Thursday, February 7, 2013

Super-Sized In-And-Out Wally-Burger Biggie Whopper Thirsty

I know you did this, so don't even fucking try to deny it.  Be honest, dammit.

It was that student who made your skin crawl because you just knew he was a psychopath.  Or do they call them sociopaths now?  Anyway, he just sent you every imaginable signal that he was, indeed, emotionally vacant in some horrible, evil way.  The thermometer on the wall said 80 degrees, but this student gave you chills.  You felt the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up.  Even now, years later, you say a prayer every day to God Fucking Almighty that you never run into that student again.

The question is this:
Even though the student was passing your class, did you find a way to fail him?  Even though your rubric indicated that he should have earned a B+, did you "accidentally" lose his test and assign him a D+ and hope he'd drop?  Did you conspire with another proffie to engage in unfair (illegal, even) nefarious shit so that the student would be eliminated?  Did you assault him or threaten him?  Did you? Even though he was academically quite acceptable, did you sense awfulness in him and then eradicate him like a bad virus?

... For the good of the college and the world.

Q. Did you?

A. __________________
         Vent.  Confess.  Find catharsis.  Share the details.  But, goddamnit, don't just reveal that you violated FERPA; everybody does that.  And never mind the time when you slashed the tires on a student's car.  I'm talking eradication.  And if you haven't done it, then I want to know why.

45 comments:

  1. The Dean of Students told you he knew that student had raped at least three other people, but just couldn't pin it on him. The student breeds fear and mistrust. So you've got to be Dexter. If you're not the colander, then who will be? Nobody said it would be easy.

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  2. No, I've never done that. And I wouldn't, because I have no delusions that my effect on their life is significant enough to change the course of anything, let alone save the world from a psychopath.

    Moreover, it's neither my job nor my ethical duty to do that. Frankly, if they are intelligent and do the work, I don't care if they fantasize about skinning people alive -- they'll get an A. If I was convinced that there was something wrong and a real danger -- and this has happened -- I'd notify the emergency response people on campus who would do . . . as far as I can tell, nothing much. But I wouldn't fake a grade.

    Finally, they may be a sociopath, but I'm not. I *do* have an ethical duty to grade fairly, and one of the reasons I get so very pissed off at grade appeals is that I take that duty very, very seriously. A mere sociopath isn't going to change that.

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    1. It's the "nothing much" that disappoints me and scares me.

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    1. Ahhh... McCardle and Davis! I might join you. But would you prefer that I do it unthinkingly?

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    2. Jesus Christ, man, get it together. This post is ridiculous. If this is what CM is about, count me out. (Although I know you're better than this.) Take it down.

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  4. No, but he didn't get a break on his grade. A 79.99999? Sorry, that's still a C+.

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  5. No. Never experienced a truly crazy dangerous student.

    By the way, Bubba, thanks for posting this. It makes me feel a little bit more sane that I didn't think of it first.

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  6. No way. From students with evil intents, proper assessment and demonstrably impeccable communications are my best protection. The paper trail is important. I wish I didn't know that from experience.

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  7. No, I actually went the other way. I could have made a case for failing him, but passed him in part because I didn't want him to retake my class (it was the last semester of his language requirement).

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  8. I'm wholeheartedly with Prof. Chiltepin's eloquent response.

    Also, what difference would it make to falsify a creepy kid's grade? As J/J said, that would just keep him around longer, and with a grudge. What would you be hoping to accomplish ("for the college and the world") with this strategy?

    I'm a little "weirded out," as the kids say, by this whole topic.





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  9. I do try to be fair with my grading, and even when someone creeps me out, I probably actually go the other way to make sure I'm NOT being unfair simply because of personal feelings. And the very few times I've had someone I was just repulsed by (one guy who kept writing about how he 'dreamed' of torturing animals, for example), I've always been too terrified they would end up taking the class from me again if I 'adjusted' a grade unfairly!

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    1. Same here. I'd never, NEVER fake a grade. NEVER. I cannot believe it was even suggested here, actually. But when I dislike a student strongly, or if the student creeps me out, I go the other way, making extra special sure I am not being harder on him/her as a result.

