Professors are terrible at
evaluation. Their method of judging student work is very simple: How close is it to what I would have done? The better you can imitate the professor, no matter what the class, the higher your grade. This is one size fits all
with a vengeance because there is no opting out. Sure, you can choose
your major. But every class is taught by a professor. What if your
strengths lie elsewhere -- in something that your professors aren't good
at? Tough luck. Your strengths will never be noticed or encouraged or
At Berkeley (where Bryan went and I taught) and universities generally, the highest praise is brilliant. Professor X is brilliant. Or: Brilliant piece of work.
People can do great things in dozens of ways, but somehow student work
is almost never judged by how beautiful, courageous, practical,
good-tasting, astonishing, vivid, funny, moving, comfortable, and so on
it is. Because that's not what professors are good at. (Except in the
less-academic departments, such as art and engineering.) To fail to
grasp that students can excel in dozens of ways is to seriously
shortchange them. To value them at much less than they are worth -- and,
above all, to fail to help them grow and find their place in the world
I certainly agree that professors have major blind spots. But if we're really "terrible" at evaluation, why do employers take our judgments so seriously? Furthermore, if the traits professors fail to measure have high market value, why hasn't another evaluative industry emerged to pick up the slack? You could say that beauty, courage, practicality, tastiness, astonishingness, vividness, funniness, and the like are all better measured on-the-job, but why would that be so?