Respectful Insolence

The Angry Professor responds to a student

If I taught a class in these days of professor evaluations depending so much on student evaluations, I’m not sure I’d have the guts to respond to a student’s request to be excused so that he can go to a bowl game the way the Angry Professor responds.

Of course, if the school were the University of Michigan, the request would only be granted if the Wolverines were playing in said bowl game.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    November 26, 2006

    At the large institutions, student evaluations matter very little; unless they want another reason to get rid of someone. Ignoring reviews may be justified, since they cannot be controlled for quality. As Orac points out, an excellent professor can get bad reviews for personal reasons. And an awful teacher can get good reviews for no apparent reason. (Or, by simplifying the material and only giving high grades.)

  2. #2 JohnnieCanuck
    November 26, 2006

    Check out William the Coroners’ comment on the AP’s posting.

    Now if only profs could threaten time in the Parris Island Brig for being AWOL, what a difference that would make.

  3. #3 SV
    November 26, 2006

    Taking a real chance here, but may I play Devil’s Advocate?

    How can you expect students to behave with respect towards their education when the university system treats them with such flagrant DISrespect?

    I read the thread, and was appalled – but not by the student. Maybe I got spoiled from my own experience at college (max class size was 32), but if I had a “teacher” who had 100 or 250 other students in the same “class”, then I might not consider 100% attendance my absolute highest priority, either.

    What appalled me was the casual acceptance that 100 students at a time is a valid educational premise. I realize that its not the fault of the professors, and I realize that not everyone can go to a small college, but it’s pretty clear that no teacher can give full attention to 100 people. At some point, he/she might still be a lecturerer, but is no longer a teacher.

    Admittedly, a bowl game is a really, really bad excuse, but still, what’s with the snark? Or is he pissed because the student was basically pointing out that the “class” was too large?

  4. #4 Ref
    November 26, 2006

    DEEPAK CHOPRA RESPONDS:

    The God Delusion? Part 3

    November 23, 2006
    Correction
    Dear friends,

    I want to thank the responders who pointed out that Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer who invented the phrase Big Bang, nevertheless opposed the notion of an expanding universe. I remembered one fact and forgot the other. My apologies.
    Love,
    Deepak

    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/the_god_delusio_2.html

    Edited at HuffingtonPost:

    If the universe is self-aware, it would explain the formation of a self-replicating molecule like DNA far more elegantly than the clumsy, crude mechanism of random chance. As the astronomer Fred Hoyle declared the probability that random chance created life is roughly the same as the probability that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and create a Boeing 707.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-3_b_34497.html
    ——-

    Addition at HuffingtonPost by Deepak Chopra:

    The God Delusion? Part 4

    I realize that I’ve dropped a bomb into the discussion. The instant the word ‘intelligent’ comes up, skeptics rush in to shout that one is defending Intelligent Design, which is a stalking horse for creationism, which is a stalking horse for fundamentalist Christianity, which is a stalking horse for Jesus as the one and only son of God. Such is the heated climate of debate at the moment, and Dawkins takes full (unfair) advantage of it. Only Jesus freaks could possibly believe in an intelligent universe.

    However, if consciousness is innate in the universe, so is intelligence. That absolutely has nothing to do with God sitting on a throne in heaven creating Adam and Eve. If we remain sane and clear-headed, the reason to assume that consciousness exists is simple. There’s no other way to account for it. Without a doubt there is enormous design, complexity, organization, and interconnectedness everywhere in Nature. You can either say “I see it, let me explain it” or you can say “Ignore it, it’s just a byproduct of randomness.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-4_b_34842.html

  5. #5 Ref
    November 26, 2006

    DEEPAK CHOPRA RESPONDS:

    The God Delusion? Part 3

    November 23, 2006
    Correction
    Dear friends,

    I want to thank the responders who pointed out that Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer who invented the phrase Big Bang, nevertheless opposed the notion of an expanding universe. I remembered one fact and forgot the other. My apologies.
    Love,
    Deepak

