It’s about the students

It’s about the students

More evidence of the narcissism of our times: College students no longer have respect for their professors. The story describes the overly familiar and demanding way students address their professors via email. I know this is true; Melanie has told me some tales of her former students.

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.

“The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding,” said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. ” ‘I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,’ with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative.”

I see a couple of reasons for this problem. For one, there’s the familiarity of email. In the past, written communication was formal, with rules of etiquette and standards of address. But email, IM, and SMS have led to an informality. Sometimes that can be good, cutting through the extraneous so that you can get to the point right away. But in cases where respect and formality would be a asset, those who aren’t used to it are left unprepared.

Another part of the problem is the professors themselves. The day of the white-haired professor in the tweed jacket who stood as an eminent and imposing authority figure is largely gone. Professors today hang out with their students socially, not just grad students and upperclassmen within their discipline, but with younger students as their pals or even in romantic relationships. They also espouse all kinds of inane ideas—often having nothing to do with their subject—pontificating their liberal ideologies.

Rating your professor

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
19 comments
  • There is another side, that this entry doesn’t cover.  Professors have office hours, but very few students ever bother to use them.  A lot of students would never think of going to the prof if they are having problems with something in class (or for that matter, even emailing the prof might be “too much work.”)
    With regards to socializing with professors, I think it is a great idea.  I have gone to the local pub with many of my professors.  They’re smart, fun people, who on occasion might even buy a round for the table.  In fact a group of students and I have a weekly pub meeting with a prof to discuss any issues in the readings that might have come up in class during the week. 
    Lastly, evaluations are a good thing.  I don’t want to take a course with a prof who can’t teach.  I don’t mind if he makes me work, but if he can’t teach, I don’t want to be in his class.  I can even forgive death by powerpoint if the prof is approachable and able to offer non-powerpoint explanations. 

    Yours in Christ,
    ~G

  • Another factor in the equation is the public education system where discipline and respect for authority are largely non-existant. I’m referring to the K-12 schools. Everything is geared to indulging ill-disciplined brats and keeping them happy.

    Trash in, trash out.

    The result is a selfish young adult with a deeply developed sense of entitlement who believes that he or she is the center of the universe and that his or her every wish needs to be accomodated. Thus, when the college years roll around it’s ..gimmee…gimmee…gimme….

    I know first hand. I teach college students. Hard work and learning are replaced by a “just punch my ticket” mentality.

  • Grant,

    I think the article does mention office hours, but the students interviewed said, basically, that it’s too much effort to go to them.

    Also, I do think professors should be evaluated, but I think that the university should be doing it, not asking students to do it for them. Many students wouldn’t know good teaching if it bit them on the butt so why should the university rely on them? How does the university know which evaluations it can rely on?

  • On the first day of class, my husband makes it clear he is to be called “Dr. X” (instead of by his first name, like most all of his colleagues), that he will not answer student e-mail at night or on the weekend, that they cannot have his home phone number (they do ask for it!), if they want to talk to him they should arrange to come and see him during his office hours (which he keeps), if they have problems they cannot just send him an e-mail and assume it’s “okay”, etc. He works with students to make-up work or accommodate real health problems, but of course there are students who try to push this and take advantage of the situation. When he was in grad school in the ‘80’s, the ideal was to be the laid-back, casual prof who was the students’ “friend”; however, my husband soon realized that he hated this approach and the students didn’t respect it. He’s grown “tougher” gradually – most of his colleagues are *not* this “remote” from their students – and he’s been pleasantly surprised at how it’s improved his relations with his students. As it is with parents, so it is with profs—students have their own friends, they don’t need more, but they do need grown-ups to be grown-ups.

    In the “old days” professors probably had way too much power in the teacher/student relationship, but now the balance is all the other way. Evaluations are one big problem (oy!); challenges on papers and tests are another. My husband rarely gets challenges from good students or really bad students; almost always they are from middling students who think their exam “should” have passed and challenge it to see if it will go up. And usually it *will* go up – from, say, 58 to 60, in the meantime inconveniencing my husband, the asst chair of the dept, and the addl prof who has to mark the challenge. If a prof was giving unfair marks, that would be one thing, but my husband is almost always marked by his colleagues within 5 points of what he originally gave the student (of course, they don’t know the original mark) – his mark and his colleague’s mark are then averaged for the final mark. As you can imagine, this is not the result most of these students had in mind! So then they complain about *that* . . . wasting everyone’s time. Husband says perhaps 5% of students take up 70% of faculty’s real time (not in a good way) and more of their “emotional” time.

