Fired for grading honestly?
August 22, 2004 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Fired for grading honestly? Historically black Benedict College's president recently fired two professors for "insubordination" after they refused to comply with the school's SEE ("Success Equals Effort") policy. One of the fired faculty members claims his academic freedom had been violated. (Gratuitious opinion: I think what's getting violated here is the idea that you're supposed to do college-level work in college....)
posted by alumshubby (25 comments total)
The formula calls for calculating freshman grades based on a 60-40 formula, with effort counting for 60 percent and academics counting for 40 percent.

WTF? Is this kindergarten?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:22 AM on August 22, 2004

no, johnny can't spell 'kindergarten'.
posted by quonsar at 10:35 AM on August 22, 2004

No, it's another misguided attempt to deal with underprepared students who are simply not ready to handle college coursework. I sympathize with
his desire to not just cut Benedict's struggling freshmen adrift, but I wonder what President Swinton thinks is going to happen to these kids when they encounter the real world; you know, the one that only pays off on accomplishment. Maybe he thinks they'll all go work for the government. Or immediately become CEOs of companies like Worldcom.

Cf. Michael Barone's Hard America, Soft America.
posted by mojohand at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2004

Well, here's a bit of polemics: Does following a grading policy or not constitute "academic freedom"? I always thought academic freedom meant you could be a Marxist and not get canned for it -- not that you could refuse to follow the school's directions on how to grade your students' work.

Don't get me wrong: I think the school's policy is utter bullshit, as is the president's excuse for firing the two faculty members. But so is those two's own seemingly lofty ideal that they have "academic freedom" to do as they damned well please, which they conveniently confused with the ethical need to grade students in a manner consistent with conventional academics. I'm Monday-morning quarterbacking here, but surely they could have done something other than openly defy the administration. I wonder if Benedict College has some kind of academic ethics committee?

I also wonder if Benedict is risking their accreditation this way. I pity their students, who are ultimately being done a disservice by being coddled like this instead of being expected to perform their college work and be graded for it properly, disadvantages or no disadvantages.
posted by alumshubby at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2004

This sounds like simply a case of a University president trying to turn his college into a diploma mill. The degrees actually earned by students will be cheapened in the real world as word of this gratuitous "SEE" spreads. Swinton is doing a great disservice to students under the guise of helping them.
posted by scottymac at 11:05 AM on August 22, 2004

That policy is dumb, and that principal, who seems to be on a power trip, probably won't have his job for very long.

How are you supposed to determine how much effort somebody puts into something? In most classes, I didn't have to study very hard (if at all) to get the concepts. If I ace every test but never crack a book, do I get a 40% for the class?

If somebody gets a 30% on every test, did they really put in any effort? If they did, then the school might be able to help them by showing them how to do the right kinds of effort, but how do you even know. How do you prove you studied all night for a test when you don't know the material?
posted by willnot at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2004

Any reason for all the extra lines, scottymac?
posted by Vidiot at 11:16 AM on August 22, 2004

mojohand, that book looks like one I want to read. Was it any good?

(And scotty, that was annoying.)

My last two years of college, I never cracked a book unless the professor either required discussion, the book looked interesting, or there were assignments out of it ... and then that was only to get the questions. And I graduated from a highly regarded business program from the largest state university in my state... but it was mostly because the coursework wasn't rote, it just required thinking with skills we already had.
The fascinating thing is that a thinking-based cirriculum, applying information that you learn in lecture instead of regurgitating it, has made the graduates from my program wildly successful ... we understand things and can apply them faster than a large number of the people that have been with a company for 10+ years and have gotten kind of soft.

Without reading Barone's book, I think there might be a hole in his theory... what about people who are in holding patterns? Jobs they really shouldn't have, but are experienced and complacent ... they could be replaced, in one coworker's terminology, with "a 10-line perl script and a mysql database" ... are they in hard america or soft america?

