To: Theodore S. Arrington, Chair, Political Science
From: Roger G. Brown, Graduate Coordinator
Date: October 5, 1994
Re: Peer Teaching Evaluation of Dr. Marc Stier
Last Spring I served as one member of a peer evaluation team for the purpose of observing Dr. Marc Stier's teaching. This memorandum is my report on that observation. I chose to visit a session of POLS 3174, Democracy, on April 7, 1993 at 11 a.m. Professor Stier had provided me with a copy of his syllabus and a memo describing the purpose of the course.
The course syllabus for "Democracy" indicated an original and creative approach to contemporary political theory. It began with an essay on the different forms democracy might take, namely liberal democracy and participatory democracy, and the important questions each raise for a given society. The syllabus set forth a challenging set of theoretical concepts and a rigorous schedule of required readings, most of which had been made available through a CopyWrite course pack. Clearly, the course was paced for a well-prepared student with disciplined study skills. In his memorandum to the peer reviewers, Dr. Stier commented that he was "about a month behind" in lectures for the Democracy class. This indicates that he should reconsider the class schedule to reflect more realistically the times it takes to cover certain key topics.
Stier began the class by distributing a large set of handouts, about a dozen pages in all. Initially, students appeared somewhat confused by the number of handouts, and the pages were not numbered for a particular order. However, as the class progressed, Stier clearly indicated which handout was to be consulted for illustration of his points. In addition, he used overhead transparencies of the same tables and graphs that were printed on the handouts. The illustrations were custom-prepared for the class on spreadsheet and graphics software, indicated an extraordinarily careful and labor-intensive class preparation. Stier obviously invests a great deal of time and effort into planning and preparing class presentations.
Stier indicated that the topic of the day was a conclusion to "Egalitarianism and Inegalitarianism" and the beginning of the next topic, "Participatory Democracy." He effectively used humor to compare student's expectations of their earning potential ("delusion of grandeur") with the reality of the employment market. Then he engaged the class in a lively discussion of why their expectations varied so widely from reality. Further, he discussed the practical, political implications of such misperceptions in a democratic society. Stier had an easy rapport with the students, who spoke freely and frequently. Stier followed up each student comment and made connections to the central point. Eventually, more than half of the approximately 20 students had participated in the discussion.
In the second half of the 80-minute class period, Stier moved to a discussion of "liberal" versus "participatory" democracies. He effectively drew out examples of the practical, contemporary effects of viewing politics in a particular way. For example, "liberal democrats" view polices as decisions made largely by government, while "participatory democrats" see politics as decisions that affect common goods. Students offered suggestion of each type of viewpoint, and Stier maintained the focus on the critical distinctions. As he concluded, Stier laid out a complex analogy between corporate governance and a participatory democracy, using the example of employee committee for decision making, quality control, and labor-management cooperation. Students were guided by key points on the handouts and the overhead transparencies.
In summary, Professor Stier designed an original, creative course on contemporary political thought that combined philosophical concepts with current empirical data and popular culture. He prepares painstakingly, and he is comfortable and effective in guiding the classroom interaction. The necessary trade-off is that a less well-prepared student would have a difficult time with the level and pace of the discussion. On the other hand, the student who works hard and keeps up should receive a valuable, often entertaining, educational experience in Marc Stier's course.
Roger G. Brown
Department of Political Science
Charlotte, NC 28223