    The verbal abuse some students dish out . . . that’s shocking, too. Again, I know profs used to be harsh (some still are), but the current regime gives profs very little protection from abusive students. Of course, the abuse almost always comes from students who are not achieving and want to blame the professor.

    – Continued next post

  • (sorry this is so long, but it’s a “home subject”)

    —Just talking to husband, who’s doing research at home this week during “reading week” – he says one problem is that there is such a large amt of “adjunct faculty” (i.e., faculty w/o tenure) these days, that many of them actually curry favor with students, cater to them in class, hang out with them afterwards, etc., so that they will get good evaluations and thus “continuing” status and, hopefully one day, tenure. But even tenured profs like to hang with the kids, not just the occasional lunch in the student cafeteria but at student parties etc. “Once students have seen their prof drunk, they’ll never respect him again,” says husband. This is part of the whole baby boom/cool prof thing that came out of the campus upheavals of the late ‘60’s. – The other thing he says is that he’s pretty sure he’s the only prof in his dept who doesn’t allow students to call him by his first name. (We’ve talked about him calling the students “Miss/Mr. X”, to show the students greater respect, but he thinks that would be *too* far-out both for the students and the department, no one would understand even if he explained it.)

    I’ll close with one signal thing. 4 or 5 years ago my husband quit wearing jeans to work and started wearing chino-type pants. This was a huge step in his “formalization” – most of his colleagues wear jeans (i.e., dress like the students). He said the students reacted immediately – after that it was never hard to delineate the difference between him and them, because he was (by the students’ standards) “dressed up”. It also made it easier for him not to “feel bad” that he wasn’t the students’ buddy like most of his colleagues.

    As you say, Dom, though it’s hard on the profs, in the end the students are hurt the most, and they don’t even know it.

  • Grant,
    Getting students to come to office hours is a perennial problem. Therefore my policy as a college teacher is to require students to attend office hours (at least when I teach freshmen). Some of my professors did this when I was an undergrad. I made my schedule flexible enough so I could meet with students when they were able to come in. My reward: I got to know some great kids, I caught some problems in face to face discussions that I would have never caught in the classroom. Many students said meetings with me were the most valuable part of the class. 

    marshmallow,
    I have to agree with you that kids are coming to college ill prepared by their previous school experiences. Schools that are more interested in fostering children’s self esteem rather than their eagerness and ability to learn have created students who see education as a means not an end and the entitled attitude you mention.

    One semester Ihad a student email me after the semester was over demanding that I needed to meet her on campus so I could sign an affadavit that she had passed my class so she could transfer to another school. (I had specifically told all the students that I would not accept late work as I would not be returning to campus after the final day of class.) She didn’t say please, she didn’t even ask as a favor. She just assumed I would drop everything to cater to her “needs” Naturally I told her I was unable to help her, even though I live a five minute walk from campus and could very well have made a trip for a student I wanted to help.

  • marshmallow & Melanie – husband would absolutely agree with your regarding student preparation, or lack thereof.

    I just want to note that I see two kinds of “social” prof/student interactions. One is basically healthy, like what Grant mentions, where students and prof gather in a quasi-social setting to discuss class-related themes. There was a good amt of that at the university I attended. But this business of profs attending beer bashes, frat parties, and whatnot, that is fundamentally unhealthy. I don’t recall exactly, but I don’t think even Donald Sutherland’s character in “Animal House” hung out at Delta house parties . . .

  • Re: Doctor X.
    I have several profs who would look around to find out who you are talking to if you called them Doctor X.  Yes, they know they earned the title, but they only use it in publications.  I don’t notice any difference between the respect levels of Doctor Y X, and “just” Y. 

    Yours in Christ,
    ~G

  • By “X” I mean his (our) last name. He doesn’t use “Dr.” socially, for Pete’s sake. At his school, here in Canada, “professor” is not a job title option . . . so it’s “Dr.” or it’s “first name”. See what I’m saying? Now that’s a long-established usage in the North American academic community, maybe not at Bishop’s, but my father-in-law taught at UBC and *he* went by “Dr. X”. However, when he taught in Britain apparently he was known by “Professor X”, and at conferences on the continent he was “Herr Doktor Professor X”. Anyway, my husband has definitely noticed a difference, insisting on a more formal address is a tool in the relationship between him and his students and it’s been a positive one for him.

    OTOH, definitely call your profs what they ask you . . . though I’ve had a hard time calling “first-name” profs by their first name. But I grew up in a conservative Southern family, you have to *know* someone before you call them by their first name. Otherwise it’s considered artificial friendliness and informality.

    Forms of address are tricky, no?

  • I have a side question for everyone-
    When I was in school I was a bit older, had some life behind me. In my mid-20’s. I found it rather irritating when professors would treat us as children in grade school rather than intelligent wanting-to-learn adults.