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  10. I've been tempted to "fix" grades for numerous students who have annoyed me in one way or another, but I never have. Dysfunctional behavior of all sorts often has bad effects on how much students learn, which gives them bad grades that they deserve, fair and square.

    Besides, "fixing" a grade doesn't seem to me to be an effective way to handle a creepy student, in any case. Students who make definite threats should be reported immediately to the Campus Police: it's their job to risk their lives, not ours.

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    1. P.S. I'm disappointed, Bubba. I thought that with the title, "Super-Sized In-And-Out Wally-Burger Biggie Whopper Thirsty," this would be about sex.

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    2. And, seriously, Frod. All of those were clearly allusions to fast-food restaurants.

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  11. Not falsified as such... I did help to create the conditions under which a student went as far as threatening me on writing, which led to his expulsion from campus.
    Then there was the student who had harassed one of my colleagues. I did not artificially change his grades, but I sure did not go the extra mile and offer help when not requested. Down and far away he went...

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  12. NO! How I assign grades: I take my spreadsheet, enter every grade and then scroll the names completely off the screen and look at the numbers alone (the "split screen view " in Excel). Then I assign the grades...then I enter them into the university system. I honestly don't know who is getting what until I start to enter them into the university system.

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    1. @Harriet: This might be the comment that gets to one of the core issues. Sometimes I am 100% in favor of blind grading, other times not. Is it possible to be disgusted with the OP, and also be completely opposed to blind grading? There seems to be something about blind grading that makes our endeavor less humanistic.

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    2. I should give my background: I am a mathematics professor and I am measuring their mastery of the material. Sure, there is no perfectly fair way to do this (google "Arrow's Theorem"). But doing this takes my emotion out of it. Idea: I am asking the question "do they know the math" and not "what sort of human being are they?" I am qualified to answer the former but not the latter. ;-)

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    3. I don't do blind grading, but I don't change grades either. If a student has shown that they're working hard, and are right on the borderline, I'll bump 'em up; I can be pretty generous about this, especially if it's the difference between passing and failing (really, what's the diff between a D-minus and an F in the grand scheme?) Otherwise, as our Morose comrade said above, 79.9999999999999% is still a C.

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    4. By the way, "pretty lenient" means that grades within 1% overall are automatically considered for bumping, and if I think the student really deserves it, I'll go to within 2% if it's the difference between a pass and a fail. My classes still typically average around a C-plus.

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    5. We agreed rounding rules as a department; 79.5 is rounded up, 79.4 is not. That also helps with the special pleading - I can honestly say to the student "my hands are tied, this is a departmental policy. I can only fix mathematical errors. If you have specific, documented grounds for any other kind of appeal, fill out this (4 page) form and submit it to this committee with copies of your documentation and we'll do what we can". Needless to say, very few forms actually come in...

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    6. My grading has to be extremely lenient across the board, or they would almost all fail (math). I literally have to look for scraps of writing that are more or less correct and pertain to the problem, to give them some points. Blind grading makes no difference when you have to give so many C minuses that should really be Fs. (In my usual grading scale 50% is a C, 80% an A; and I give few As).

      On the other hand, whatever adjustments I make are strictly self-serving, in the interest of not having my success rates be outliers. Which particular student is getting a break plays no role.

      I think the safe course with students who appear mildly deranged is to treat them like everyone else, as long as they're not disruptive. If they're disruptive or appear to be in distress, we do have a mental health referral protocol.

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  13. I had mentioned a loving and thoughtful colleague whose funeral was attended by nobody I recognized from school.

    Contrast that with an amazingly toxic jerk who becomes dean and ruins a community. I've seen that happen, too.

    What if someone gave me the choice to eliminate the jerk and replace him with the other one. The "good" one. What a difference it would make. The thought just made me breathe a sigh of relief. I wonder about it. Not possible now, of course, because the good one is already dead, and there were other issues.

    I've been watching The Booth at the End. Watched both seasons last night. Issues like this arise.

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    1. As a suggestion for future use, I might have mentioned The Booth at the End either in the OP or the first comment. At least then, there may have been a little context to the, shall we say, bizarre nature of the OP.

