succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, November 21, 2008

Failing my principles

One of my students is failing. Actually, four of my students are failing, but one is taking the class for a second time and is scheduled to graduate next month. And like a fool, I mentioned to someone in my dept that she's failing and now three different administrative types are involved in the decision and I met with the dean this morning, and what it all boils down to is that she's going to pass the class. And I failed to stick to my principles about refusing to sign off on anything that would imply this student had mastered any reasonable comprehension level. And I feel gross. I'd feel gross no matter what - my options were essentially 1) pass the student 2) refuse to pass the student and cause her to not graduate or 3) refuse to pass the student and let the school decide whether or not to graduate her anyway. Three was the option I liked best, three was what I went in to the meeting planning to propose. But instead I just sat there and let three administrative types discuss everything and then just smiled and nodded. God I'm a wimp.

On the one hand, it eats me up that this person is going to go out in the world with a degree from a respected university that implies she has quantitative abilities. On the other hand I know she will never imply such a thing, nor does she ever plan to do quantitative work. In a perfect world, this course would never have been required for her. But to be accredited the school must require this class of every student. And it's my responsibility to produce students who know certain things, and to be honest about those who don't know those things.

But would I have really slept any better knowing that my attachment to my professional code of conduct potentially prevented a hard working student from attaining a degree? A degree that hinged on a class I don't think she should have been required to take? But that's not really up to me, right? The decision to require the course already happened, I can't change it, and it's my responsibility to verify that those who pass my class have attained a certain level of understanding. A level which she has most decidedly not attained, nor do I think she will ever be capable of attaining (this student isn't failing because she blows off my class - she's very diligent. she's just not ever going to get it).

The cynic in me knows this one decision is hardly going to lead to the downfall of my institution or my field or this degree in particular. The cynic in me knows that this degree has already become a joke, totally corrupted into a professional degree that you buy rather than earn. But I just participated in that fucked up system, out of sheer lack of courage to speak up to a dean, and it makes my stomach churn.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who believes in severe consequences for cheating, I have to admit to a different standard when it comes to allowing graduating seniors to earn a pity D, particularly if there was a modicum of effort on the student's part and D's are not the norm for the student. There are many students who consistently earn A's who just know how to take tests and memorize tons of info in the short term. One would think that isn't possible for subjects that involve analytic thinking, but it is. I know many people who did wonderfully in AP Calculus but couldn't do the simplest derivative a year later.

I had to take a class that was way too hard and only required for 3 students in the whole graduating class that year. Those of us who had to take it didn't have the prerequisites of the other members of the class for whom it was optional. I begged my prof for a D, and while I have a sneaking suspicion I might have earned it, I'm equally happy with my pity D. Without it, I doubt I'd be Frau Dr.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I take people like you for granted, but then I'm reminded that such a proclivity towards justice isn't so common... and so I have to commend you.

I *think* the answer might be - ignorant as I am of all the factors that might make this entirely unreasonable - that you need to invite this student over and painfully tutor her on something - be it the actual rubric or some alternate light version that you think meets the description of the course while increasing her knowledge. SOMEthing... some silly painful sacrifice to tie to the whole black mark before you file it away. Yes? No? Maybe?

Not to judge - it's just that nobody likes to see a hit get through in the 9th inning of a perfect game - and you've been pitching SO well...


6:26 AM  

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