    For example I passed on one fabulous teacher (that is, his information on Sexual and Medical Ethics was briliant) because I knew I couldn’t handle his rules: no food, no drink, stand when you address the class, etc. I found this to be insulting so signed up for a different professor. I have a few friends who are in the same prediciment-say, an 8am class and the prof won’t allow any drinks even coffee. 

    I know that there needs to be a clear difference between the authority of the professor and the learning of the student: But is is acceptable to go this far? I guess I feel as an adult I can make those choices on my own.

    I’m also wondering what you think about students who miss class and grading accordingly.  I guess a part of me thinks that I’m old enough to attend class and if I don’t, well, I don’t learn. It’s my own intellectual “missing out”… so to speak.

    I will say, for my part that I’ve been guilty of showing up late, which I know drives most prof NUTS, not to mention, it is disrespectful.  My argument was that the prof was lacking in intellectual depth and the material (his own written and out of print material) was lacking in muster and challenge.  So I didn’t feel it necessary to show up.  I know, bad attitide, I’ll take that one.

  • JenB,

    Well I always allowed food and drink in my classes. I liked to be able to eat and drink when I was a student and, hey, if they need breakfast and coffee to stay awake in my class, I’d rather they had it. The only exception was when I taught in a classroom with computers… then I had to follow the school’s rules for obvious reasons. I could understand some limits: don’t bring food that smells stongly or makes a lot of noise. If the food becomes a distraction to the eater or to other students, it needs to go. But I teach small enough classes that I could handle those problems individually as they arose.

    As far as the grading off for no attendance question… I must admit I do it. Mostly because undergraduates have this attitude that as long as they hand in the work they don’t need to show up. Which just isn’t true in a lecture/discussion classroom.

    I’ve tried it both ways, with and without such a policy, and found that a harsh policy, strictly enforced, did indeed lower the absence rate and made it much easier to convince students who had no hope of passing to go ahead and drop the class earlier rather than later—which made life easier for both of us.

    If I were teaching upper level or graduate classes I would not see a need for such a harsh policy. My attitude is much like yours, students should be mature enough to realize they are missing out when they miss class. But the reality is most undergrads are not mature at all and I have to deal with the idiots who skip my classes for weeks at a time but continue to hand in work which I then have to spend hours grading. A waste of my time. I’d rather spend time helping the students who care enough to come to class regularly.

    So I guess a harsh attendence policy for me is a sort of triage system: it allows me to cut some of the deadweight by informing them based on a very clear cut policy that there is no way they can pass the class. I’ll make exceptions for the really hard luck cases who’ve got real problems, but only if they are mature enough to come and talk to me about it.

  • I encourage my students to use email for my convenience. I encourage it especially for questions about grades since my computer is at home and not in my campus office. I insist on it when I don’t want to write a note on a slip of paper at the end of a class. I encourage it so I don’t have to check the audex on my office phone which I share with two other people.

    It is easy to say no to someone who asks you to revise a grade by email rather than in person. You can always answer “I don’t know” or “See me before class on Tuesday” if you need to.

    Email leaves a trail of documentation that often comes in handy.

    Many of my students commute long distances and work long hours so coming to my office would be a genuine burden for them. On my part, I like to spend as little time in the office as possible.

    I also make it a point to show up 10 minutes early for class and stay afterwards 10 minutes. Many problems can be dealt with on the spot.

    This semester I gave out my cell phone number since I knew I would have to rearrange my office hours frequently on short notice. No student has yet abused it.

  • Dom:

    Be careful with what you write.  Let’s modify your subject a bit

    “Another part of the problem is the priests themselves. The day of the white-haired monsignor in the cassock who stood as an eminent and imposing authority figure is largely gone. Priests today hang out with their parishoners socially, not just church ladies, but with teens as their pals or even in romantic relationships. They also espouse all kinds of inane ideas—often having nothing to do with their subject—pontificating their liberal ideologies.”

    Think son: a few priests are this way but not all priests, and if your bit here appeared in say… the NY Times, the Catholic League would be justifiably angry about anti-Catholic bigotry and sending out a boatload of faxes. 

    As with priests, don’t paint all professors with the same brush.  You want to criticize the bad ones?  Fine.  But don’t go lumping us all into one nasty stereotype.

    p.s. I don’t know of a single professor who ever fooled around with an student at the university where I am a professor.  But maybe the faculty here aren’t as attractive to 18-year-olds as conservative Catholic heroes like Deal Hudson.

  • Actually your rewrite is completely true. We do have a problem with priests who pal around inappropriately with certain people. Did I say all professors have inappropriate relationships? No, you are the one who assumed that’s what I meant. I can’t help it if you want to read into what I write.

