Through Spring 2008, the Math Department collected student evaluations of professors on paper forms containing 9 questions, answers ranging from 1 to 5 (1 = low rank, 5 = high rank). The average rating for all questions by Prof McFarland's students is at the right:
Average rating for all classes
Spring 2005 4.44
Fall 2005 4.29
Spring 2007 4.42
Fall 2007 4.41
Spring 2008 4.20

Starting Fall 2008, evaluations were done on-line via email, with about 60% response rate. The new forms have 32 questions, whose answers are not comparable. Complete data is available on request in Prof McFarland's office. However, one question invites a summary valuation of the professor :
Overall, my instructor was________________ (1=worst; 10=best)

Average responses to this summary question are at the right.

Average rating for all classes
Fall 2008 8.500
Spring 2009 7.729
Fall 2009 7.756
Spring 2010 8.475
Fall 2010 7.85
Spring 2011 7.800
Fall 2011 7.885

Also visit for both Prof. McFarland and other profs. Comments on this private website vary from ravingly positive to dismally negative for the same professor ! However, most of these evaluations (often using refreshingly youthful phrases) are 2 or more years old: since about 2006, many students now express these criticisms on other websites.
An alternate evaluation website is Rate my Professor; this site is harder to use (you must register) with fewer briefer comments, but similar.

The following table lists only NEGATIVE criticisms: positive comments are omitted. The comments are actual quotes, word for word, but each issue is represented by only one comment. About 90% of my students' complaints resemble one of the 15 examples below. You (my student) might see these past criticisms as a guide to your own comments when the semester is near an end.
Student criticism (quoted) Prof McFarland's response
"He could be louder when he speaks"
(Most common criticism in 2005)
It is true: Prof McFarland is often a quiet speaker, but he tries to compensate by writing everything on the board, and leaving it there until the last student has copied what he/she wishes. Since a large number of students choose to sit in the rear of our very large room (Heide Hall 100), loudness must be a problem for only a few.
"Slow down - give students more
time to absorb the information".
(2nd most common criticism)

