Friday, September 10, 2010

What if he goes ballistic?

It was departmental meeting, and since I still teach a class in the department I attended. I kept my head down and answered emails while the rest fought over the things guys seem to need to fight about.

I perked up when they started to talk about a student, let's call him Z. He's in my class in the Master's program, although no one can explain exactly why he was admitted, as he can't even weave potholders to save his life, baskets are far beyond him. And we've not actually seen a coherent paragraph written by him thus far.

He's apparently been given D's, as no one has the heart to fail him, and we are not allowed to kick out paying students until the three strikes rule kicks in. We'd like to put him out of his (and our) misery. We resolved to be hard this semester - no extra points to just get that D.

Then colleague B chimed in. "But you know, he's a real creepy kind of guy." He's right. In project meetings, Z will sit there and glower at the others. He will come to office hours, ask you for the answers to the homework, and repeat everything you say, nodding his head. He will not move until you give him the answers he needs, or promise to pass him. And he gets very agitated when he feels slighted.

B: "What if he goes ballistic and runs down the hall with a gun, taking potshots at us for failing him?"

We found no satisfactory answer. So what do people in the S1 schools do, the top "Shooter" schools? Do you have policies on creepy students? Do you just pass everyone now?


  1. I had one student in Intro C Programming that creeped me out so much that I consulted a psychiatrist about him. Plenty of people failed that class, but he was the only one who got zeros on exams because he was too psychotic to even attempt the questions. He showed up for every class, though, sometimes wearing a fuzzy bathrobe, other times wearing a camouflage sweatshirt (appropriate for a cow barn, perhaps, but not for a computer lab). It was spring semester and I learned from counseling services that he had a 0.0 GPA for the previous semester and needed an A in my class to stay in college.

  2. Since my first experience with a creepy student as a TA, whenever I find that I have one, I make sure that any time I may need to have interactions with students (i.e. office hours) I am in a high-traffic area. What I have generally done is move my office hours to the campus Student Center. It may be loud, but in most cases it is not unworkable, since I'm pretty loud also. Prior to WiFi, if the student needed information that was on my office computer, I made an appointment with that student and asked a fellow TA (to look out for my interests) and a student from another one of my classes (to look out for the creepy student's interests) to be close by, just in case. Anymore, I can access my office computer remotely, so that particular precaution is unnecessary.

  3. Waitaminnit, Suzy. A student in a master's degree program has earned Ds in all his coursework and hasn't been kicked out yet? Or do you mean Ds on work this term?

    Why am I smelling malfeasance on your program's part for not upholding the basic standard of every single grad program I have ever encountered? In those programs, Bs were required in all core classes, Cs in any class put the student on immediate probation, and a cumulative GPA under 3.0 was verboten and cause for immediate dismissal (except for a very good reason like diagnosed & documented illness, death in the family, etc.). No wonder a Master's degree is next to worthless nowadays.

    As someone who probably should have snapped a few times in my academic trek, the dismissal would have been less of a trigger a year ago than the stringing along of the inevitable just to make a buck off the sad little patsy.

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  5. Meanie is right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. I'm surprised your grad program even has Ds. In all the grad programs I've ever known, the possible grades are A, B, C, and F. Getting even one C is grounds for being put on probation: one F is grounds for immediate dismissal.

    If this student is intimidating people, why don't you call the campus police? Ask one of them to come over and have a friendly chat with him, to explain to him that his manner scares people, and that it needs to change. Ever since Virginia Tech, many of them have been training extensively for this kind of thing. Also, where is your department chair in all of this? I hope not hiding under a desk.

  6. I'm as troubled as the rest that someone can be getting Ds in a grad program and that there is not a policy in place that doesn't automatically dump him without someone having to have an uncomfortable little sit-down with him to tell him he clearly just doesn't have the stuff.

    Besides that, it is sad isn't it, that we're held almost hostage by that occasional weirdo student who puts everyone on edge and we feel compelled to just gently usher him/her through to avoid incident. Sometimes, 'incident' is just someone weeping in your office but sometimes, 'incident' is horrific.

  7. As a graduate student I have to add my horror at the idea of a program out there that gives out D's and allows a student to continue going into significant debt. Someone in this situation is certainly getting hurt and no one has to go ballistic.

    That aside, I want to also point out that if the professors are creeped out, you can be sure the other students in your program are feeling more vulnerable. At the moment I'm dealing with an especially creepy law student living down the hall from me in Megacity Metro Area University housing. Multiple students have brought safety concerns to the law school deans about his behavior with no apparent response. As I'm in the graduate school I went to the Housing Office and they are taking it very seriously but as far as I can tell someone in the law school is being a pretty piss poor lawyer.

    Your students have to deal with him on a dailey basis without the advantage of being able to dictate how much traffic is around him. If they are particularly unlucky your program will be like mine and have all grad classes in the evening leaving people with the added vulnerablity of having to walk back to their cars/trains/dorms/appartments at night.

    I guess the long and the short of what I'm saying is that your program by not kicking him out at his first D is screwing him over, and by not dealing with what everyone apparently agrees is a safety issue is screwing over every other student in your program.