    As for professors having romantic relationshops with students? Time to poke you head up over the books. Every professor I’ve spoke to has stories about colleagues dating students and I’ve seen articles in various places, including the aforementioned NY Times, about it.

    Just because you haven’t seen it personally, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  • Ian, ohmigosh, chillax.

    So when I say “profs used to be harsh”, does that mean I meant “ALL profs used to be harsh”? Of course not. I only meant that *many*, if not the *majority*, of professors were dominant over their students and made few exceptions or considerations for their students’ needs – unlike today, where the students, *for the most part*, really seem to believe the profs are there to cater to them. There is a basic logical fallacy in your interpretation and I think a college professor would know better. Besides being nasty about Deal Hudson – what’s up with that??

    I don’t know what happy-secluded university you teach at – I mean, I went to Baylor (in Nowheresville, Texas) in the early ‘90’s and there were a few (very, very, very) discreet prof-student relationships, but once a whiff of them was picked up, the word spread like wildfire. Besides the usual faculty adultery. Being that it was a Christian university where people were serious about being Christians, there was much much *much* less of all this than at secular institutions I’ve attended or been around. But it still happens. If the Christian learns anything, it’s that man is sinful. (One hopes he also learns that Jesus forgives.)

    I don’t mean to be unkind, but to echo Dom: Just ‘cause you don’t see it, don’t mean it ain’t happening.

  • JenB – my husband has some tough policies, *but* he will cut *some* students a lot of slack, depending . . . “older” students are way up on his “a lot of slack” list b/c he knows they’re there b/c they want to be, not b/c they don’t know what to do next or their parents made them or whatever.

    He *does* allow beverages in his classes – says it’s only fair as he drinks coffee in his morning classes, water or tea in the afternoon. *Doesn’t* allow food but if someone is finishing something as class starts, won’t make a fuss about it. *Does* mark off for attendance, but if students have, e.g., health problems and talk to him about it early on, or have a family emergency, he’ll adjust the mark, encourage them to get class notes from classmates & come talk to him during office hours, etc. The overall theory he’s developed is: Set out tough rules at the beginning, and bend them as the situation demands. Much easier than trying to make everybody happy.

    The college also assigns them too many classes and too many students, over provincial limits (they’re having to hire more profs this year to bring both class sizes and hours taught down), so my husband developed the defensive mode of making the first quarter or third of his yearlong classes just tough enough to weed out the marginal students, while not making it too tough for okay students. Basically, what he has to say sounds like your entire 5:20 post, Melanie. -He teaches English 100 (comp, he uses it to get lit in as well) and English 101 (lit survey), college usually assigns 40-odd students to each class (!), 2 or 3 sections of those combined, plus one to 2 sections of upper-level lit – he’s the “Shakespeare guy” at his school, so he teaches that full-year every other year, sometimes has 1/2 yr courses as well, though not this year. Equivalent to a U.S. prof teaching 4 courses a semester, and he usually starts out with 130-140 students at the beginning of each year! – you can see why he likes to triage and weed, since he doesn’t have an assistant, or any encouragement from the college to do research.

  • Ian,
    In case you hadn’t noticed, Dom’s wife (that’s me) is a professor. Of course he didn’t mean to paint all professors with the same brush… but since he hears all my horror stories of teaching at a state college and an art school, he’s in a pretty good place to make some generalizations.

    Meg,

    Sounds like we’re coming from about the same place, your husband and I with tough rules at the beginning and bending them as the situations arise. I’ve only taught one class where I had older students but I did cut them much more slack… I felt so bad when one lady who was much older than I came to me almost in tears because she had to miss class several times with her daughter and with her chemo treatments… I explained those policies were aimed more at the younger students than to the mothers and grandmothers in my class. I had nothing but respect for the older students who were working, taking care of kids, and going to school.

    All I can say about your husband’s courseload is “ouch!” I’d have turned into a small pool of jello by now if I had to read that many papers a semester.
    I’ve been lucky in that Salem State has capped the composition classes at 18 students and I’ve frequently had less than that… especially with the unpopular early morning classes.

  • So Dom, the statements “Catholics believe it’s OK to have sex with children” and “Catholics believe that there is nothing wrong with abortion” are likewise true?

    Did I say all Catholics have believe it’s OK to have sex with children? No, you are the one who assumed that’s what I meant. I can’t help it if you want to read into what I write.

  • Yes, those statements are true. I wouldn’t have thought all Catholics since I can take from context what you mean. If you weren’t intent on being offended, you would have picked up the fact that I wasn’t referring to all professors, since in fact my wife is a professor.

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