    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/the_god_delusio_2.html

    Edited at HuffingtonPost:

    If the universe is self-aware, it would explain the formation of a self-replicating molecule like DNA far more elegantly than the clumsy, crude mechanism of random chance. As the astronomer Fred Hoyle declared the probability that random chance created life is roughly the same as the probability that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and create a Boeing 707.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-3_b_34497.html
    ——-

    Addition at HuffingtonPost by Deepak Chopra:

    The God Delusion? Part 4

    I realize that I’ve dropped a bomb into the discussion. The instant the word ‘intelligent’ comes up, skeptics rush in to shout that one is defending Intelligent Design, which is a stalking horse for creationism, which is a stalking horse for fundamentalist Christianity, which is a stalking horse for Jesus as the one and only son of God. Such is the heated climate of debate at the moment, and Dawkins takes full (unfair) advantage of it. Only Jesus freaks could possibly believe in an intelligent universe.

    However, if consciousness is innate in the universe, so is intelligence. That absolutely has nothing to do with God sitting on a throne in heaven creating Adam and Eve. If we remain sane and clear-headed, the reason to assume that consciousness exists is simple. There’s no other way to account for it. Without a doubt there is enormous design, complexity, organization, and interconnectedness everywhere in Nature. You can either say “I see it, let me explain it” or you can say “Ignore it, it’s just a byproduct of randomness.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-4_b_34842.html

  6. #6 Ref
    November 26, 2006

    DEEPAK CHOPRA RESPONDS:

    The God Delusion? Part 3

    November 23, 2006
    Correction
    Dear friends,

    I want to thank the responders who pointed out that Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer who invented the phrase Big Bang, nevertheless opposed the notion of an expanding universe. I remembered one fact and forgot the other. My apologies.
    Love,
    Deepak

    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/the_god_delusio_2.html

    Edited at HuffingtonPost:

    If the universe is self-aware, it would explain the formation of a self-replicating molecule like DNA far more elegantly than the clumsy, crude mechanism of random chance. As the astronomer Fred Hoyle declared the probability that random chance created life is roughly the same as the probability that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and create a Boeing 707.

    huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-3_b_34497.html
    ——-

    Addition at HuffingtonPost by Deepak Chopra:

    The God Delusion? Part 4

    I realize that I’ve dropped a bomb into the discussion. The instant the word ‘intelligent’ comes up, skeptics rush in to shout that one is defending Intelligent Design, which is a stalking horse for creationism, which is a stalking horse for fundamentalist Christianity, which is a stalking horse for Jesus as the one and only son of God. Such is the heated climate of debate at the moment, and Dawkins takes full (unfair) advantage of it. Only Jesus freaks could possibly believe in an intelligent universe.

    However, if consciousness is innate in the universe, so is intelligence. That absolutely has nothing to do with God sitting on a throne in heaven creating Adam and Eve. If we remain sane and clear-headed, the reason to assume that consciousness exists is simple. There’s no other way to account for it. Without a doubt there is enormous design, complexity, organization, and interconnectedness everywhere in Nature. You can either say “I see it, let me explain it” or you can say “Ignore it, it’s just a byproduct of randomness.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-4_b_34842.html

  7. #7 James
    November 26, 2006

    Admitttedly I know very little about American tertiary education but I saw nothing untoward in the Angry Proffessor’s response. You’d probably get the same from the university I went to as well, probably with a citation of which University rules applied. Some lecturers would make exceptions but it was far from the norm.

    I also don’t think 100 students is at all unreasonable for class sizes (at least for early undergraduate classes). Most of my 1st and 2nd year papers had over 200 students in them. Lectures were for getting the basic ideas, tutorials (20-30 students) were for in depth discussion. That changed once you reached graduate and post-graduate level of course.

