Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Narcissism: If Everyone Else Is So Damn Special, Where Does That Leave Me?

We never do this, but so many of you brought this recent AP article on student narcissism to our attention, that we thought we'd link it and offer our readers a little flava.

College students think they're so special
Study finds alarming rise in narcissism,
self-centeredness in ‘Generation Me’

by Janet Hamlin / AP

NEW YORK - Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.

“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”

Twenge and her colleagues, in findings to be presented at a workshop Tuesday in San Diego on the generation gap, examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

The standardized inventory, known as the NPI, asks for responses to such statements as “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person” and “I can live my life any way I want to.”

The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students’ NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.

Narcissism can have benefits, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people “or auditioning on ‘American Idol.”’

The study asserts that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.”

Twenge, the author of “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.

The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the “self-esteem movement” that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far.

Campbell said the narcissism upsurge seemed so pronounced that he was unsure if there were obvious remedies.

“Permissiveness seems to be a component,” he said. “A potential antidote would be more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for.”

* our image today is a small detail of a painting by the talented Italian painter, Antonio Tamburro

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

But Don't Drop Her on Her Head

I have had a couple of Persistent Penelopes in my time. The thing about these students that is so frustrating is that they fool you. You start out thinking you have a great student who is excited and interested in your class. Then you find out that what they really want is hand-holding. They want you to walk them through as much of the material as possible.

My solution to this type of student has generally been to tell them that I want to see their ideas. I know my own ideas, and I know that I know the material. I want to see them apply it, not just mimic what they think I want to hear.

The Penelopes of the world have the potential to be great students. I think that sometimes they just lack confidence. They are afraid that their own ideas and insights are not "correct" so they try to get us to tell them exactly what to do. Penelope needs to learn that her ideas have merit in and of themselves. Baby birds sometimes need to be dropped out of the nest so they can learn to fly on their own.

Cut Penelope off. Tell her you will not walk through every detail of the assignments with her. Give her guidance, but let her do the work. Drop her out of the nest and tell her you want to see what she comes up with on her own.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Persistent Penelope

I complain about student apathy as much as the next person, and after ten years of teaching I've only seen that get worse. I often proclaim to whoever might listen that I'd give anything for a truly engaged and dedicated student, someone who'd challenge me in class, come to office hours, do the work happily, and treat the job of being in my class as a serious and important enterprise.

Until I met Penelope.

Penelope has wrung me dry in the first half of the semester. I had an inkling on the first day that Penelope might be a handful. After class - during which she dominated things by asking clarifying questions about almost everything on the syllabus - she quizzed me for 15 more minutes about my background, my degree, etc. It was, at the time, flattering. Who doesn't like to talk about herself a little every now and then.

When the first projects started, Penelope wanted special treatment, extra face-time, more feedback than I was giving others. And when she came to office hours I gave it. But on her most recent visits, she's become more and more demanding.

We're working on a minor project right now, something that occasionally extends to 2 pages of text and a few slides of buildings which the student then presents to class. Last week after coming to my office hours (where she always is 5 minutes early, waiting), she reappeared 40 minutes later for some more feedback. "I want you to tell me if this is better now," she said, handing me the draft that showed a variety of handwritten corrections. I explained to Penelope that what we had talked about the first time - earlier that hour - was something she needed to think about, put into effect, and spend a couple of days on.

"Oh, I just sat out in the hallway and did the changes right now. I knew you'd want to see me as soon as you could."

Well, I didn't, and I tried to explain that, but she took the criticism badly and stormed out.

Then on Friday she was back again. I was in a colleague's office down the hallway and I spotted her headed toward my door. I selfishly wanted to run the other direction. At 1:02 pm - my hours start at 1 - Penelope peered into my colleague's office, spied me, and then turned on her heel.

At 1:04 pm, when I arrived at my door, she was waiting with a grim look of determination and her new pages. I read through them, made some comments about some things that might be made more clear and I passed the paper back.

"When can I come back for another review," she asked. "Is 1:30 okay?"

"No," I said. "And we've talked about this before. I think it's important that you give serious thought to my suggestions, but I also want you to have time to figure out how much input fits with your own ideas. If you go sit in the hallway and scribble in changes, I don't think you're giving you, your work, or me enough value."

Penelope picked her stuff up and left. When I got home at 2:15 that afternoon, she'd emailed me those same 2 pages with more corrections, changes, and a pleading note to make extra office hours the next day so she could come and get more feedback.

Am I wrong to want to hide out until May?

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Red Under Every Mortarboard

From one of my students, asked to analyze the flaws in an argument she found to have been made unethically:

The most alarming thing about this argument is the author's comparison between a person with a PhD to a communist. I understand the author was trying to reiterate how American citizens feel threatened by professors expressing their views. However, it is extreme to compare people with PhD's to communists. Because communism was a very serious thing and no matter what the professors do, they will never be as bad as the communists were in the fifties. This is a shameless play for an emotional response out of the audience.
Yours for the coming revolution,
Rachel the Red from Riverside

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On Eggs

I teach a 3-3 load with 400 undergraduates a semester plus graduate students, and am expected to have at least a book, 3-4 articles, and significant progress on the next book for tenure. Teaching counts as 30% of my job. Some of the courses I teach are undergraduate general education requirements, which means that the majority of the students enrolled in the class do not want to be there. That said, most of them are good eggs about the requirement.

