Awesomeness of Students: Professor Zero edition

Taking a break from grading this morning I came across Professor Zero’s interesting post about a letter from a student arguing why he should not fail her course, but instead receive a D. Now, I am no stranger to such audacity (as chronicled here, here, here, and here) having been accused of ageism last semester and more recently (by which I mean last week) I had a student who will without a doubt receive an “F” explain to me that she is actually an “A” student and I can’t fail her because she will lose her scholarship. To which I replied, “Well, perhaps you should have, you know, attended class regularly and turned assignments in. If you were confused you should have approached me, I’m happy to help out, but now it’s too late.” It’s a problem. As Detective McNulty (from HBO’s entertaining cop show The Wire) says to his partner sometime during the first season “You know what I like about you? When you fuck me you’re gentle and you take your time.” Or something to that effect. Sometimes the perverse egalitarianism at work in the University works its magic to fuck the unsuspecting.

Recently, a colleague of mine received a cc (she was one of 6 addressees) of a letter from a student via the President of the college. Yes, the student, after complaining loudly to student services, got passed off to to the dean, who sent it to the department chair, who passed it onto the coordinator, who eventually met with the dept chair, student services and the discipline dean all at once to resolve the situation. The original disagreement over a final grade for the course was not changed and remained an F. Case closed. Not quite, now that a letter was sent to the President, the VP of Academic Affairs is on the case. The student is upset because she received an “F” in a class and will lose her scholarship, she wants it erased from her transcript. Now, this student earned a 28 on the final exam, a twenty fucking eight percent!!!

Basically, her letter (which is atrociously written) documents a number of so-called incompetent steps taken by everyone except her: she didn’t know what the course was, she didn’t enroll in it, nobody told her what the course was, somebody told her not to worry she would pass, she was advised/forced to enroll in this course and on and on.

What’s scary to me is the amount of time that has been wasted on this. Several meetings, countless emails and phone calls, all of which serve to distract everyone from the important work of administering and teaching within the college; not catering to every disgruntled student’s petty demands. This behavior of the student should not be surprising, it simply reflects the broader consumer culture we live in. After all, the President recently instituted a customer service model for the college . As Professor Zero remarks:

The view that the university should run and be run “like a business” is a right-wing model designed to produce obedient people and not critical thinkers. It is antithetical to the concept of the university as a place of intellectual community or, of course, as a self-governing community of scholars. I agree with these points.

Well, I am not convinced that “the right” is solely to blame for this (See this post from last month), but it is an accurate characterization of the current state of the university in the US. Back to the issue of disgruntled students. Professor Zero is right to point this out:

However one thing I definitely cannot control are the poor attitudes of students like this one. I can explain to them what the requirements are and how they can fulfill them. I can attempt to show them that their attitudes are self-defeating and that other attitudes are available for the taking, and I can fail them. The university, however, imagines that we can, almost magically, whip them shapes they clearly do not wish to take or are constitutionally unable to take. I find this very unrealistic.

Yes, exactly. If my colleague’s student succeeds in convincing the President and VP of Academic Affairs to change the grade, I will resign immediately in total disgust. Really though, what would that accomplish? I’m a warm body. There are many other warm bodies both “out there” and in “the pipelines.” Don’t misunderstand, I like my job. Intellectual Emancipation? The slowly pervasive and perverse forms of egalitarianism at work in the University? Teachers like me who enjoy exposing students to philosophy (and other subjects of course, let’s not be too too narcissistic)?

Who cares! As long as enrollment is up, business is booming!  All the better to fuck you, Herr Doktor!

6 thoughts on “Awesomeness of Students: Professor Zero edition

  1. I think the key is the *perverse egalitarianism* which pervades U.S. society.

    People seem to believe that their ideas/papers are as good as anyone’s because all people are people. At the same time they do not believe that all people deserve human rights because all people are people. There are so many very basic misunderstandings of things and *do* seem to be problems with logic. The problem is that one or two courses in logic or critical thinking are not enough to throw at the problem.

  2. Profacero:

    Yes, I agree that the perverse egalitarianism that pervades the university is merely a symptom of the perverse egalitarianism that pervades the whole of society. There is a hidden form of narcissism (?) that manifests itself in the disconnect between “everyone deserves a forum b/c all ideas are equal” and “not all people deserve equal rights b/c people are people.” Certainly, the letter your student wrote you and a number of experiences I’ve had with students trying to keep their scholarships –even though they don’t do their part in the classroom –is directly related to the recent move for the University as business. They are disgruntled customers. I find it offensive that many of my students think that they deserve an “A” for paying tuition. What about learning for learning sake, why must things always have an end? I always tell my students an “F” is not the end of the bloody world. Yet, most students who fail do so b/c they didn’t do their part, not b/c they can’t do it.

    Anyway, I think that Logic and Critical Thinking courses provide a nice way for students to get the “wheels on the road” The trick (somehow) is to not allow for the sort of compartmentalization I often witness in my classes so that connections are actually made and developed across disciplines. Ideally, when one graduates college, he or she is actually a critical thinker rather than, you know, an “automaton.” Perhaps part of the problem is the very disciplining nature of the University.

  3. There’s also a sort of generalized not taking of responsibility. In your anecdote, the student was irresponsible but the higher ups also appear not to trust each other or themselves. Nobody is willing to say “the buck stops here” or “we do not second guess our faculty.”

    When I was a T.A. faculty had gotten together and established clear guidelines and standards for the courses we were all teaching. We the T.A.’s could be trusted to understand and follow these guidelines, and we could trust the professors in charge to back us up when students complained about our following the rules.

    When I became faculty, however, in less fancy and established places than where I had been in graduate school, faculty were far more timid because the administration did not trust us. Perhaps the students notice that we do not take responsibility, *either,* or are not in a position to do so.

  4. That’s a good point–the faculty as a whole are suspicious of the administration that generally throws its weight around whenever it can. However, this is often effective b/c of the pitiful membership/participation of faculty in the Faculty Senate. However, the fact that the student can write a letter to the president and have the whole thing dragged out longer–after the people involved met and decided that an F was appropriate–is somewhat disconcerting.

    Your TA experience sounds more fruitful then my three years of anarchic awkwardness as a TA or more anarchically, as a “research assistant”-these inevitably took on one of the following forms: (a) sit in the corner and provide assistance photocopying, passing papers etc, and maybe once, by accident you will be asked to teach a class when there is a snowstorm or (b) teach every other class day or minimally, on the days in which the Prof calls you at 6am and tells you to take over for the day, which happens to be every other class.

  5. I think it’s more like, faculty do not trust other faculty. Yes it was collegial where I went to school – people were collegial to freshmen and freshmen were collegial. Comparatively speaking – we wouldn’t have said so then – but nobody “went postal” which I now see routinely. It is perhaps my ruin that I have actually seen some semblance of responsibility and collegiality – I now expect it, which appears to be an error.

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