  8. #8 Diora
    November 26, 2006

    I think the problem is not really attendance as much as potentially missed quizzes and exams. The student apparently wants to be accomodated. I am surprised that the Angry Professor bothered to reply. I don’t remember any professor during my days as a student and as a TA caring about attendance. As a TA I couldn’t care less. If you can catch up and if you don’t miss any tests/assignments – great. Otherwise – tough luck. Either way it is the student’s problem. I didn’t get any notes like this as a TA and I doubt that any of the professors did either. At least none of the professors I worked for asked me to “forgive” a test or to accept a late assignment. Certainly there were make-ups offered for special circumstances like illness or time conflict between exams, but they were fairly rare.

    I went to a pretty big university, and some classes indeed were rather large. Some of them had separate discussion sections or labs that were taught by TAs and those were small; language and literature courses were small as well. But for math/science/engineering lectures, I fail to see a problem with the class size. I had some professors who put small classes to sleep and others who managed to keep 100 students’ attention. Why would a professor need to give attention to each and every one of his students? College is not a kindergarten. You don’t understand something, you can raise your hand and ask. If you still don’t understand – go to a TA during office hours, then you’ll have individual attention.
    I don’t know if a student evaluation counts nowadays. In my days, we only filled it out for TAs.

  9. #9 Jonathan Dresner
    November 27, 2006

    Student evaluations are the most overvalued metric in higher education today. They are nearly worthless as evaluations of teaching “quality” or “effectiveness” but they are used simplistically and nearly in isolation as tools to evaluate the professional accomplishments of junior faculty and adjunct faculty.

    Orac’s entirely right: they do influence far too many faculty to be far too lenient on students in a lot of ways. Angry Professor’s response is necessary and appropriate, and if more instructors were more forthright about consequences, in ten or twenty years we might see some real improvement.

  10. #10 rjb
    November 27, 2006

    Student evaluations DO influence hiring/promotion decisions. I am up for tenure this year, and I need to include 3 years worth of student evaluations in my tenure packet. I’m at a small school, and I have learned that our president personally reads these evaluations and meets with each tenure candidate and talks about these evaluations with each person. I know of other faculty members where evaluations may not make a huge difference in getting tenure, but the score that they receive on key evaluation questions determines their teaching “performance” and is the basis for “merit-based” pay increase, at least the teaching part of that evaluation.

  11. #11 Joe
    November 27, 2006

    @rjb, When I wrote the evals are not used, I referred to large institutions. Yes, at small schools they matter; but they are still not reliable. The students simply don’t know what they need to learn, or how it can best be taught.

    The “Sesame Street” model, mixed with the “Lake Wobegone” effect, is killing us. The TV program has students thinking we should be entertaining them. And Minnesota’s best-known town tells them they are all above average.

  12. #12 rjb
    November 27, 2006

    To Joe:

    I do agree that they are used more at small schools, but it’s still the same problem. And the second example that I gave, where student evaluations are used to determine merit raises, is from a large state research university.

  13. #13 Jonathan Dresner
    November 27, 2006

    When I wrote the evals are not used, I referred to large institutions.

    I’ve heard of small institutions that don’t use evals, but not large ones. The administrative drive for quantitative measures is usually even stronger in larger institutions.

    Citations welcome.

  14. #14 Troublesome Frog
    November 27, 2006

    I went to a small (fewer than 30 people per class) university and we had a relatively thorough student evaluation process. There were numeric scores (0 – 5) and comments. My Signals & Systems professor said something long the lines of, “Go ahead and fill out the numeric scores randomly. They’re always around 2.6 regardless of the professor anyway. All I care about is the written feedback.”

    I was on two tenure committees as a student representative. I did everything I could to be even handed and make my feedback clear and useful, but I doubt that all of the other students picked for these committees give the faculty members the same consideration. A small class in which professors can respond to individual student needs tends to produce a lot of whiners who can’t handle the harsh reality that college is hard, grading can be severe, and your professor isn’t there to bail you out of your own screw-ups. I shudder to think of the negative reviews received by some truly excellent professors who happened to be very rigorous and methodical when grading and were unmoved by sob stories.

