Post Academic

A reason for becoming post-academic: Being “reassigned” mid-semester

The latest brouhaha making the rounds online involves the dismissal of Dominique G. Homberger from the intro-level biology course she was teaching at LSU–mid-semester!  As the story goes (check out this account on Inside Higher Ed), students complained that Homberger was too harsh a grader, since she gave exams that included 10-option multiple-choice tests and had failed and caused to drop 90% of the course as of the middle of the semester.  Sure, she sounds like a tough teacher, maybe unreasonably so, but the response seemed to be more  unreasonable: Disrupt the course midway through.  Here’s how Dean Kevin Carman explained the situation, via Inside Higher Ed:

“The class in question is an entry-level biology class for non-science majors, and, at mid-term, more than 90 percent of the students in Dr. Homberger’s class were failing or had dropped the class. The extreme nature of the grading raised a concern, and we felt it was important to take some action to ensure that our students receive a rigorous, but fair, education. Professor Homberger is not being penalized in any way; her salary has not been decreased nor has any aspect of her appointment been changed.”

According to Homberger, admin gave her no warning that she might be “reassigned” from the course before she was.  The only complaint she heard was–get this–that there were “too many facts” on the exams.  Part of the reasoning for the low grades at the beginning of the term, as the professor would have it, was that it would give students a kick in the pants to improve as the term went on.  Homberger also claims that subsequent grades in the class had improved.

Whether or not Homberger’s methods seem too extreme, what this story reflects is a change in student culture that is either the cause and/or result of a Rate My Professors mentality.  Not to be too curmudgeonly old-school here, but there are enough students these days who go to class as consumers to make it seem like the inmates are running the asylum sometimes.  If an instructor doesn’t measure up to some students’ expectations, whether it’s in terms of grades or more superficial matters, they get savaged in a public forum.  If the teacher begins to kowtow to these student “concerns,” it can begin to affect the course material they teach–don’t be controversial or don’t offer too many facts–and the kind of inflated grades they give.  And it certainly doesn’t help that official evals have begun to resemble RMP, since they have gone online.

Lest it seem that I’m a goo-goo or some kind of “pure” academia apologist, I’m not.  Nor was I an ideal student myself, even though I was a good student.  Sure, I grumbled about grades and wasn’t entirely enamored of all my professors and TA’s, but I never ever complained once about a grade.  You know why?  Because the teacher is the teacher, and the student is the student.  Now please excuse me so that I can go find a “Get off my lawn” sign.

Who Really Failed? [Inside Higher Ed]

Professors Outraged by Admin Decision [The Daily Reveille (LSU)]

Removal of Professor Causes Furor [The Chronicle of Higher Education]

“LSU Flags” by JustDog from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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