Saturday, February 1, 2014

Beware of professors with agendas. From the Stephen F. Austin University Pine Log.

Flava:

Academic freedom is the belief that there should be protection for educators to teach facts and ideas without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment. The theme of academic freedom and its related subjects helps to open minds of students. It’s not just objective facts that matter. Other people’s opinions on the subject are needed to develop a thought process to better understand the material. Perspective can be climacteric to the learning process.

Some professors, however, incentivize events in exchange for grades. An example is when a professor offers bonus points to attend an activity—one that’s important to the professor. Of course the student attends the activity, as a free 100 is hard to come by. It’s often overlooked when this sort of thing occurs because the student comes out with a free A, but there has actually been a violation of power. Nobody is harmed and morals are usually not conflicted, but the professor has pushed an agenda by holding grades over his or her student’s heads. It’s the same concept of being bought out. It’s unethical, and yet we do not pay attention to it.

The Rest of the Misery.

26 comments:

  1. Well. So much to facepalm at here, but let's start with where I might agree. I can get on board with the concept that certain events have no pedagogical connection to the course objectives, and as such, the basis for assigning extra credit points is dubious. But I'm sure we can easily think of some counterexamples: how about points for attending an opera for, say, a course about opera? Does the fact that the event is "important to the professor" perforce negate its value to the student (c.f. Bulverism)?

    On to some other snipes.

    "Biases are often associated with politics, but there are biases with everything. . . . Biases are a matter of opinion . . ."

    But let's not forget that as opinion can be expert opinion, so too can bias be well-informed by fact. Not all facts worth learning are "striking enough to be included" in the textbook, and to insist that "the student is tested over subject material supported by the textbook", as if nothing else could be tested, seems to leave the question begging.

    "Do not allow a person with a degree to sway you in any way."

    Better yet, don't go to college. All those people with their degrees, what do they know? They're just book-smart pencilnecks, talking about things not in the textbook. They're 'bias'.

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    1. Agree with everything you said; I just have some concerns about attending an opera for extra credit. First, I think attending an opera is not just important to the professor, it's important for the subject. So, I wouldn't assign extra credit. But also, consider that some students may not have access to an opera in their location. And, it costs money. Some students may not have the time or money to attend an opera even with a discount. I just hope that a professor would allow students to at least view one on Youtube, etc. Not as good, but it might have to do. I am hesitant to promote extra credit for things which a student has motivation for, but a less than equal opportunity to participate.

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  2. Ogre, I have to say I think you are brilliant! Mostly because I had the same ideas about the editorial!

    Well said. And it saves me the time... I don't think I've seen your comments before, so welcome.

    Hiram

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    1. Thank you, Hiram, for your warm welcome, you as well, Cassandra (comment downpage).

      I have been reading for the better part of a year, but I have not commented on any active threads till now. I see much good happening here; I hope to contribute to it in my own small way.

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  3. I, too, think Ogre nailed it (welcome, Ogre!). At least once a semester, I have an exchange with a student that goes along these lines:

    Student: so we're supposed to write our opinion?

    Me: well, you're supposed to write your informed opinion, supported by close analysis of well-chosen primary evidence.

    Student: [looks very, very puzzled, because (s)he has been told that there's a bright line between fact and opinion, and as a result, is struggling mightily with very preliminary stages of understanding that all knowledge is constructed]

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    1. In my experience, a companion question to "isn't this just an opinion paper?" is "do you want us to use quotes?"

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    2. In my experience, the companion to the "is this just an opinion paper?" question is "do you want us to use quotes?"

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    3. I just had this happen ... with an "adult" student.

      One week into the term and she already was complaining that she couldn't "figure out" what was being asked of her.

      (For the record, my requirements are aligned with what everyone has been posting here. The concept of supporting an opinion with evidence should be far from a unique framing.)

      From her various rants, the picture that emerged was clear -- she has been floating along posting verbose, pseudo-intellectual, rehashing of the assigned readings. At first glimpse these appear substantive. But I fear others simply gave a quick look, "Hmm, that's over 100 words," toss up an A/A-, and a "Good post" comment, leaving this student with inappropriate belief that her work has been exemplary.

      I'm really losing hope as I see more and more undergrads (and graduate students) who think "analysis" simply means "Tell me what the textbook says."

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  4. I had only two instances in my undergrad studies where a professor encouraged us to participate in a political activity. One urged us to write a letter to the US President telling him about the problems of US globalization. Globalization was the title of the class but really, it was all about how bad it US globalization was-any attempt to explore how it may be beneficial in some ways was discouraged by the instructor. (And this was a class of mostly adult students, many of whom came from other countries.) A lot of us students just didn’t like the idea of being corralled into any form of political activity. But the teacher was so awful on inserting his personal politics into every class, it was a distraction from what we were supposed to learn. I think that’s the real issue. That was the only instance where I asked myself, what am I paying for in this class? When he once read out articles from The Daily Worker I thought, why don’t I just pay $1.25 for the Daily Worker instead of $3200 for this class?

    The second professor urged us to attend a rally for Palestinians against Israel if only to understand the issues. (And this was an intro Arabic language class.)

    My point is that sometimes a few professors do get a little carried away with their political activism, and more students are getting skeptical about this. Also, I am suspicious when overt partisan political activity is couched in the term “social justice.”