      This has happened quite often in your posts of this nature. You let people squirm for a while before giving any context. Normally, I like reading the comments just to see how outraged people will be, as I suspect you do. However, I think this time you crossed a line. (This from a person who asks people to draw the line so I can intentionally cross it. Just ask my friends.)

      Damnit. I hate being so fucking serious here.

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    2. @Pat: I like that you're so fucking serious here.

      Contrary to the sentiments you expressed here, though, I don't "like reading the comments just to see how outraged people will be." Really. On the contrary. I think I sometimes write something like this with great hope that someone will read it and say, "Yeah, I hate those decisions. It's hard. It's so fucking hard." And the optimist in me wants to see that reaction without infantilizing the reader by nudging hir in the "right" direction. Just take it on its face and see where it goes, and hope for something humane and complicated. If I say, "Here's the reaction I'm looking for," then I feel like I'm usurping the reader's agency, insulting hir, and somehow precluding a genuine response.

      I'm disgusted, too, by such scenarios as mentioned above. But most good administrators I've known have had the ability to focus on the disgusting issues and choose the lesser of two evils. It's not easy to stomach. I'm probably eternally conflicted about the seeming incommensurability between being an administrator and being a faculty member (having been both).

      I think the debilitating and breathtakingly awful abuses by Sandusky at Penn State, for example, might have been avoided if the top administrators had had the stomach for focusing on the problem and seeing it for what it was. Unfortunately, the good ones also sometimes sacrifice their own careers for the sake of choosing what is clearly the lesser of two evils--and without getting any glory or golden parachute for doing the right thing. The system rewards itself for averting eyes. The best administrators I've known felt like they didn't have the luxury of just saying, "That's disgusting" and looking away.

      I try to abide by the Rules of Misery, but I also need to write from my lived experience.

      The feedback is appreciated. I'm going to drink myself to sleep now.

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    3. Maybe "squirm for a while" was the gin and tonics talking. Probably the same now, but why the fuck not.

      The point I was trying to make was that I recognize that your posts like this are meant to provoke thought about a thoroughly shitty situation and that I've noticed that this is a common thread in your posts of this type. Sometimes the problem is that it comes across as, well the best way to put this is probably "creepy," as I feel was the case with this post.

      Regardless, I always enjoy your thirstys, and I hope they keep coming, both irreverent and thought-provoking.

      I hope you have pleasant dreams, whether they be drink-induced or not.

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  14. My field ain't psychiatry, so what's the epistemic value of my "sense" that someone is "creepy?" Is it responsible for me to act on it? I dunno. I wonder about these things, sometimes, but I've been relatively lucky so far - the closest I have come to the kind of guy OP talks about is a dude who was a complete asshat in class. THAT was unambiguous. THAT was something I could respond to. I zero'd his "collegiality" grade (10% of the overall grade for the semester, to give me some 'fuck you, you're a jerk' room in final grade assignments) and, eventually, reported him to the dean, who said there'd been complaints from other instructors.

    I don't know what good it would do for me to fail a genuine creep, anyway, even if I was SURE I had one on my hands. That said, faced with a GENUINE creep, a real scumbag psychopath... I have to admit, even just in my imagination, the temptation to do SOMETHING would be awfully strong.

    We'll see, I guess.

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  15. No, I don't get the psycho types in my classes. Maybe they come to the first class, sense something weird when I'm going over the syllabus and go "hmm, better not".

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  16. I'm interested in how a psychopath would disrupt a class in the sciences. Would it be something like, "What's the matter stupid, you don't know what x is?"

    As for the humanities and politics, just about everything is on the subject of psychopaths. Why wouldn't this attract psychopaths?

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    1. Here is something that has been tried in my (math) office hours (contradicting my comment above): I was telling this guy why his solution was completely wrong, and for every single incorrect claim he made he would demand either a counterexample or a formal proof that it was incorrect. And then demand each step in the formal proof be broken down practically to machine language, complete with a justification based on, you know, the axioms of set theory and inference rules from first-order logic. Protesting vociferously all the time that I didn't see the merits of his "argument", as if this were a matter of opinion. Eventually he crossed a formal line, so I told him to get out, and when he refused, gradually nudged him towards the door by reducing the space between us. Whereupon he walked over to the dean's office and accused me of assault.

