Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Who hired those guys? 

If you read even a fraction of the blogs I do, you have certainly heard about the now-ex-University of Arizona professor who posted strange messages attacking Jeff Goldstein, or the Kevin Barrett story, or Ward Churchill. I don't have any special insight into those today. But I would call attention to Margaret Soltan's observations about the connections one has to be a fool not to make about all these exposures of professorial misbehavior:
It�s heartbreaking to read the comments that students who�ve been betrayed by their universities write at Rate My Professors. These students almost always begin by mentioning their excitement about taking the course, their interest in the subject. They then flatly state that exposure to this professor has killed forever their interest and excitement. A series of questions usually follows. Why is this person teaching? Why does this person get paid to teach? Why is a university classroom like this one? I thought it would be different, going to a university�

It�s not about the professors themselves apologizing or quitting or whatever -- the sort of people we�re talking about are incapable of understanding what they have done. It�s about the universities that hired them making formal apologies to their students, and vowing to do everything they can to avoid appointing people like them again. Universities unable to distinguish between academic freedom and academic malfeasance need to do some thinking. The technology of exposure isn�t going anywhere.
You are entitled to wonder who minds the store. I found a letter in the campus paper a few weeks back about a faculty member teaching an online course. His or her student -- the article doesn't say -- did not like how the course was handled.
I think it is inappropriate for a professor to demand strict schedules when they can't provide the class info on time. The class was based off five online tests and no journal assignments, even though there were plenty of them posted. Also the five tests were made up of multiple choice questions that came from a question bank the publishers of the book produced. We were allowed to take each test twice.

The reason the professor gave for giving the opportunity for taking each test twice was that they didn't have time to deal with problems on an individual basis and this was their solution. In addition it was stated that the professor didn't hold office hours during summer.
Now, just thinking this could be a problem -- and realizing it's summer and many people aren't around -- I decided to forward the article to the appropriate dean. The dean acted quickly to find the student and the faculty member and get to the truth of the issue. I have no idea what the outcome was, and I don't know how much of the letter is true.

But now today we find another column about the same issue. What I would like to know is why the university did not respond to the original letter and say how this is handled. In short, if you decided to hire that faculty member who decided office hours are not necessary for online courses, you should explain why you think that's OK or what you did to correct the issue. We shouldn't have to learn how things are handled through student columnists.