While I think this kind of academic softening really SUCKS, I think that all education is soft right now. We've gotten so soft on young people in this country throughout the 90's that we've turned our kids into stumps. (That's really what some high-school educators I know call their students... they just sit there and take whatever you throw at them, but none of it sinks in.)
posted by SpecialK at 11:22 AM on August 22, 2004

My apologies, must have hit the enter key instead of the shift. I'll try not to repeat the mistake.
posted by scottymac at 11:37 AM on August 22, 2004

so instead of some students finding out they can't cut it in college right away, they're going to have them pay a couple of years' tuition before they flunk out

i can see how this helps the school ... how does it help the students?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:26 PM on August 22, 2004

In the long run, does it help the school if they artificially inflate the students' performance while becoming a laughingstock of academia?
posted by alumshubby at 1:03 PM on August 22, 2004

Success=Effort? That looks to be the wrong way around. Surely it's Effort=Success? Of course, SEE is much cooler sounding than EES, but still...
posted by kaemaril at 1:48 PM on August 22, 2004

I sympathize with his desire to not just cut Benedict's struggling freshmen adrift, but I wonder what President Swinton thinks is going to happen to these kids when they encounter the real world; you know, the one that only pays off on accomplishment.

Why can't they just join the real world that pays off on obsequiousness and backstabbing instead?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:55 PM on August 22, 2004

I suppose you could just barely get this to squeak by under the AAUP's definition of academic freedom--except that the AAUP itself explicitly allows campuses to curtail academic freedom under certain circumstances. Presumably, the professors would have to make a case that the grading policy was not integral to the college's "mission." But IANAAUUPL.

In any event, showing up to class isn't an "effort"--it's a given, or at least it had better be a given. More to the point, effort itself is supposed to be a given in college. What's the point of going to school if you can't be bothered to put in the work necessary to master the material? As I know from painful personal experience (physics, arrrgh), students often have to expend the most effort on the subject in which they are least competent, sometimes with little hope of getting more than a passing grade. If a student has spent two weeks on a terrible essay, then there's a problem, and she needs to see me for help. But that's part of being a student, not a special exertion worthy of an additional reward. The reward comes when a student jumps from, say, a D on the midterm to a B on the final. (Let me tell you, it's genuinely exciting when that happens, for both the student and the professor.)
posted by thomas j wise at 2:16 PM on August 22, 2004

Before talking about the school as a diploma mill, please note: the SEE policy stands for the first two years only. The third and fourth years have academic only evaluation.

In fact, the reasons for this policy are addressed in the first link: this is a school that has the explicit purpose of helping the kind of students who cannot spell "kindergarten". They don't want to fail the students out - they want to help them learn to learn. The students will not graduate without mastering the material. thomas j wise makes a good point that effort is often disproportionate to aptitude, and perhaps not the best measure. One would hope, though, that the idea is that a more personal measure of effort is used - students who have an aptitude are rewarded for exercising it (perhaps taking on a challenging program), while those who find the work so much more difficult are given some recognition for nonetheless putting in their full effort.

I remember being in a Chinese language class where the person who clearly worked the hardest, practicing outside class and arranging for outings with the local Chinese student's club to practice, did quite poorly because he found it very hard to get the characters perfect. He was the only one of us capable of (and willing to risk) carrying on a conversation (mispronunciations and all), but the marking was heavily weighted towards written work. I always think that by now he must be fluent, while I (who recieved an A) have forgotten all but a few words.

Perhaps this school would be better off with a different approach to their students' needs. Rather than focussing on the nature of the evaluation, they could focus first and second year studies on teaching essential critical skills - worrying about teaching students how to learn than simply imparting knowledge (which can always come later). I have seen this done with some notable success at a large university with a wide range of abilities among the students. I don't think that passing students on without comprehension of the material is a good idea; perhaps a good system of repetiton of material in the summer should be established. But the purpose of a school like this is not to simply weed students - it is to take poor students, and to teach them how to improve their abilities.