"Takes too long to go over problems"
"Class is structured to accommodate the slowest student"
There are about equal numbers of these two criticisms: "speed up" and "slow down". Since the Business School requires the math department to cover a certain minimum number of topics, "slowing down" on one topic would require either speeding up on another topic, or lengthening the semester. Students will differ on how to split up the available time among the required topics: it is hard to please everyone.
"Make web quizzes worth more"
"Replace web quizzes with
written take-home tests"
The first criticism reflects the work needed to complete the web quiz, and the second (opposite) criticism came from only one student who explained that anything involving computers was difficult.
Since cooperation is encouraged on web quizzes, it is not clear who should get any additional web quiz value. Their main value is as a "wake up call" to polish skills before the more valuable paper test covering the same material.The value of web quizzes was increased starting Spring 2002.
"Spend more time on probability
and less on the easy stuff"
Spending more time on probability should be matched by more test questions on probability, but since these are harder questions, grades would suffer; is this really what students want?
"Office hours were horrendous;
do you think late night hours
are good for everyone?"
Since this comment was written, additional daylight hours have been added, and this website has allowed many students to get practice and help at times of their choosing.
"When someone asks a question,
he makes you feel stupid"
This is an important (fortunately rare) criticism, and I (Prof McFarland) take it very seriously! I constantly struggle to find ways to allow my students to feel good about their attempts to learn math, but I will sometimes fail. When I fail, I feel the hurt as much as do my students. Therefore, I also have incentive to improve.
"He spoke very sophisticated
which was his downfall.
He has a very hard time
getting his message through
to normal human beings."
Complex ideas will always be hard to present to untrained people: even Bill Gates has big problems at this task! We must try our best, however, since we depend upon these sophisticated ideas to get the world's work done. If an idea is simple, however, I must present it SIMPLY, or I have failed.
"Give more frequent examinations.
For example, give a weekly quiz"
Prof McFarland is required to set test dates at the start of the semester, but the option of "more tests" has been voted down by big margins when students vote at this time: after all, tests are work! At the end of the semester, some students will not have attained original goals, and then wish they could take more tests on which better scores might balance earlier errors. Starting in summer 2000, Prof. McFarland will be creating a number of interactive exercizes and self-grading quizzes for both Math 143, Math 250, and Math 141 which a student can use to sharpen and test skills before an exam which affects the course grade.
"Get some new clothing"
"pink is not your color"
"What hapenned to your Patrick Ewing #33 orange sneakers?"
"Buy a pair of black shoes to go with your work attire"
About 10% of my negative comments read like this: I wear the same clothes too often. I use these clothes only while lecturing, and like Clark Kent, hop into them just before class, and back out of them soon after. They are cared for with tenderness and respect, and most were bought in the last 2 years, but I will often wear a reddish-pink button-down shirt during cold weather: it is the shirt I wore on the first day I taught here, and I hope to wear it on the last day! I also often wear a navy blue knit vest: it was a gift from a friend who has since died, and I wear it out of respect. The orange sneakers are still around, but Prof. McFarland ruined his arches wearing sandals and hush puppies for 20 years. The current Brooks shoes (bought in Spring 2006) have stiff high arches, without which Prof would limp, alas.
"Go over homework in class"
"Could talk more about
the take-home problems"
I have assumed that both writers were referring to the list of take-home problems (for either Math 143 or Math 250) from which Prof McFarland promises to pick test questions. The entire semester will be spent talking "about" these problems, by talking about the ideas and methods used to solve them. However, Prof McFarland will seldom merely present in class solutions to take-home test problems, which could then be copied and memorized. Memorization is not a major tool of any Science professor in America; our style has been to encourage individual innovation and creative problem solving. This policy has been enormously successful at keeping America at the very front line of technological advance.
"Large 'C' range is unsatisfactory.
A person with 79% shouldn't get the same grade as a person with 60%".
Most readers will see Prof McFarland's dilemma here. The student with 78% (the author of this criticism?) was offended that he/she shared that grade with a poorer student. On the other hand, the student with 60% was very grateful not to get a 'D' !! The only way to avoid this criticism is to have a larger number of grades, such as C+ and C-, but these grades are not allowed at UWW. Wish to see McFarland's grades in Math 143 or Math 250 ?
"Offer more points like graded homework.
Tests are too much weight on the
final grade".
"Take attendance and
include it in our grade
"Graded homework", "extra credit work", "points for attendence", and "dropping the lowest scores" are a few common devices some students suggest to raise grades. Prof. McFarland has not used these devices, and the reason is this: FAIRNESS. Though there are flaws in every grading system, the grading system should treat all students equally. "Homework" can be done by committees, and thus will vary in quality depending upon who your sources are. "Extra credit" leaves room for abuse of the student-teacher relationship. "Attendance" does not correlate with learning: students have failed tests without missing a class. "Dropping lowest scores" rewards unsteady performers and penalizes those who try to understand everything.
"Give credit for internet quizzes"
"Web quizzes should be due Sunday, not Saturday"
Math 143Math 250
Prof McFarland created these quizzes during the Fall 2000 semester, and he was unsure how students would react to them (they proved helpful). The original clumsy software was re-written, and starting Spring of 2001, a small credit will be offered to encourage students to use them, since they appear to have raised students' grades in both Math 143 and Math 250 by about half a letter grade. Starting with Spring 2004, the web quizzes are due late Sunday, and so far, this change has allowed more students to use them.
"Do harder example problems" From similar comments by other students, it appears that certain test questions must have seemed harder than the examples done in class, which Prof McFarland had thought were of the same level of difficulty. To a certain extent, "difficulty" (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder, but since this criticism was written, Prof McFarland has tried extra hard to make test questions no harder than classroom examples.
"Probability sucks" This student, and others, would prefer that the topic of Probability be simply deleted from the course, regardless of how it is taught. Alas, it is currently seen as an important skill by the Business School.
(humorous criticisms?)
"Accept bribes"
"Act like a child more often"
"We want carrots and celery,
not pretzels and chocolate"

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