According to the students, the less they were taught, the better. But I knew better. And I had been on the receiving end of some of these half-taught students. One of my colleagues at a large community college in California had confessed that he passed any student who would sit through his course. With no work to grade them, he simply gave them all C’s. He was not the only one, I realized.

When I had struggled with a student whose grammar was shockingly poor and who could not form a decent paragraph or essay, I sometimes wondered if they had simply tested well on the eligibility exam or if an unwitting colleague had passed them on to me.

And what did the students get out of this? —Shari WilsonRip-Off (Inside Higher Ed)

An angry part-time teacher launches a heart-felt discussion. I can’t say I’ve ever come across anything as bad as the examples in this essay. Students aren’t all this bad, and teachers aren’t all this jaded. But I can understand her emotional reaction.

While I wish all students would find the pleasure and personal satisfaction of learning to be sufficient motivation for them to do the work that they need to do, athletes (who are singled out in this essay) have a support network that other students don’t have. In my experience, that support network encourages students not to flunk, but I know several athletes who could get better grades if they did more work, but who choose not to. And I don’t simply mean skipping class in order to play games… speaking as a teacher, I find that frustrating, but manageable. I’m talking about not turning in rough drafts, not taking revision opportunities seriously, etc. And students may have all kinds of obligations other than sports (including jobs, family, health) that might keep them from doing their best. (I worked through my own feelings about athletics in an essay, “Football Slouches Toward a Former Women’s University“.)

It’s hard to resist the urge to sit around like the men in the Monty Python sketch, telling tall tales about how hard I had it when I was young, but I certainly teach fewer novels and more short stories than I myself was taught.

And I teach some courses that I never took as a student. In the 80s, only CS majors would be talking about interface design, but my “Writing for the Internet” students get a good dose of it. So it’s hard to make any kind of direct comparison.

Still, the pressure is there, but it’s not just athletes — it’s the whole entitlement culture. They’ve paid their tuition, so my job is to spoon-feed them exactly what they are supposed to get out of every assigned reading, and test them on whether they can memorize the “right” answers.

Sorry, but that’s not why I became a college teacher.

Since I have some job security, I respect the guts (or recklessness?) of an adjunct willing to bring up this topic in this forum.

4 thoughts on “Rip-Off

  1. Reducing the number of chapters in order to go over the material in more depth is different from reducing the number of chapters in order to make the course less challenging. You’re right to point out that “number of chapters covered” is not a good measure of the effectiveness of a class.

  2. I haven’t had much trouble with athletes. At my SNEPU students are required to hand in a form at the beginning of the semester stating that they are “student-athletes” (I hate that term) and that they may miss XYZ because of games, etc. The athletics dept. also requires them to have regular semester progress reports, so they can keep up with things. For the most part, the athletes know what they need to do and they do it. And if they are having trouble, they come see me. (They were very bad, though, about providing me with documentation when they told me about a last-minute schedule change.)

    The ones who really give me trouble are the Greeks. They miss class/assignments because it’s rush/they’re pledging/they’re running for office. They tell me I “can’t” flunk them because they’ll get kicked out of rush. They seem like the ones with the biggest entitlement problem.

    I agree with you, Mike, that less can be more. I assigned way too much in my speech classes this semester and will cut back if I teach the class again. But a course like Spanish, which was mentioned in the article, needs to be careful because so much of it builds on the previous semester’s knowledge. I have no problem with studying a single work of literature in depth (hey, I spent three years studying nothing but Don Quixote), but the vocabulary and grammar concepts need to be built before they can move on.

    I took Italian as an undergraduate, and we only got through six chapters in an INTENSIVE class. This was supposed to be a year’s worth of work in a semester. What happened was that the class was made up of two kinds of people: (1) foreign language majors who already spoke French or Spanish, and (2) opera majors. The opera majors were not good with languages, and they kept holding everyone back with the same questions over and over. They whined for extra credit. They asked if they could sing in Italian for a grade, which the professor allowed. I didn’t think that was too fair!

    Overall, I completely agree with what Evan says. Academics should be the topmost priority. Standards should not be lowered just so Joe Football Player can play next year. I’m getting the same degree as Joe Football player, and I want it to be worth something.

    Sorry for the long rant, but this was a very interesting issue.
    Adjunct Kait

  3. When I read this essay (which was sobering) I wondered if the problem she raised was located in the administration of adjunct faculty rather than simply the caving-in of a prof to the slacker athletes.

    My opinion: Teaching fewer books is really nothing to be ashamed about. Less CAN be more: information is quantitative, but critical thinking is qualitative. In exemplum: I spend the majority of my literary criticism course on one novel, reading it from a different perspective each week. Sure, we do lots of poems, shorts, and even films, but reading deep rather than broad is the emphasis in that course. Granted, teaching a lit survey, has different requirements — but then the matter of the canon needs to be reckoned with, since one class can only cover so many works of literature.

  4. You wrote a very interesting essay, Dr. Jerz. It raises many key issues that neither side takes lightly. However, these issues really need to be discussed. Speaking from a student perspective, when I ask many traditional non-athletic students why they came to Seton Hill, the first response I always get is: “to get away from the athletes!” I think to myself, “if that’s the only reason you came here, there must be something wrong.”

    And there is something wrong. Both sides are too emotionally charged about this issue to be reasonable. (Recall the major row caused when the issue was raised on the blogs). Both sides screaming curses at each other, as I stepped back and thought how childish it all was. I admit I may have been carried away in the beginning of the whole thing, but I saw the necessary value in making sure both sides did not rip each other to shreds.

    I feel personally that athletes have a right to be here. However, as with any right, there is a certain level of responsibility. This is college. Academics remain the topmost priority. Standards should not be lowered, and the athletes have the responsibility to keep their grades up. That should be the priority and sports should come on the side.

    But this whole bickering and complaining makes me sick. Again, this is college. Are we that childish that we have to treat other people with disrespect based on our prejudices? That goes to both sides. The part that worries me the most is the condemning the whole group for the actions and attitudes of the part.

    I feel the only solution to this problem is talking it out, that is, like rational human beings. Coaches need to express that academics come first and make achieving academic standards doable. Athletes must take it upon themselves to straighten their priorities. Non student-athletes need to encourage and make new students feel welcome, and if they disapprove of athletes, at least show some amount of tact.

    There is an obvious shift in the culture. Both sides have not shown much capacity to adapt to this shift. This is a college, not a circus. We’re all here for the same reason; it’s just about time we all started acting like it.

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