Friday night at an apéro chez des amis, we somehow got on the subject of universities. David mentioned that his mom’s cousin teaches French in Boston, and at the end of each semester, she had to let her students fill out evaluation forms. Everyone but me was surprised and thought it was a bad idea. I said that was normal in American universities and I didn’t really understand why it wasn’t done in France. They were also stunned that websites for rating teachers and professors had been around for 10 years in the US, whereas the only site like that in France had been shut down last year by the courts.
Personally, I think teacher evaluations are a good thing because the students should have a say in the quality of their education – especially in the US where they pay a small fortune each semester for the privilege of going to college. If they have horrible professors that don’t really care about teaching, the students have a right to complain. Professors grade students, so why shouldn’t students grade the professors too?
But I guess the main difference here in France is that students only pay a few hundred euros a year to go to university so they don’t seem as motivated or invested in their education. If they fail a final exam, they can always retake it the next month. If they fail a class, they can always retake it the next year. So even if the professors are bad, it doesn’t really matter since the students get so many chances to “succeed” in the end.
However, I have a problem with the traditional “more money = better education” line of thinking. Just because France subsidizes university education doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Just because the students don’t pay much doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn. The opposite is true for American universities. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And just because the students (or their parents) pay a lot doesn’t mean they actually want to be there and want to learn.
So why are the American and French ideas about universities and higher education different? Is it the role of the professor that differs so much? Or the role of the student?
Anyway, Corinne did such a good job preparing the apéro, I wanted to show off pictures of her hard work:
And something that I hadn’t come across before in France: an elevator that only stops on odd-numbered floors. Of course, the other elevator stops at the even-numbered floors, but there are no signs indicating this, so I guess you’re just supposed to know?