AAS Falls Under Scrutiny Over Online Professor-rating Tool
By Romen Borsellino '12
There are two main reasons I ran for Senate: because I like it, and because I don’t. Based on what I have gathered from the student body’s relationship with us, I would bet that liking Senate at all puts me in the minority. Like nearly every politician in history, I waged my most recent campaign on the grounds that change needs to happen within the AAS, and my first priority is fixing our relationship with the student body. The necessity of this task became particularly clear to me when a friend recently asked, “Why doesn’t the senate do shit for the school?” This is a valid question. The senate does a lot for this school, and while you may disagree with us, you should at least know what we’re up to. So, here is the first of my weekly Senate columns which, I’ll add, reflect only the opinions of myself.

Seeing as how this column aims to keep Senate under the public eye, there couldn’t have been a more fitting topic than that which dominated my first meeting back: Scrutiny

For those of you who don’t know, Scrutiny is essentially an Amherst-specific version of RateMyProfessor.com; it allows our students to give a detailed evaluation of their professors (fortunately, attractiveness is not a category on Scrutiny as on RateMyProf, which is surprising given some of the professor-student rumors floating around this campus). While Scrutiny was a hot commodity while it was around, the website essentially got too outdated for us to use and became extinct. On Monday night, Senator Alex Stein ’13 put plans in motion to develop a new Scrutiny site that could be effective this semester. This project would have been rolling months ago except for one obstacle: the faculty.

Here’s the SparkNotes version of what went down: the senators seeking to redo Scrutiny went to several faculty members, including Dean Call, in hopes that they could work together, taking everybody’s input into account. After weeks of planning on the part of the students, however, the office of the Dean of Faculty blocked the proposal from being considered. Following some unreturned emails and attempted meetings, it became clear to the Scrutiny committee that this project wasn’t going anywhere unless students and students alone took the initiative.

As Stein described, “We have lost patience with the faculty and decided to move ahead without them.” Like any politicians, a large faction of the senate became weary of supporting this Scrutiny project for fear of controversy. After all, pissing your professors off probably isn’t the best way to start off the semester. For roughly half an hour, we discussed the reasons for and potential ramifications of moving forward with this project. While Student body Vice President and President of the Senate Michael Dolmatch ’11 suggested that we all calculate the risks of going behind the back of the administration, Stein made it clear that this was simply not the case, stating that long before the Dean of Faculty blocked the Scrutiny proposal, they were told that the project would be proceeding with or without them.

As the debate went on, Senator Jasjaap Sidhu ’14 accused the Scrutiny committee of acting out of spite for the faculty.

“This is not out of spite,” defended Stein. “This is a valuable resource to students that has fallen out of despair.” Fellow senator and IT committee member Andreas Shepard ’11 reiterated that sentiment, saying that previous talks with the faculty had been productive rather than confrontational and shared his hopes that once this project gets moving, the faculty will decide to get involved with it.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t love a good scandal from time to time, so I was particularly intrigued to hear that this is not the only potential administration-senate feud in the works. Rumor has it that the administration is not happy with the annual budget that we’ve been given and would even like to cut it significantly. While I don’t have much evidence to back this up, it is apparently serious enough that the heads of the AAS budgetary committee gave a financial presentation to certain faculty members (Deans Hart and Call as well as college treasurer Peter Shay and Dean Hannah Fatemi). Regardless of what the administration thinks, let me be frank: the AAS has too much money only if students of the College do not take advantage of it. We will gladly cover just about any resource that legitimately benefits all members of the school. Show us some creativity and a legitimate use and we will fund you (or at least you have my vote). Not to mention that we’re shelling out the dough for ACEMS, TYPO and other valuable school resources.

Let me get a final word in on this Scrutiny business: it’s a shame that the administration wouldn’t work with us on this. We can only speculate as to their reason, but it may be safe to assume that they would prefer not to support a website that allows students to anonymously rate them. Given that it is moving forward regardless, however, it is in the faculty’s best interests to work together with the students and get a say in it. Senate gets a lot of flak for not doing enough, but then you have senators like those on Scrutiny who are putting their tails on the line so that we can get a valuable student tool working again. As Shepard said with regard to moving forward on the Scrutiny project, we can’t wait any longer. “It’s better to have an imperfect version that exists than the perfect version that we might not be able to get.” I couldn’t think of a better metaphor for the Student Senate itself.

Issue 14, Submitted 2011-02-08 23:45:20