    We definitely had two types of students: The first set were students who understood that college is hard, learning is not necessarily always fun, and the professor is there to help you through it by teaching you what you need to know. The second set saw the professor as the part of college that was hard and believed that he or she was an enemy to be defeated rather than an ally in a difficult process. I can imagine that the worst thing that can happen to an assistant professor at a non-research school like ours is to get on the bad side of one of the latter types and end up with him on your tenure review committee.

    I will always remember my calculus professor’s admonition: “I don’t know where people get the idea that learning is supposed to be fun. Sometimes it can be fun, but other times it can be downright miserable. Some days you just need to sit down and learn your Taylor expansions and practice integration. *Knowing* is fun.”

  15. #15 Joe
    November 27, 2006

    @Jonathan Dresner: “I’ve heard of small institutions that don’t use evals, but not large ones.”

    Yes, citations welcome.

  16. #16 Roman Werpachowski
    November 28, 2006

    “But for math/science/engineering lectures, I fail to see a problem with the class size.”

    Absolute bullshit. You can’t teach people calculus properly just by writing the theorems on the blackboard.

  17. #17 Diora
    November 28, 2006

    Absolute bullshit. You can’t teach people calculus properly just by writing the theorems on the blackboard.
    This is why these courses had both lecture sessions and “discussion” sessions (or whatever they were called – it was years ago) during the same week which were completely dedicated to problem-solving. The former were of bigger size and taught by a professor, the latter were significantly smaller and usually taught by TAs. In my school, most 1xx and 2xx classes and even some 3xx usually had one or two TAs depending on the class size. All large classes had TAs.

    For the record. I have an undergrad in math/cs and grad in CS. I also was a TA throughout graduate school. So I am talking from personal experience.

  18. #18 SV
    November 28, 2006

    If the discussion sessions are led by a professor, then maybe they are useful teaching experiences. But if they are led by a TA, then your teacher is the grad student, not the professor. Lecturing is NOT teaching, and the PhD you presumably are paying sky-high tuition for might as well be on videotape if you’re competing for his attention with 100 other people.

    “Lectures were for getting the basic ideas” – wrong. College students are supposed to be grown ups, and getting the basic ideas is what textbooks are for. Nothing used to piss me off more than wasting class time because somebody hadn’t done the reading assignment.

    And I don’t care if a lecturer can keep the rapt attention of 100 or even 1000 students at a time. He’s not there to give them passive entertainment – he’s there to TEACH them. And you can’t teach someone without personally engaging him or her.

    And if you think that a smaller class size encourages “whining” – well, too damn bad. Either you don’t like students in which case you probably aren’t a good teacher, or you’re not not inspiring substansive questions in which case you probably aren’t a good teacher, or you can’t stand up to bad students in which case you probably aren’t a good teacher. Or you’re in a situation which doesn’t let you stand up to bad students and enforce high standards, in which case you’re probably not in a very good school. None of this negates the fact that if students aren’t given the chance to ask you questions, then they’re not your students – they’re AUDIENCE.

    And will someone for the love of God tell me how it is humanly possible for anyone to grade 100 term papers, 100 midterms and 100 finals at a time? Oh, right, I forgot – the “teacher” doesn’t do that, either.

    Why can’t we recognize that the professor assigned to these obscene mega-classes is just the guest lecturer who shows up once a week and lends the initials after his name to the grad student who is the REAL teacher?

    I know this is idealistic, it assumes a pretty high level of student performance, and given the realities of the university structure in the US it probably can’t be solved without making other problems worse. My point is that, given the fact that the student was asking to skip some passive lecture-hall time, I don’t understand the hostility towards him asking for leeway in scheduling. After all, he seems to realize that he’s being treated as a commodity, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t view time with his “teachers” as priceless.

  19. #19 Diora
    November 29, 2006

    SV, so you happen to have some statistics that shows that students who graduate from universities which have smaller classes are better mathematicians, scientists or engineers than those who come from big universities? This is totally anecdotal, but I work in one of the world-top corporate research centers, and I didn’t notice any correlation among our scientists and engineers.

