Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Keep your hand down 

I love this story. A guy who holds a PhD from China and wants to get into medical school here in the States finds he has to take organic chemistry. He enrolls at St. Louis CC at Meramec to get what he needs. The school uses Blackboard as an online educational platform for classroom management; you can email your classmates using it. This fellow emails his classmates to tell them he's dropping the class, and emails a second time looking for people to join him in taking the organic chem classes at other area schools. He refers to the new prof as "very nice and patient (also a native English speaker)" with a "very good reputation". Three days later the student is placed on "Disciplinary Probation" and that he's not to email students any more. Despite efforts to clarify what was the issue, he could get no satisfaction from the school's student affairs office.

Last week the school dropped the email charge but says he still has to go through an "appeal" process -- he's already been found guilty of other charges heretofore unspecified. Our Chinese Josef K. finds out that he has been charged with 1) "Behavior in the classroom which includes delaying the class with repeating of questions that had either previously been covered or knowledge that you should have had prior to coming into the course;" and 2) "Inappropriate behavior toward college personnel including behavior on or about October 10th 2007 , when you were verbally abusive towards the Chemistry department secretary as witnessed by two members of the department." (It is worth noting that the 10th is also the date of the first email indicating to the class that K. is leaving the course.) Nine witnesses have been assembled. K. has six days to assemble his defense against these charges now at last revealed.

The charge in the department office could be quite serious -- it's not unheard of for a student to get a little hot while under stress and venting anger in a department office. But how is it that the punishment for this crime is identical to what was heard before? And as a professor I will say, there are times you think the student asking the question has not done the homework, and you might say to him or her "look, you really should have known that already, so I am going to move along in my lecture and tell you to go back and read the assignment again." I am sure I have said "that's in the reading you were supposed to have done" but I don't think I've blown off the question. And I most certainly would not file a complaint against the student. Perhaps the student's English skills made for a difficult time in o-chem, and maybe he was using a lot of time asking questions. You can get the student into an ESL class. You can even ask him to withdraw from the class because he's not prepared to succeed. But you don't use the disciplinary process to punish a student who cannot understand the class. If that's what happened. We really do not know. Remember, our K. has a PhD from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He's probably not a dolt.

Is STLCC just looking for cover, punishing first and finding improper behavior later? It certainly has that appearance. At minimum, the school should delay the hearing to permit the student sufficient time to prepare a defense against these charges.