Monday, November 24, 2014

Professors should better acknowledge their role as teachers. From the Daily Northwestern.

I was sitting outside of a mechanical engineering room in Technological Institute, when a girl, clearly frustrated, walked into the hallway, talking to someone on the phone. “He told me he doesn’t answer questions. I had my quiz, and I walked up to him, ready to ask him a question, and he said he doesn’t do questions.”

Huh. A professor who doesn’t “do” questions. I wish I could say this was a strange occurrence for the faculty of Northwestern, but unfortunately it’s not.



  1. So... an eavesdropped, hearsay account is taken as the whole truth and nothing but. I wish I could say this was a strange occurrence for students, I don't know, EVERYwhere, but unfortunately it’s not.

    Ms. Dunbar's editorial gains traction later on, but this is a slippery start. Even the most accessible professors could rightly shy away from discussing a single student's quiz answers in the classroom while other students are around. There's FERPA, for one. There's professionalism, for two: one or both sides will be holding forth about why the other is wrong, and it often goes much better if such dirty laundry is cleansed less publicly. If something comes of that conversation that is of use to the rest of the class, the professor can act accordingly.

    And if the aggrieved was asking a question about the quiz during the quiz, as is quite possible from the information given here, then NO; there are no questions during the quiz. Interpreting the items on the test is part of the test.

    1. FERPA has nothing to do with this if the student herself takes the initiative to discuss her own quiz without being asked by others if she wants to do it. Even then, the professor can simply explain the right answer without mentioning the student's actual grade, especially if only discussing one question out of several. Should the student ask why she got a certain grade, why she didn't get partial credit, or something like that, she herself is choosing to disclose what may be her own personal information. Moreover, the professor can take the student aside in a way that is likely to prevent others from hearing.

    2. Except for the assertion that FERPA has nothing to do with it, what you say is true for certain situations, but not all. Even with discussions that are initiated by the student's volunteering information, it can quickly become a situation where responding would reveal or imply details the student didn't volunteer. It may not be possible to take the student aside, such as if a lecture is underway or other logistics preclude it. Depending on the situation, the instructor may be perfectly reasonable in deferring the discussion.

  2. Without knowing the entire context, it's difficult to say who was at fault here.

    However, taken at face value, it seems that it's a case of Miss Whiny Princess not getting her way. Somehow, students nowadays seem to think that they have the right to demand anything they want when they want it and that they have the power to dictate policy.

    Perhaps the prof refused to answer a question about a fundamental concept that he expected that student to already know. Many years ago, in the department where I worked on my Ph. D., I passed by the office of one of the toughest and demanding profs I ever had. I heard him thundering at some of his students, giving them what sounded like a well-deserved dressing-down. ("You're in *fourth* year and you're asking questions about something you should have learned in *second* year?") I mentally applauded him for doing that. I'll bet those students got a lesson in real life that they wouldn't have been likely to quickly forget--learning *is* one's personal responsibility!

    Maybe the prof had a clearly-defined policy that any questions of the nature the student asked should be directed to the teaching assistant. Perhaps his approach was for students to discuss their questions with him in his office where he could better assist them. Suppose he was strict about this to the point that if he did it for one student, he would have to do it for everyone. Was he wrong for adhering to his own directive?

    I admit I was in my share of such situations when I was an undergrad 40 years ago. I didn't like what happened a lot of times, but, looking back, most of my profs were right in what they did. It's all part of growing up and becoming a mature and responsible adult.

  3. Another possibility is that the prof has a policy of limiting questions after class. I do that not only for the professional reasons above, but also to give students a reason to visit office hours and to give me time to put away handouts and demonstration materials from the previous class, get out stuff for the next class, change powerpoint presentations, clean off the board, use the restroom, and get a bite to eat.

    It's also possible that the prof is just a jerk who doesn't like teaching. Hard to know from the brief snippet of data provided to the student columnist.

  4. Yeah, and because I 'do' questions I just spent 15 minutes with a student who came by (though I don't have office hours today) looking up faculty office locations for her so she could get signatures to get into closed classes. And how did I accomplish that? Was it my killer research skills or my years of experience with the university? No, I just typed in "Professor Jones Dongle University" into Google and found the office address. When I suggested she could do this herself, she insisted that the information was too hard to find. That is what happens when you "do" questions. In my case, because I teach freshmen and am contractually obligated to spoon-feed, coddle, and hold their tiny hands during Big Scary Google Searches, I had no choice, but I understand the "no questions" policy. Questions are rarely related to schoolwork. They are generally along the lines of "how do I do that thing that you showed us how to do in class, that you posted to Blackboards as a tutorial with screen shots, that you e-mailed us a link to a how-to video, that I could easily find by Googling - can you demonstrate that again? Cause when you showed it in class, it wasn't a convenient time, so show me again, right now." (Sorry about all the bad grammar in the above.)

  5. Students are a whiny lot, and long were, even when I was an undergrad back in the Jurassic Era of the early 1970s. Part of it is because they are young adults (as I was), still in the process of growing up, and won't be mature for several years, if at all.

    But this generation takes their mewling and puking to another level. Sure, my fellow undergrads has their beefs with the system and life in general. The student newspaper at my alma mater often took issue with certain university policies or administrative decisions. Sometimes, though, these objections were justified and led to actual changes.

    However, nowadays, it seems that every little niggle or gripe is publicized, either by means of student journalism or, more likely, the so-called "social media". It makes me wonder what's happened since I was their age. Are they incapable of dealing problems or simply lazy and irresponsible? Is it the result of helicopter parenting in which Mommy and Daddy automatically took care of every little "owie", rather than getting Junior to take care of them by themselves? Or are they that narcissistic that every ache, pain, or perceived injustice must be used to draw attention to themselves?

    When I was an undergrad and I didn't get what I wanted, I sometimes fumed about it but I certainly didn't broadcast it to the rest of the university. As it turned out, I rolled up my sleeves, so to speak, and took care of business once I calmed down. Often, my profs were trying to teach me something by not always giving me what I wanted and I'm grateful for that.

    By the way, if you think this is unique to humans, watch what happens with baby birds once they're out of the nest. At first, they figure that their parents should keep feeding them, but they're often ignored. Eventually, hunger persuades them to take the initiative and they soon find out that fending for themselves does have its rewards.


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