PIÑATA DIPLOMACY: That evaluation you requested

Opinion by

You may recall many professors, in the last days of the fall semester, prostrating themselves before Canada Goose-clad undergraduates, begging shamelessly for feedback – any feedback – via Minerva-submitted course evaluations. A philosophy professor offered to bring in cookies of indisputable quality should at least 60 per cent of students submit evaluations. Another professor, a political theorist, devoted half of the semester’s penultimate class to figuring out why we’re so “apathetic.”

Coincidentally, early December was also when I received a batch of emails from Amazon.com inquiring as to the extent of my satisfaction with books I’d recently ordered for the holidays. No cookies were being offered.

During all the time she devoted to the issue, the political theory professor never acknowledged my raised arm, nor my desperate squirms intended to attract her attention. Had I been called on, here’s what I would have said:

“I have a few questions of my own, Professor: why is the undergraduate suddenly the measure of all things? By which credentials am I competent to assess how well you, a political philosopher, taught this course on political philosophy? Lastly, why is my satisfaction or dissatisfaction the proper metric by which to assess the quality of the education I’ve received?

“Instead of trusting me to know a good professor when I see one, the university should rather ask students what their ideal professor would be like, and hire people with absolutely none of those characteristics. That’s the university I want.

“This willingness to trust us as judges of professorial competence represents a serious abdication of what is originally the university’s responsibility. If nothing else, it perpetuates the myth that we are actually full-time students who are invested in the quality of our education.

“McGill obviously doesn’t get that the university has nothing to do with what it currently means to ‘go to university’ or ‘be in university.’ The institution is almost completely absent from the equation. You, Professor, are utterly negligible.”

A quick break in my imaginary monologue, if you will, to note what Cleve Higgins, apparently an alumnus of QPIRG-McGill, wrote in these pages last week: “Although academics are obviously an essential part of a university education, it’s important to recognize that you can often learn much more by engaging with issues outside the classroom.”

Under the cloak of night this has become the unspoken consensus among students today, even among those unaffiliated with QPIRG or its politics. This is revealed every time someone casually – almost reflexively – complains about the difficulty of his or her current workload. Nobody pretends we’re here to receive the 18th best education in the world. Schoolwork is itself the distraction. Apparently the professors have not yet heard that education is dead.

Anyway, back to my political theory class:

“Perhaps apathy really is the problem, but it’s a deeper and more fundamental apathy than anyone yet realizes. The student today faces an existential question: why am I here? Rarely is this question asked explicitly, because the answer is so obvious: McGill exists to manufacture McGill alumni. That’s why we’re here. It is to students of this mindset that the university has surrendered the authority to judge what it means to get an education.

“You might respond to this by arguing that McGill is not senseless enough to actually use these evaluations in deciding matters of real importance. But you just finished promising the class that they are seriously used, particularly regarding tenure decisions. That was precisely your selling point for why we should submit evaluations. Either they aren’t used and you just lied to us, or they are used and your employer gauges how well you do your job by the satisfaction of your students. Which is pathetic.

“You asked for a performance evaluation, professor, so here it is: your desperation to know what I think about you diminishes the respect I should have for you as both a teacher and an elder. Now I know that all along you were only catering to my petty whims, my preferences for ironic detachment, and the frequent employment of multimedia.

“I don’t want to be treated as your equal or your customer. I’m your subordinate, and I came here to be treated as such. Stop worrying about my satisfaction, have a little confidence, be an adult.”