Thursday, August 09, 2007

Can't wait to see this guy on Rate Your Professor 

Most every student I work with has something that needs some work. Some of them don't get the message, and some perhaps really don't belong in a university. But even then, you typically try to find some way to get them closer to making the grade.

And you get the usual requests from students for extensions of time. As a young professor I got more of these, and the leading cause of extensions was a death in the family. Grandparents, in my first few years, were dropping like flies. The defining moment was when one student managed to lose three grandfathers in two months. So I announced in syllabi that only immediate family members would constitute grounds for an extension, and that I expected a copy of the obituary with the late assignment. Remarkably, the rate of death of my students' grandparents dropped dramatically. If Social Security goes belly up in 2030, it's my fault.

This has for the most part cared to the problem. But what I've never had to do was to write The email like this to a student who was both doing poorly in school and loses a parent.
I say this reluctantly but not so subtly: you are not suitable for a graduate degree. It does not matter if your father died or if you have a medical certificate.

I have been too nice and given you too high marks all along (at C+). I do not anticipate that you will do better in the final exercise. You are already a day late.

The extension is meaningless because you have not attended the last few classes and are the worse performer in the class.

Of course by a far stretch, You will have the obiturary of your father, but even if available and the student health people might have believed you, I do not.
The professor has been sacked, which has caused a public debate in New Zealand. In part this stems from the student being an international student from Kuwait, and the professor's comment later in the email,
You are close to failing in any event, so these sorts of excuses - culturally driven and preying on some sort of Western liberal guilt - are simply lame.
I'm not sure what motivated him to go there, and the furor has taken the expected politically correct overtones.

And then, remarkably enough, he offers her an out:
Prove that your father died and your were distraught and unable to complete assignments-in spite of your abysmal record to date as an underperforming and underquallifed student- and perhaps you might qualify for an extension to get a C-.
This contradicts the rest of the letter, is abundantly stupid, and were it not for tenure would quite easily lead me to not retain this professor. If you're going to say no, say no.

(h/t NARN producer Matt Reynolds.)