A Bad Student Evaluations Hall of Fame

866529_feedback_form_excellent.jpgEugene Volokh has a good post up about whether students have a privacy interest in evaluations they give to professors at the end of the semester. It is a response to the University of Georgia’s disciplining of a student who wrote “”[Professor X] is a complete asshole. I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies. To hell with all gay teachers who are terrible with their jobs and try to fail students!” in response to the prompt “What aspects of the course could use improvement or change?”

Now the first-amendment and privacy law implications of disciplining the student are outside of my area of expertise. [Given that disclaimer, unlike Eugene I think a reasonable person reading the comment would think it was an implicit threat of physical harm.] But the post does prompt me to put up a project I’ve been thinking about for a while: a hall of fame for bad student evaluations. The idea is for you folks (commentators!) to give examples of the most ridiculous, funny, and insightful negative evaluations you’ve gotten in courses you’ve taught. Why? Because student evaluations are a form of creative writing. If we’re going to notice and reward exam questions and answers, why not this, the only other form of creative writing from law students we read?

Anonymous submissions will be encouraged – indeed, I’ll likely be policing the comments in case students take the opportunity to continue vendettas against professors who they disliked. Ignore and avoid passing along the personally nasty, uninteresting, comments – like the Georgia student – and just use the ones that demonstrate that someone thought about the problems of the class as they saw them.

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17 Responses

  1. Mark McKenna says:

    I always enjoy when students say things that are demonstrably false. For example, I once had a student write that “it would have been nice if there was a syllabus for the course.” And of course, aside from having handed one out on the first day of class, the syllabus was posted on TWEN the entire semester, even after the evaluations were done.

  2. anon says:

    The idea is for you folks (commentators!) to give examples of the most ridiculous, funny, and insightful negative evaluations you’ve gotten in courses you’ve taught.

    Professor Hoffman,

    You’re posting this request in the context of a situation where student evaluations were linked to the student’s identity.

    Further, I’d direct you’re attention to the well-known risks to anonymity from collected datasets. See, e.g.: Shneier, Bruce, “Anonymity and the Netflix Dataset”, Schneier on Security, 18 Dec 2007.

    Out of an abundance of caution, I’d suggest that not only you yourself, but also all submitters, should obtain an opinion respecting the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

    If this is a research project involving human subjects, then your institution may also impose other duties on you or your submitters. Check with counsel.

  3. dave h. says:


    I’ve got to tell you, it hadn’t occurred to me that someone would make this objection.

    Of course, no one would/should/could want to post anything identifying a *student* connected to the evaluation. I’d delete it if they did. But the words used in the evaluation itself? I feel pretty confident that I could put up a post that simply contained my evaluations – the students don’t have a privacy right in them, simply in being unconnected to them – and I’ve got an expressive right to share them with others. The FERPA objection is, in my unadvised view, frivolous. Excerpts of evaluations of a professor are not student records, as the statute defines that term.

    As for the idea that this is a “research project involving human subjects,” presumably you are referring to IRB guidelines? A blog post soliciting comments isn’t a research project contributing to human knowledge (this is a subject I’ve blogged about before); I’m not aiming to survey anyone to any end; nor will any information be personally identifiable.

    But maybe others feel differently.

  4. Dave says:

    Hmmm. Perhaps one of your students, Prof. Hoffman, is having a go at you?

  5. Bruce Boyden says:

    Anon, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about here. First, there’s no timestamps or IP addresses or anything of that sort associated with student evaluations, so your first warning is irrelevant.

    Re: FERPA, FERPA covers “education records,” defined as documents that “contain information directly related to a student.” I don’t see how anonymous evaluations qualify, since they are not related to any student — indeed, that’s the whole point of them being anonymous.

    In any event, it wouldn’t apply to Dave, since they aren’t his (or Temple’s) students.

    Re: human subjects, what’s the argument that there’s any research at all here, let alone human subjects research requiring approval by an IRB? If IRBs require advance permission before you can even quote from something somebody has written, they really have gone too far.

  6. Bruce Boyden says:

    Whoops, took me so long to write that that Dave preempted me.

  7. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Two Reviews and Meditations in Contracts.

    These go in the category of insightful. They transcend the issue of privacy. They are paraphrased. I take Dave Hoffman’s post to be about how students can communicate to teachers in ways that enrich pedagogy.

    (1) Course would be much better if it presented a grand or general theory of contracts. This class offered many possibilities but never achieved a complete theory.

    (2) Stating with remedies is tricky—all the other sections at the law school cover remedies at the end. True, remedies first enriches evaluation of many doctrinal and theoretical challenges that the law of contracts poses. But we didn’t know anything about contracts at the outset. Later materials made starting with remedies useful but the early going was tough.

    Comments on the comments: (1) scholars endlessly struggle for a grand theory and its elusiveness is part of the lesson; (2) tailoring material for student taste trades off against actually seeing the difficult but elusive connections commanded by the ambitious subject of contracts. Lesson for me: clarity about these limitations and trade offs. Valuable student reviews.

  8. Mike Dimino says:

    One of my favorites was the one arguing that because the course was a doctrinal one, rather than Legal Methods, there was no need for it to be so “writting intensive.”