      It didn't go anywhere, and I never heard from him again. I feel sorry for whoever has the pleasure of his company these days.

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  17. No to changing the grade in either direction (like others, I tend to be even more scrupulously fair to students I dislike/am disturbed by; also, I have no desire to become the target of their rage). Yes, if I have anything concrete to cite, to reporting my concerns through available channels on my campus (which, though I haven't had a chance to test them in a truly serious situation, seem to be getting better. Hurrah, or at least phew.) The idea that you don't want this person to rise in the academic hierarchy does help clarify the question (which I, too, found strange) a bit, but I also don't want the person to become a CEO (or a really creepy, blackmailing housecleaner, for that matter), and I don't have any illusions that the grade I assign is going to have a longterm affect on the student's life (in fact, I spend considerable time at the end of each semester trying to convince at least a couple of students of the exact opposite -- that whatever grade they received in my class, from A- to F, really, really isn't going to ruin their lives, though it may make the next year or so slightly less pleasant/more challenging).

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  18. Some proffies are acknowledging that they'll raise a grade by 2% (or perhaps much more?) if they like a student or think the student is working hard. And yet others claim to be disgusted with the idea of lowering a student's grade if they genuinely believe he's a menace to society.

    Are we merely tools for measuring the students' performance on hamsterology tests? Should we, or should we not, manipulate their grades based on non-hamsterology/extra-hamsterology factors such as whether or not we like them, think they're working hard, or think they're sociopaths?

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    1. Seriously, dude, what is wrong with you?

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    2. X2

      I record the grade the student earns by demonstrating mastery of the material I am teaching in that course.

      Any concerns beyond that, I make a call or write a letter to the office full of deans who are charged with and trained to handle such issues.

      SB Ph.D., you'll have to try a little harder to win the game "Provoke" in this crowd.

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  19. I don't know that the crowd has been totally fair when it comes to the double nature of the question Bubbastic proposed. Have you thought about this and acted upon it.

    I can say that jerks, layabouts, disrespectful cads, and yes, creeps who seem to be more than mere mouth-breathers have made me consider punitive grading.

    Yet, this thought has always made me grade with more precision for fear that my integrity would be compromised by my antipathy for the mouthbreathing creep.

    Isn't that moment of metacognition a dot on the line that separates 'us' from 'them'.

    PS. I have been reading this page for years, lurking and never commenting. This post was verisimiliar enough to get my bloodboiling. In a good way.

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  20. Indeed, it is sometimes hard for us (myself included) to acknowledge that we break the rules some ways but not other ways. We tend to rationalize the former. It's hard. It's hard to know where to draw the line and how to justify drawing it where we do.

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  21. Thought about it yes. Did it no. I think about a lot of things.

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  22. No. I would never lower a person's grade unfairly. To do so would be unprofessional and unethical.

    Would I cut a hardworking sweetheart some slack (thereby raising their grade to higher than it would have been if I hadn't)? Maybe. I try not to do that either. But helping someone and hurting someone are two different things. I don't think of myself as morally perfect, so how can I really judge when or how to dole out "punishment"?

    As others have said here, when we see a problem student, we report it. Maybe it will not do any good, but how will lowering the grade of someone who rightfully earned a higher grade help the overall situation, either?

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    1. "I would never lower a student's grade unfairly, but I would raise a student's grade unfairly."

      :)

      We know we are with our own tribe when we tolerate their self-contradictions.

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    2. Fair enough, Bubba. But I did say I might do that, and that I try not to. I admit that helping someone out who has been working very hard is different from unfairly punishing someone I don't like because I can. Completely different and definitely morally wrong. I am not sure what I think about helping out the hardworking but hard knocks student. I think we should not do it, but I know sometimes I have been a softy. I've never, ever punished a mean or crazy or creepy student, and I never will. I would hope most people would not abuse their authority that way.

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