    But I really disagree with the partisan, anti-intellectual bias in this article. I hate the notion that college students are described only as soon-to-be business people. As a humanities major, that wasn’t why I went to college. I didn’t go to school to be a consumer, as if education is only a latte I need in order to have a productive day. And it is not possible to only teach objective facts in that field; one can only explore different views (and should) but use objective criteria and accepted standards of argumentation to judge them.

    “Do not allow a person with a degree to sway you in any way.” Good grief. I would rather learn about a concept/issue from a degreed professional than from my cranky neighbor who worships some morning talk-show host. Can’t say the author has swayed me.

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  5. "teach the true, objective facts to the students who paid for the course"

    I take it that it's not a course on postmodernism?

    I still offer extra credit occasionally.

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    1. Good point: I'm sure if that were raised to the author of this piece, they would claim you were trying to force your bias onto them. :)

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  6. I have a colleague (not in my department) who is known on campus for giving extra credit to ANY campus event. She is our SLAC's pep rally team rolled into a single person, who believes that students who are engaged in events on campus get the full college experience. As a result, her students pretty much clamor to find her sign-in sheet at the beginning and end (sign-in; sign-out) of any event. It is disruptive and annoying. Those are also the students who get up to leave at the announced end time, even if the speaker or event is not over. I am sure a student could pass her class solely by attending extra credit events.

    I don't offer extra credit to students (who has time trying to figure out how to calculate that into a grade???).

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  7. Our administration often urges us to "incentivize" student attendance for various speakers/events...

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  8. Our administration often urges us to "incentivize" student attendance at various events...

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  9. Free food is always a good way of getting people to do things.

    When I started grad studies, we had weekly seminars. At each of them, coffee and munchies (usually doughnuts) were provided.

    Whenever my last department head held a major meeting (usually for whatever pet project he happened to be working on and, for which, we were to be the guinea pigs), sandwiches were brought in. Then, shortly before I quit, the department bought lunch for whoever helped with the annual open house event, though the staff had to be there because that was part of our duties.

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  10. I only give extra credit (miniscule) for attending a once a semester senior seminar that ends-up taking up my classroom all day. The goal is to get majors to go (so when they give a senior seminar they have an idea what to do). Only about half the class attends, but it gives them exposure to other hamsterology topics!

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  11. I think students often grossly overestimate the degree to which I care about their political opinions. I'm not trying to convert them to a particular viewpoint. I can't imagine caring enough to take the effort.

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    1. I muse that some proffies receive gratification merely from collecting like-minded disciples.

      I strive to make students less ignorant on objective matters and, where possible, better equipped to defend their opinion on subjective matters. On the latter I don't think I could possibly "convert" enough students to have any effect on my quality of life by e.g. getting them to block-vote for my pet political project. It helps that what I teach leans toward what can be objectively measured, so on that basis alone I largely dodge temptation.

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  12. I see that we've established agreement on several principles; now, we're just negotiating details ;-)

    Several have raised a quite valid concern regarding equal access to events outside of class hours if points are earned for these events. I think that to the extent possible, the events should be enumerated in the syllabus, so that students can plan ahead. Optimally, there would be multiple events and/or alternate methods to acquire the content, as Grumpy Sergeant suggests, with a maximum attainable points so that students with looser schedules wouldn't have unfair advantage by being able to attend more than others.

    As to extra credit, I see some pros but mostly cons at the secondary level and beyond. One pro is that when it is desired to bump or curve the whole class, we effect the same result by assigning something that pretty much the whole class does, while avoiding terms like "bump" or "curve". As to whether such terms are more pejorative than "extra credit" might be opinion, but the latter at least connotes that points were earned rather than simply given.

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  13. I find myself wondering if I am alone in my unease at the phrasing "Academic freedom is the belief . . ." [emphasis added]. I think the author's conflation is coded so as to denigrate the concept of academic freedom, in the same way that some denigrate evolution by calling it "only a theory". I say that academic freedom is the result of protection for educators to teach facts and ideas without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.

    From the full article: "The Academic Bill of Rights, created by Students for Academic Freedom, listed eight principles to silence professor’s voices and allow only objective material in the classroom." [Italics mine.] Now let us bask in the glorious irony of the author's juxtaposing of "Bill of Rights", "Freedom", and "silence . . . voices".

    Look, kid, if you don't want to hear your proffie's irrelevant political beliefs in class or out, then I got you back, mostly because I think it's a waste of time. But if your stance can't withstand a small amount of opposition without falling apart, then it's no stance. You don't get to retain the priviledge bleating your view to the rest of the world while insisting your detractors STFU. Be a true leader by example: STFU yourself.

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    1. silence professor’s voices and allow only objective material in the classroom

      I, too, would say that's the key phrase. The problem is not so much the idea of silencing professor's voices (though that's pretty insulting/infuriating, and leaves me, definitely a constructivist/active-learning type, tempted to channel Frod a bit; I'm an expert, dammit!), it's the idea that "objective material" exists. Students come to college not just to acquire knowledge, but to learn how knowledge is constructed, and that knowledge is constructed. Anybody who graduates from college thinking that a college education can or should be conducted solely (or even mostly) through the transmission of "objective material" should have his/her diploma repossessed.

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    2. I am grateful that you ran with that last part of the sentence. The whole sentence set my teeth on edge for so many reasons, but I could articulate so few.

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    3. Cassandra, you hit it exactly on the head for me. I've been resisting responding to the original -- politely, very very politely-- all day. He's missing not just the point, but all the points. A third of me thinks, Poor kid. The rest of me thinks, Terrifying, budding fascist little shit.

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