Eric Mar's students say he's easy like Sunday morning

Is it safe to say that the Richmond District has become the preferred launching ground of academics with a taste for politics? Following the recent terming-out of former English teacher and District 1 Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, another sometime scholar has risen to take his place. That man is Eric Mar, a public-interest lawyer and former Board of Education commissioner who for 16 years moonlighted as a lecturer in Asian-American studies at San Francisco State University. Last month, Mar gave up teaching to participate full-time in the raucous world of city politics. But, like the life of a San Francisco supervisor, the life of the mind is not short on sniping — as his former students demonstrate.

On RateMyProfessors.com, a popular Web site where students post anonymous reviews of courses and teachers, S.F. State students who took Mar's classes have plenty to say. Amid mixed reviews, some common threads emerge: He's a nice guy, he never grades papers on time, and Asian-American studies ain't rocket science. One commenter raved in January 2007 of Ethnic Studies 220, Asians in America: "All in all just sleep in class and get an 'A'!" Others offered less sunny remarks. "Has more time to do other things than teach," one student in an upper-level course said in December 2007. "If you want a class with no personal contact and feedback, take his." Another ex-student opined in a comment post two months ago, "He's okay but i understood more from the TA's."

Many in academia say RateMyProfessors.com is an inaccurate gauge of instructors' performance. It turns out that Mar himself is among the Web site's fans. "I've always seen it as a good way to get feedback," he said in an interview. "I think it's helped me to be a better teacher at times." He called students' complaints about lack of feedback "accurate," acknowledging that he was often hard-pressed to promptly grade and return assignments. He said much of the fault lies with cuts to teaching staff: "I finished grading 200 term papers in early January. I'm still moving my boxes from State."

With San Francisco facing a budgetary meltdown, additional work awaits Mar in City Hall — and, we suspect, a few more no-holds-barred performance reviews.

 
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