  9. anon says:

    Personally nasty student evaluations are a good reason not to teach as an adjunct ever again. I have taught law school as an adjunct and college as a full-time professor. I never received a single spiteful hateful evaluation when I taught 120 undergraduates a quarter. Law students? Nasty. Think it’s the pressure they’re under?

  10. still laughing about it says:

    Student comment: “To much theory.”

  11. AKA Miguel Sanchez says:

    Best eval ever:

    “There is a slightly condescending air that makes it more difficult to feel comfortable. Sometimes it seems like we have to avoid being tricked as opposed to being challenged.”

    Go figure…

  12. chris says:

    According to my transcript, I took 34 classes; this means I’ve done 34 evaluations. I think I’ve only done three “nasty” evaluations. Two were adjuncts; one was a professor.

    Why so many adjuncts? My opinion is that adjuncts seem to believe that their “experience” automatically makes them good professors; most haven’t realized that the ability to professionally excel does not mean that they can effectively teach that ability. Most have full-time jobs doing their professional things (most of my were, surprise, attorneys at the partner level); they taught at night. Most were under-prepared., and blamed busy work schedules. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is that students should study 3 hours for each hour to be spent in class; that’s probably also a minimum for teaching. How much time do professors spend for each class? You teach 6 hours a week, and that’s a full load for a full-time person; even with research/writing time (publish or perish, i know), I’d wager its a minimum of half the work week. These attorney/adjuncts don’t have an extra 20 hours a week to prepare; they’re still running a full caseload. And that affects their performance: they don’t have time to prepare, and don’t have the teaching experience or background to “fake it” or be more effective.

    I realize I’m being a prick about it, and its not “the pressure:” its about the money (isn’t it always?).

    When I left undergraduate, I was about $4,000 in debt, all from my personal credit cards. Even if I hadn’t had scholarships, undergrad was about $15k/year for about 45 credit hours. A ‘bad’ credit/hour with an undergrad prof costs about $400; with scholarships, it was a free “learning experience.”

    When I left law school, I had roughly $135,000 in debt (including about $6,000 in credit card debt). Law school is about 30 credit hours per year; this means that the crappy credit/hour taught by an adjunct cost me $1450. And, since I didn’t have the “free-ride” of undergrad, its a real cost now … one I’m paying every month (and will be for the next fourteen years). Its not pressure, it an expectation of getting your money’s worth.

    And by nasty, I don’t mean the childish diatribe that GA student wrote. Nasty is saying that a person has no business in a classroom, a terrible grasp of pedagogy, an inability to communicate simple ideas, that legal “war stories” don’t qualify as substantive teaching, and that being “free-format” isn’t an excuse to ramble incoherently, or run 15-20 minutes over (when my other classes are scheduled) just because you don’t understand time management. Nasty is not just saying those things, but laying it out in paragraph format with examples.

    Am I being harsh? Maybe, but I don’t imagine profs pulling punches when they grade; these evaluations are the closest thing to a grade that I can give to a prof.

  13. Chris is right says:

    “…adjuncts seem to believe that their ‘experience’ automatically makes them good professors…”

    That is 100% correct.

    “it [is] an expectation of getting your money’s worth.”

    YES! If more professors understood that, law school would be much, much better.

  14. Adjunct Tax Prof. says:

    “…adjuncts seem to believe that their ‘experience’ automatically makes them good professors…”

    Doesn’t a law school hire Adjunct Professors precisely because they have experience? I agree that not every lawyer, let alone every full-time professor, makes a good teacher.

    Back to the main subject, my favorite “worst” evaluation (for an Advanced Tax course) was something along the lines of:

    “I paid money for this? All I did was read the Code and Regs. I could have done that myself.”

  15. Legal Eagle says:

    The best student evaluations I have received so far:

    In a Property Class (in response to the question as to whether the lecturer dealt with diversity sensitively):

    “Lecturer was fine, but I felt that the subject matter was discriminatory to those of us who can’t own any property”

    Other good ones:

    “[Lecturer] should run for Prime Minister [of Australia.]”

    “Yo, next time dress up like a Gangsta with some bling!” or something like that.

    I really don’t know what that one was about, or what the student was on at the time.

    I always get at least one crazy or funny one. I wonder what it will be this semester?

  16. jnhks says:

    My favorite is that the administration thinks students are qualified at any level to rate professors. Professors have experience beings students, students have no experience being professors. Student ratings flies in the face of ‘attribution theory’—-humans externalize their failures and internalize their successes. Additionally, it flies in the face of ‘competence research’ … e.g. the Dunning-Kruger effect: “Those who are incompetent are unaware of it and are known to be less competent at judging competence in others” When will student evaluations be ‘weighted’ by the grades the students receive in the class? Just write the current percentage grade on a post-it note when they hand in their survey, then use their percentage grade to weight their evaluation—-remove the post-it notes before returning raw evaluation forms to the teachers. Why are poor students who get a 55% in my class allowed to have an equal weighting on the teacher evaluation as a student who gets a 91% in my class? How is it that a student that can’t pass the material is competent to judge my ability to teach it?

  17. Tim says:

    There is not a single anonymous student evaluation that would ever be admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence, yet law schools use them all the time. It is a pathetic exercise that only emboldens the misguided sense of entitlement that so many students already have.