However, to give some perspective, I should note that, as someone who TAs at an Ivy League university, it's not like they actually mark on academic grounds there. Even students who show little comprehansion of the material are given B's. And yet, how many question the validity of an Ivy League degree? (Aside from many of the people who teach there, of course.)
posted by jb at 2:37 PM on August 22, 2004

Just for reference:

"Number of violent crimes ranks second among S.C. schools, FBI report says" -TheState ('03)

Lawsuits claim Benedict unsafe ('02)
posted by shoepal at 2:39 PM on August 22, 2004


(sorry - spell check crashes my browser)
posted by jb at 2:41 PM on August 22, 2004

I can speak to shoepal's links: Benedict is in a pretty marginal neighborhood. However, the first linked article points out that nearby USC has had nearly the same level of trouble on or near campus.

You don't see USC pulling academic crap like this. Instead, they hired an expensive football head coach even as they continued jacking up tuition and fees.
posted by alumshubby at 4:33 PM on August 22, 2004

The president of Benedict College is historically black you say?
posted by ed\26h at 3:33 AM on August 23, 2004

Did I say that? Oooooo, squinting modifier....
posted by alumshubby at 4:02 AM on August 23, 2004

I wonder if Benedict College is accredited? If so, how long will it stay that way? That will be the biggest issue for this college.

It's fine to do everything to help struggling students succeed in college. That must be done whenever possible. But grades and credits actually DO mean something, and can be based on measureable standards. Those standards can include many things, including effort, as measured by attendance, class participation, and, well, attendance, usually. That's about it.

I am at a loss to see how academic performance (testable knowledge, ability to reason with the content of the course) could be LESS important than effort? What is actually being measured?

I suppose "effort" means "intention" -- "I really want to get a college degree. I really do." Uh huh. Unfortunately, college is really more about "follow through" and "standards of performance".

"Intention" comes first, but it is not the only thing one needs to actually earn a college degree.

That is just how it works. Or at least, that is how it works at accredited colleges.
posted by mooncrow at 8:14 AM on August 23, 2004

In other news: purple is less harsh than red. via ObscureStore

How bad is it going to be when my 1 year old hits university?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:16 AM on August 23, 2004

When I started college, there were a number of review or preparation classes that could make up for weaknesses in a student's knowledge. If you scored below a certain level on a standardized test or failed a competency test you could take a review course to make up for it. There were a number of people who ended up in these courses for nearly a year. If anything, that'd be the best place to catch up on topics that you missed and pick up study habits.

I really can't believe that any school would allow this sort of policy on an introductory class related to a specific major. Every line of study needs some "weed-out" classes.
posted by mikeh at 12:51 PM on August 23, 2004

Ghost -- don't laugh. When I was a student peer-tutor in remedial English classes, I was directed specifically NOT to use red ink in marking up students' work. I used green ink for markup -- better connotation, I thought. Sometimes, when I was feeling snarky about a particularly substandard paper, I used brown instead.
posted by alumshubby at 9:40 AM on August 24, 2004

But grades and credits actually DO mean something, and can be based on measureable standards.

Unless you are in the Ivy League, in which case you'll never get less than a B, even if you don't understand the material. Or if you're in Oxbridge, in which case you can write crap, but it has to be eloquent crap.

I'm sorry to be snarky, but I get tired of everyone fussing about standards at average universities, when some of the lowest standards are at the "best" universities. No one questions the quality of these degrees.

I would worry much more about this if this system were in place for all of the years, but it is not - essentially, this university has split their program in two: it is two years prepatory, and then two years of evaluation. What's the problem with this? If the end result is the same (which, as they are all being marked by solely academic criteria for their third and fourth years, it is), does it matter how they got there?

This reminds me of a math class I was in during high school. The teacher was a very talented former special education teacher who was piloting a new math curriculum, which reorganised how the math was taught (very effectively, as the results would show). In the first of the three terms, we had a different exam from the other classes, who were still using the older curriculum, but by the second we were in the same place, and were given the same exam. The class scored on average well above the other classes, on the same exam. However, the teacher was informed that, since we had scored so well, the new curriculum was clearly too easy, and would be scrapped.
posted by jb at 5:02 PM on August 24, 2004

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