Both of their jaws dropped.
CULPA, or the Columbia Underground Listing of Professor Ability, uses student reviews to evaluate courses and professors. Theoretically, CULPA helps Columbians make informed decisions about their classes. But the way I see it, the surplus of course information available on CULPA can actually be detrimental to students' decision-making.
Over the past semester, I had the unusual pleasure of idly listening to my friends and floormates squabble about class reviews and inadequate professors. But all this talk of golden and silver nuggets sounded foolish to me. While they were making extensive mental lists of pros and cons, I was focusing on creating a schedule that worked for me, regardless of the opinions of others.
Students should take courses they're genuinely interested in, because then their personal passions drive them to perform well. And while second-rate professors are certainly something worth worrying about, it is often the case that students do more work outside class than in lectures or seminars themselves. While most classes last little more than one hour, twice a week, we can spend hours in Butler working on one homework assignment or studying for one quiz. Furthermore, if the student is truly interested in that subject, he or she will find the homework and papers tolerable—at least, somewhat—regardless of the professor's ability to make the class engaging. Therefore, reviews shouldn't be the only deciding factor in course selection.
Let's take a look at another system for which we rely on reviews. With movies, you can take a quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes or the Roger Ebert website and read about the movie before it's even released to the public.
But even with this wealth of information saying a slapstick, lowbrow comedy film has little merit, people will still pay to watch it just because it's fun. In contrast, a low-quality class will never be fun or worth your time, because classes are not meant to be a diversion in the same way films are. In other words, we often feel that we cannot afford to waste our time on a bad class. Still, that doesn't mean that we should rely on reviews written by other students to make informed decisions. We have to take into account other factors, namely our ability to make our own choices.
Moreover, Columbia students' reliance on CULPA reviews when making their course selections suggests that they are incapable of taking risks. As young adults and members of an elite intellectual community, we should be eager to take risks—including enrolling in difficult classes.
So why do we rely so heavily on these cartoonish nuggets, anyway?
There are clearly benefits that come along with using reviews. Still, if we use them, we have to do so intelligently. CULPA can provide information that students—especially first-years—may have otherwise needed to acquire via trial and error. But in addition to allowing us to take a quick glance at course material and professor reviews, CULPA also provides an overabundance of information that can be paralyzing: One poor critique and any interest in a class may be lost.
Instead, we should cautiously skim the reviews on CULPA and then actually show up to the first one or two classes we're interested in. We can take advantage of the shopping period and get a feel for our classes before deciding not to take them. It's not unheard of that nearly all of the students in a class hate it while a silent few suddenly realize that they need to fill out a new major declaration form. We can let CULPA guide the decision-making process to a certain extent, but we should not let fear prevent us from embarking on an academic adventure.
So, if you're already interested in a class and the reviews suggest you're moving in the right direction, go for it! But don't let the reviews tell you no. Otherwise, you could end up missing out on something that could have been valuable to you.
Read the reviews and consider the criticisms. But in the end, make the choice on your own.
Jackie Hajdenberg is a Barnard first-year with a prospective major in comparative politics. All the Rest is Commentary runs alternate Thursdays.
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