    You are right, professors don’t grade exams or assignments, and I even worked for one that made us come up with exam questions – I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that it really annoyed me. True, some professors paid a lot more attention to research and viewed teaching as an inconvenience, but we had some really good teachers as well. And no, the class doesn’t need to be entertaining, but if everyone is asleep after the first 15 minutes, they hardly learn either. Also, if every university had small classes and didn’t need TAs, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to afford graduate school. Research assistanships are difficult to get since their availability depends on grants.

    As far as the “angry professor” is concerned, you don’t know how big his class is or if he even has TAs. In my university, junior- and senior- level math courses were fairly small, maybe because not too many people took them. Statistics prereqs calculus and probability, so it is usually a 300-level class – it was in my school, and those tend to be much smaller. Also, while any bright student can make up the material taught during a week of classes, universities often have very strict policies about make-up of the exams. This student got the tickets before he even found out the exam schedule – major stupidity. Of course “angry professor” could’ve simply answered if he had any exams planned for the particular week. So I don’t really think it is about “teacher’s time being priceless” as about request to reschedule quizzes and exams.

  20. #20 Jonathan Dresner
    November 29, 2006

    @Jonathan Dresner: “I’ve heard of small institutions that don’t use evals, but not large ones.”

    Yes, citations welcome.

    Franklin and Marshall, in Pennsylvania, doesn’t use evals at all. At least that’s what they said when they interviewed me.

  21. #21 Joe
    November 29, 2006

    “@Jonathan Dresner: “I’ve heard of small institutions that don’t use evals, but not large ones.”

    Yes, citations welcome.

    Franklin and Marshall, in Pennsylvania, doesn’t use evals at all. At least that’s what they said when they interviewed me.”

    One school, I guess that settles it.

    But really, I don’t disagree with you. Large schools administer evaluations- the issue is what they do with them. Faculty who bring in large grants are immune from negative evaluations at most large schools. On the other hand, I argued that evals were unreliable and schools (large and small) are justified in ignoring, or not even using them.

    However, while a lot of what students wrote about me was bewildering, there were good ideas in my evals that I adopted. If I were at F&M, I would devise my own evals.

  22. #22 anonimouse
    November 29, 2006

    The problem is not with the principle of student evaluations themselves, but with:

    -How the evaluations are conducted.
    -What questions are asked.
    -How the evaluations fit into the performance metrics for a faculty member.

    And all sorts of other methodological flaws that make our eval/assessment director go insane.

    When you don’t use consistent methodology for evals, ask poor questions, conduct evaluations improperly (as in the “extra credit” for evaluation scenarios that crop up from time to time) and don’t do a good job at analyzing the evaluation results in a proper manner – then you end up with disasters like these.

    Student evals are important, straight up. I know faculty members tend to hate them, but the reality is that without them there would be little way to know how students (you know, the people that pay the salaries of said faculty) feel about their coursework they’re engaging in. Faculty that consistently score poorly on evals (not just in a one semester period) should be scruitinized.

  23. #23 SV
    December 1, 2006

    Diora – I didn’t mention any statistics, only the numbers (classes of 100 and 250) that came from the comments in the professor’s actual thread.

    And please don’t to take my comments to say that I think student performance or the quality of what they end up knowing when they graduate is suspect if they go to large classes. Far from it – my own sister (PhD, Biology, Harvard – Woohoo! Go Laurie! :D) is the best example of someone with an excellent education who attended monster-size classes for half of her undergraduate courses.

    And I recognize that smaller class size would raise the cost of college to even more prohibitive levels – that’s one of things I was thinking about when I said that fixing the situation could cause worse problems.

    My only point is that it is insane to call the person who lectures to a huge audience, and then lets his TA’s do all the actual teaching, a “teacher.” In fact, it’s kind of insulting to the students. And if the students are willing to be used this way, then his irritation at a student asking for schedule flexibility is pretty unwarranted.

    And no, I’m not defending the idiot who bought tickets before he knew if there would be tests scheduled for the time he’d be out of town.