Friday, June 22, 2012

Sometimes faculty are just assholes (by anon)

I found the comment below posted on a non-UWW blog I frequent regarding academia and other such matters.  The blog post was about some notably atrocious attempt by a student to have his or her grade raised.  Below was part of one faculty member’s comment in the Comment Section.

Why are students these days less respectful? To some extent, at least, it must be because they've found they can get away with this in the past (perhaps with the assistance of 'helicopter parents').

And that is only possible because previous schoolteachers and higher education instructors wimped out on them. As far as most of these students know, their behavior is normal, and they are just asserting their rights to a grade they deserved.

They have been implicitly taught by a long sequence of wimps, in other words, that 'unfair' is a good adjective for any poor grade they are assigned, regardless of the actual fairness with which the grades were distributed; and that if they don't get the grade they want right away, they just need to bargain/intimidate/plead for something better. At worst, there's nothing to lose.

The solution, therefore, is quite simple, and it's exactly along the lines of what you did. We all need to take a hard line with this sort of thing. Ideally, our reactions should also involve some punishment, so that the students walk away with the clear understanding that there _is_ something to lose by this sort of knavery.

I have made some progress on this by telling all my classes near the start of each course how undignified and abhorrent it is for students to whine about their grades, etc. That seems to create some shame and aversion in the students. I really rub it in about what bags of shit those students are, since I'm not saying it about any of _them_, just some other students with a sense of entitlement (who are never named).

There is reason to quibble with his (and yes, it is a ‘he’ in this case) explanation for why some students “grade grub” as many call it.  But what I find particularly objectionable is his last paragraph.  There is an intentional act to shame students away from that kind of behavior; he really rubs it in that those kinds of students are “bags of shit.”  Notice that he doesn’t say that that kind of action is shitty, but that the personhood of the student is shit (there is a big difference between denouncing the action and denouncing the person!).  Of course, who knows what this faculty person really does at the start of his course, but that is what he says he does.  He even wishes he could inflict some kind of punishment on those students.

That faculty member is an asshole.  He is not at UWW, but his students wherever he teaches have to endure a blowhard professor who (ironically) believes he has reached some level of entitlement such that he can resort to shame and ridicule to force students to behave in certain patterns.  Of course, it is a good behavioral pattern to ask about grades respectfully.  BUT it is incumbent upon the faculty member to model respectful behavior and not shame students and call them “bags of shit,” even if they do do something disrespectful.  When that professor models such disrespect to his students on Day 1, student learning suffers from the start.  It sets up a potentially hostile learning environment.  It shows that he is more committed about his students acting in just the right ways than their actual learning.  It will hurt his students’ motivation to learn.

There are many way for a professor to talk about grades.  Shame is not one of them.  That’s what an asshole uses to try and get what he wants.  Faculty should know better and act respectfully.

On another note, I’m not even sure he condones his students asking about grades at all.  I get the impression that he would consider any such questioning, even done respectfully, as whining.  That’s not right.  If the justification for a grade is not clear or a grade appears to be unfair, the student has every right to ask the instructor about it.  To shame even that kind of asking, the instructor is donning a pretty big God-complex and needs to be slapped a few times to get him back down to earth.  We, professors, are not always the clearest on why we assigned a certain grade, there are times we make grading mistakes, and there are times we did grade something unfairly and need to reassess.  Teaching, learning, and grading are not a one-way street going from professor to students.  It is a back-and-forth movement as we grow in the course together (sorry if that sounds too foo-foo).  If the professor quoted above doesn’t get that, his ego needs to be popped.

So some faculty really are assholes.  Hopefully it is the vast minority.


  1. I have failed a plethora of classes in my collegiate career. I have been a shit-bag (not to be confused with a shit bag). I could say that the rulings were unfair... However, it seems to be that I actually didn't go to class or turn in assignments. In fact, I once had a professor that-if I went to lecture-he would spell things out in great detail so that I could understand the material (regardless if I read it). I also always got the idea that this professor would always be willing to speak to any student about anything as long as they weren't spewing verbal diarrhea (aka B.S.).

  2. I am an asshole but I like it.

  3. That is, you have to fuck the professor for a good grade.