As the school year begins to wind down and instructors are poised to pass out course evaluations, University of Florida professor Clay Calvert makes a startling admission.

With classes quickly coming to a close on college campuses across the country, Millennials from frosh through super seniors are busy doing more than just taking final exams, writing term papers and completing class projects to please professors. They — at least those who choose to do so — are also completing voluntary and anonymous evaluations of those same professors.

And some of those comments won’t please the professors at all, while others will. It’s the students’ opportunity, after all, to laud, lament, praise and criticize — sometimes constructively, sometimes not so much — those who will be judging their own work and bestowing grades upon them.

That’s the case at the University of Florida where I have taught for five years, during which time UF’s official student evaluations of teaching (SETs) migrated from traditional paper-and-pencil forms administered in classrooms and lecture halls to the realm of the Internet. Depending on the institution, data collected from undergraduates is used both in annual performance evaluations conducted by department heads and in the tenure and promotion process.

Some universities, including Florida, post summaries of the results on line; the curious could easily find mine, for instance, for both large-size undergraduate courses and small-size graduate seminars by going to the Gator Rater link for public results. Such transparency is important, if not vital, at a time when public higher education seems constantly under attack.

The big question, of course, is whether the data mean anything. ..

There’s clearly a lot of unpacking to do there and to which about 800 words cannot do justice, but let’s start by acknowledging and agreeing on two things. First, online student evaluations of professors are, standing alone, imperfect measures of pedagogical performance. Just as some professors may curry evaluative favor by bringing donuts to class on the last day of the semester or by taking part in the pernicious practice of inflating grades in the belief that higher marks will necessarily translate to higher evaluations, so too will some students abuse evaluations by lading them with ad hominem attacks and sartorial irrelevancies (although I’ll take irrelevant compliments any day).

Second, there truly is great concern among some faculty that online evaluations tend to lead to lower participation rates (compared to in-class survey administration) and that, in turn, those students who are motivated to participate online have an axe to grind against their instructors.