No name and shame

October 19, 2001

Individual evaluations of graduate supervisors at Montreal's McGill University not only leave out the name of the student, they also withhold the name of the supervisor.

Questionnaires being handed out this semester include a note that says: "Do not include your supervisor's name or your name."

Rob Sim, who represented graduate students' interests during the two years the idea was debated, said: "The gist of the compromise is that professors objected on the basis that such evaluations would be used in tenure decisions - which, of course, we wanted - but also that it was impossible to protect the anonymity of students in small research groups."

During the three-year pilot project, it is hoped that some departments will disclose supervisors' names.

McGill is not the only university with this policy according to its interim graduate dean, Martha Crago. She has investigated how other universities handle the subject and knows of no institution that has adopted individual evaluations of graduate supervisors successfully. Most opt instead for the McGill-style departmental average.

She said:"Nobody is willing to go the whole nine yards. Students are afraid of retribution." Professors are worried that a small graduate class could not offer a wide variety of opinions. "If one of three people hates you, it will skew your results."

A McGill student who spoke to The THES but did not want to be named said he had gone through hell with his supervisor.

While he saw the need for students to remain anonymous, he said that identifying a professor would be committing career suicide.

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