Bum’s Rush on the Bayou

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There’s academic freedom and then there is “academic freedom”.Report

  2. Avatar Aaron says:

    You mean you actually have to earn your grades?! What kind of nonsense is that! I’m paying to be here so I deserve an A!

    Also, this “aha” moment was pretty hilarious but also sad:
    “My biggest AHA?reaction in this course is that I need to study for this course every night to make a good grade. I must also attend class, take good notes, and have study sessions with others. Usually a little studying can get me by but not with this class which is why it is my AHA?reaction.”Report

  3. Avatar Ian M. says:

    They removed her from teaching the class, she was not fired and still has tenure.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus says:

    Also, I sort of make fun of dude-speak here, but it should be clear that my problem is not with the students. It’s understandable that freshmen, who just left the public high school system, might be gobsmacked by an instructor expecting them to work hard, especially given the common belief among undergrads that “gen ed” courses are supposed to be easy, since they don’t think they “need” the courses for their major or really want to take them. Moreover, 17 year olds tend to act like 17 year olds from time to time.

    So, naturally, they’ll gripe. What an adult in a position of authority, like a Dean, is supposed to say at that point is, “You chose to come to college. If you’re not willing to do the work, please leave.” What one finds when you tell them that they have to step up to the plate, is that most of them do step up and discover that they can accomplish things they never thought themselves capable of accomplishing.

    Or, you could lower the standards and tell the students that hard work just isn’t for them.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Rufus says:

      @Rufus, I think the way this incident was handled sets a really dangerous precedent, but I’ve also been in a 250 person physics class where the median on the final was below a 50% – which is clearly a more serious issue than just lazy students. And the solution, as usual, was just to curve out the grades and ignore the fact that more than half the class was coming out with less than half the expected problem solving capacity.

      Setting this case aside, what would be your solution to a large gen-ed class where 90% of the students repeatedly fail out?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to trizzlor says:

        @trizzlor, Well, I think that hypothetical gets at two very different ways of looking at university education. One way of looking at it is that education is training, especially at that level, and the students need a base competency that also serves their needs. I am not unsympathetic to this view. Then the second would be that a university is something like a guild and what we’re doing is passing down a body of knowledge as fully and accurately as possible. There the emphasis is on presenting the material fully and accurately while, of course, trying to make it accessible. I’m sympathetic to that too. But, it’s a difference between focusing on the material or on the students. If you focus on the material- as this woman clearly does- it doesn’t really matter if 99 % of the students fail, so long as the one or two who passed actually know the material.

        In reality, you probably have to focus on both material and students, and so for a gen ed class, yes, I’d agree that 90% failing really does seem dysfunctional. I don’t remember ever having more than 5-10% fail. So, I’d say that in the 90% failing situation you’d have to seriously consider what you’re asking the students to know. The sad fact is, in most disciplines, students graduate without knowing all they should to be called competent. I think a lot of profs just hope they’ll make up for it in grad school.

        Of course, part of the problem with these gen ed classes is that students often assume they’ll be easier than they are. So, having a lot of failing grades on the first exam is often par for the course. What bothered me more than anything is that the administrator didn’t sit down with the prof and discuss any of this with her. It might just be one of those hard courses where, if you work your tail off, you can get a gentleman’s C.

        Of course, the real problem there is that grade inflation is so much the norm that the “gentleman’s C” is now an A.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Rufus F. says:

          @Rufus F., agreed, I think this dichotomy is very true, and problems like this particular situation arise when grades/averages are used to quantify the effectiveness of the students as well as that of the teacher. In my opinion, it’s that kind of philosophy (which is almost ubiquitous) coupled with the fact that grades are always curved up and never down that leads to inevitable grade inflation.

          I would make an even more radical claim: that in accepting a certain caliber of students, the university is stating, implicitly, that the average accepted student should be able to tackle the general curriculum. When 90% of a class fails out, either the curriculum or the acceptance criteria need to be re-evaluated. On the other hand, if the purpose of the university is to dispense diplomas for a fee, then just dumping the teacher is the logical solution.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to trizzlor says:

            @trizzlor, Yeah, I’m starting to think there’s going to be some sort of radical separation between the two philosophies, with adjuncts teaching the pay for an A courses and the traditionalists leaving academia for some monastic life in the libraries. I just can’t figure out how the second group will pay their rent!Report

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