    I'm so glad I don't go whereever you are.

  8. I'd have to agree with the previous postings - in our school's grad programs (and we're no academic powerhouse compared to our competition), if you get a B (less than 75%) YOU'RE OUT. B+ is a barely passing grade, and one that usually elicits a concerned conversation between the student's primary faculty contact and the course's instructor.

  9. Yes, yes, the fact that Creepy is still in the program is appalling. But to get to the question of what other schools do...

    We have a student case manager. Calling our campus police will result in having the offending person removed for that immediate period. The person can then return anytime that the police are not present, free to harrass again. While one can suggest that the student make use of the counseling center, one cannot force him to do so. To determine the proper course of action to help the student, multiple incidents must be recorded, sometimes over a substantial period of time. The responsibilities of the case manager are to hear reports of these incidents such as classroom behavior, interactions with fellow students and professors, and read assignments turned in (from any class) that may or may not point to a desire to harm himself or others. The case manager compiles these reports and examples, meets with the student, and determines a course of action. Ours is in the Dean of Students office.

    Does it work? I don't know. I do know people, particularly from the humanities, who have turned in some of their students' assignments when those students were having life difficulties (family deaths, economic hardships). It does allow faculty and grad students in different departments to share concerns about one student with one person whose job is to help the student.

  10. This is why I wish I could carry on my campus. I know that one day, a student is going to lose it and I'm not going to have any recourse to protect myself or my students.

  11. @Meanest, our school Really Needs The Money, and we are not filling all the slots we have for Master's programs. I don't know what the situation is in your schools, but here at my place Numbers Rule. The quality of our programs are determined by
    1) warm bodies on seats
    2) credits passed per semester
    3) number of graduates
    We are a state school, so we have to be there for everybody. And he might pass something, so as long as Mommy and Daddy are footing the bill, we welcome in the little darlings.
    @Froderick, the department chair was chairing the meeting and was willing to go with whatever the colleagues decided to do about this guy, it was all fine by him.
    When I have my dean hat on, I need to figure out how to get him to come out from under that chair. But I must admit, I didn't have any bright ideas, either. Calling the police would only be possible when threatened, not just because he gives me the creeps.

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  13. Dear Suzy,

    I think you're wrong in thinking that, "[C]alling the police would only be possible when threatened." Since Virginia Tech, campus police nationwide have been training to handle many aspects of this problem, particularly in how to prevent it. If you can log anything specific and untoward about anything this student does or says, you should share it with the campus police. Remember, it's their job to risk their lives: not yours.

  14. Damn, Suzy, you just spouted the party line. Graduate programs should NOT be run as a money-making scheme, and you didn't even bother to say you disagreed with your school's policy on that issue.

    Your grad program should lose its accreditation and be shut down for academic malfeasance. You're basically a bunch of thieves selling snake oil to the ignorant public.

    A potential crazy gunman should be the least of your worries.

  15. @ Froederich Frankenstien from Fresno

    I agree with your policy of logging and passing on, but the VT shooter was well established as being mentally disturbed, so much so that the ex-chair of the English department wanted Seung-Hui Cho in treatment. So far as I can see here with Creepy is a guy in WAY over his head, somebody who should not be in the program. The the question shifts to Suzy: is this clown talking about guns, knives, explosives? Are there threats being made, or is he just meanacing? Myself, I think he is scared shitless and too clueless to get it together....grad school is a little too late for the freshman bugeyed spazzout.

  16. @Meanest, sorry, I forgot to make it crystal clear - I don't approve of our graduate programs and I think the so-called accreditation boards (at least the ones who visited us) are shams.

    But your comment reminded me that I'm dean now, so I sent a nice message to the VP about maybe tightening up our rules. But I'm not holding my breath, we are not, shall we say, pals. We've been at each other's throats for ages. Snake Oil University, hey, that has a nice ring to it.

    @Strelnikov, no talk about weapons, just bugeyed spazzout. And his stare gives teachers the creeps.

  17. @Suzy, i'm rather glad to hear that. I've otherwise enjoyed your posts and was a bit disappointed at what I percieved was tacit approval as well. For the record, not all state schools function that way. Megacity Metro Area University where i have my experiance is a state school and not even a flagship campus and still maintains standards for grades. After all if it's numbers you want... well the idiots are taking up space that a legitimate student would get the next year. I doubt tightening standards would really result in decreased enrollment.

  18. @meanest professor... i had the same thought about D's. I recently earned my master's (and i EARNED it) and the letter D was not even allowed in anyone's vocab. If I made an A- I deemed myself a failure (because an A-=B, B+=C, so on)

  19. A = competent. A- = maybe, but not in my field. B+ = not graduate-level work. I'm at a state school.

  20. Oh, thank goodness, Suzy!

    I suddenly started wondering if you had sniffed deeply from the adminivapors and lost your mind to the Kool-Aid! (Or had too much of that beer in your office.) ;)

    Glad I could give you a cute nickname for your U too. Hopefully other parts of it function more, shall we say, honorably.


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