AAS Hires Student Programmer to Fix Scrutiny
By June Pan '13, Managing News Editor
The Amherst Association of Students (AAS) has hired a student programmer to make minor repairs to the Scrutiny course rating website. After a schoolwide search, the Senate IT Policy Committee recommended Jezreel Ng ‘14 on Nov. 8 to the AAS Senate based on his strong background in computer programming.

“[Ng] knows PHP, and he sent in a good sample of past work,” said Sam Bell ’11, an AAS senator who has worked extensively on the Scrutiny issue in the past. “He seemed competent. And he was recommended by an alumnus, a friend of mine, who works in IT.”

Amherst Scrutiny is a searchable database of student-written evaluations on their experience with past professors and courses. Browsing through the website, students can view relevant data on hundreds of courses offered in every department of the College. Courses are organized by department, professor and year, and criteria of evaluation include average workload, class format, reading material and availability of the professor.

Repairing Scrutiny has been an ongoing project in the Senate and should also be a concern of the student population at large because, according to Bell, “[Scrutiny] is an extremely valuable resource.”

Scrutiny is intended to help students make better informed decisions when choosing courses for themselves. However the website has lately fallen into some disrepair. Students perusing the website will notice that selecting the “Submit evaluation” option from the left-hand menu leads to a page where no evaluation forms are available. Any attempt to subsequently “Go to evaluation” leads to an error message from the server.

This is due to a technical issue that has prevented maintainers from uploading course evaluation forms. As a result, recent course data has not been updated, and no new evaluations have been submitted since the 2008-2009 academic year.

“Basically the website works,” said Bell. “We just can’t upload the new course data.”

Many students who have used Scrutiny in the past are not even aware of this problem with the website. Some find the outdated evaluations helpful enough, especially for courses that are similarly structured each year. Others do not rely particularly heavily on the website when choosing courses.

Students have noted that one reason for this is simply because they are not able to rely on Scrutiny for some courses that they might be interested in taking, particularly recent offerings taught by new or visiting faculty. Many of these contemporary courses are conspicuously absent from the Scrutiny database due to endemic technical difficulties.

As of fall of 2009, the AAS has made efforts to address the Scrutiny issue. Bell and the Senate IT Policy Committee initially tried to resolve the problem themselves, and multiple attempts were made to contact the original creator of Scrutiny. These efforts failed to produce adequate results, and earlier this semester the committee decided to commission a student programmer.

Alex Stein ’13, a sophomore senator serving on the IT Policy Committee, is confident that Ng will be able to fix the problems plaguing the current website and that “there will be a functioning Scrutiny by the end of the 2010-2011 academic year.”

When asked why the AAS commissioned a student programmer rather than have the Information Technology (IT) department deal with it directly, Stein and Bell responded that this is a longstanding administrative policy.

“[The administration] will offer us server space for Scrutiny but they will not engage in support for it,” Stein explained. The official argument behind this policy is that this is an extremely difficult issue for the administration to handle, logistically speaking.

Both senators were unable to comment on the politics behind Scrutiny, and also declined from speaking to the challenges that the AAS has encountered in the year and a half process of resolving the website’s technical problems.

Issue 09, Submitted 2010-11-17 02:44:12