but wait until the end to see the vitriol in the student evaluations. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Our department is trying something new this semester. We’re asking all students enrolled in economics courses to give us feedback now, at the mid-semester mark. We’re looking for signs of things that could be fixed earlier rather than later.
We’re not sure yet about exactly how we will use the data. It depends in part on what students have to say. At a minimum, if a course seems to have problems, this will start a conversation. My hope is that these conversations will lead to improvement, but they could easily get combative.
I don’t know if the system will work, but I’m extremely proud of my department for trying it.