Too many bad professors still teaching at NU

I was not sure what to expect from the economics professor on Tuesday when I sat in on his 300-level microeconomics class: devil horns maybe, perhaps a satanic laugh, certainly a bullwhip. After all, I had read this professor’s Course and Teacher Evaluation Council report.

“(He) is evil and cruel and enjoys seeing students in pain … (He) seems to despise students and trust me the feeling is mutual … He seems to delight in the fact that he was screwing each and every one of us … Fire, fire, fire, fire, for the sake of all econ majors, I beg of you, get rid of this guy.”

Whatever ignited such passionate hatred among econ students last spring was nowhere in evidence on Tuesday. I expected to find Lucifer in a bow tie standing at the lectern in Coon Forum, but what I got was a young, mild-mannered professor in a button-down shirt. He gave an organized lecture, complete with real-life examples and transparencies noting key words and concepts.

The class did not leave me feeling, as one student noted in his CTEC, that “I would rather have a blind monkey with a piece of chalk in his hand teach me the material in this course.”

The professor understandably declined to talk to me after class, saying he was not comfortable with the subject matter. That is a shame, because I had hoped to ask him if he had read the negative CTEC comments and if it spurred him to become a better instructor. As one student in the class this quarter said, “He isn’t nearly as bad as the CTECs say he is.”

A Northwestern education has now soared well past the $30,000 mark, but being warned away from an awful professor remains priceless. And for the price of attending this school, students should not have to put up with policy wonks and lab rats incapable of communicating basic concepts.

Non-graduating seniors will begin registering for Fall Quarter classes in a few weeks, which means the CTEC section of the NU Web site will start seeing plenty of action. Student feedback on professors is still the most valuable aspect of these evaluations and was always an important factor when I was planning my schedule.

With response rates declining as CTECs move online, students are in danger of losing credible input in their schedule-making decisions. And professors have a point when they say comments will only become harsher, as it is likely that students holding grudges will be more motivated to go online and trash their teachers. More worrisome is that profs will start discounting CTEC feedback altogether, rationalizing that negative comments are not proportional to actual student opinion.

I spent a few hours looking at CTECs trying to find an instructor rating worse than the 1.9 students gave to the econ professor mentioned earlier. I found no one else below a 2.0, and about half a dozen below a 2.5.

Though the econ professor seems to have improved, it seems clear NU still employs too many incompetent teachers. Some of the worst, even those who are non-tenured, are teaching this quarter.

Check out the CTECs on your professors and take the time to fill out CTECs at the end of the quarter.

There’s no need to find out how many blind monkeys $30,000 will get you.