The problem is the bad eggs. One told me last week that he wouldn't take the reading quiz because he didn't get an email from me reminding him of the quiz. The quiz was posted on the syllabus twice and I had reminded the class verbally of the quiz twice. The 174 other students in the class came in expecting the quiz and took it. The student then followed me back to my office saying that "didn't I think my class has too much reading" (no), and that it wasn't "fair" that I only test on the whole book. He thought I should give a test for each chapter (I pointed out that this would take a lot of class time). He said "all of his other faculty" send him quiz reminder emails.

He also said that he has never read a 100-page book and it was "unfair" of me to assign so much reading. Part of what is truly frightening here is that this student is a sophomore – which means he managed to pass his classes his freshman year.

I found myself smiling at the student and patiently explaining course rules and procedures for over ½ hour – rules I had already gone over twice the first week of classes. I can't keep spending this much time with bad eggs when I have to publish, get grants, and would much prefer to save my student time for the good eggs.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

And Swath The Tutor In Gold and Purple Robes....

Dr. ScienceProf,

From my conversation you are aware that I am seeking a personal tutor. Please help direct me to an individual that best suites my guidelines below. Currently my past two exams were 58 and 64. I do not believe this third exam shall be much better. I anticipate graduating this May and cannot allow myself to falter in your course ["ToughScienceClass II"]. I need a C- or better to allow for my graduation as you are well aware. I am not aware of your flexibility for giving a C-. In the past professors have allowed for lower than 70% to be this, yet I do not want to be at such a borderline, for it gives me great stress.

I cannot excel in this course alone or in a group. I need a one-on-one tutor.

  1. male
  2. "A" performance in "ToughScienceClass I" and on the first two exams
  3. a 'laid-back' patient individual
  4. confident and enjoys tutoring
  5. willing to receive $10 per hour each of the following weeks for between 3-5 hours a week
  6. mature
  7. not a grad student

Times I have available: M-F between 4-8pm OR M-F between 1-2 pm OR M, W, R, 2-4 pm

Please inform your candidates of the above need and send me an email with the responsive candidates and their contact information so I may begin next week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Go Ahead and Read This Post, ASAP, We Mean, If You Want To

Maybe I need to up my meds, but I'm besieged and beset this semester with students who make email requests and then end with, "Get back to me ASAP."

As soon as possible? Do you mean I should put your request ahead of anything else on my plate, husband, child, other students, my boss, my colleagues, my aching back, my broken down Pontiac?

I know "ASAP" is probably a benign and understood locution that I should just "get over myself" about, but it just seems indicative of these times, where I'm made to feel by nearly everyone that I'm working for the students.

Your recent comments on "students as consumers" has really hit me hard, because our college president is always using language like that. I leave faculty meetings feeling as if I'm an ogre if I don't spend half of my day cooing to students about their "entitlement" or their "progress."

I hate to be an old fuddy-duddy - I'm just 40, the "new" 30, after all - but when I went to college, I had to work my ass off for everything, even for the attention of my professors. It never occurred to me to make demands on them beyond the ones they already had taken on by running the classes I was in.

The world seems flipped on its head now. I feel a lot like the person who stood up for me and the rest of the professoriate when saying we are not the hired help. I want my students to succeed, but I also want more respect than what is implied in getting back to them ASAP.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Embracing Students as Consumers, And, Well, Not!

I totally see the students as customers, but that implies I should be rigorous rather than not. My job is manifold: the university pays me to teach, and to teach well, which involves entertaining. But let's not forget, the university also pays me to assign a grade which is meaningful. If I give all A's, I’m not doing my job. And the students are paying me to sign pieces of paper attesting to their abilities. If I bend over backwards for one in a way I can't do for all, I’m not doing my job.

At a research university, if the customer is paying for the brand name recognition of a quality research school, but I spend all my time teaching at the expense of being an active member of the research community, they are not getting their dollar's worth of brand name value to their eventual diploma. Researchers should remember that they are doing their job by being good researchers, not just because that's part of why the university pays you, but by doing so, you are acting in the customer's interest by not deflating the value (here, reputation) of their diploma.

I’m not sure why people see the "students-as-consumers" vision as such a bane. Instead, just follow it to its conclusion. Teaching well and grading fairly are both part of the contract. Inflating a grade or doing anything to over-service one student at the expense of the others is a disservice to the vast majority of your customers. In short, it's more like a tour guide than like a class at a health club, and certainly not a like a personal trainer.

Also, what you're selling is not something that's intrinsic to them (e.g., good abs) but whose value is in the school's reputation, as decided by the community. Therefore, attention to one customer at the expense of the others - or failing to maintain your research reputation in the service of one student - is not good customer service.


I think one reason the student-as-consumer paradigm evokes so much distaste is the degree to which it reflects much of the customer/service provider interaction in American culture. Sure, in a perfect world, people would realize that when they are denied special exemptions, that's because all customers are treated with one standard, and that fairness to the whole customer base is laudable and a sign of a quality business. But this isn't a perfect world. Instead, the mantra of choice is often "the customer is always right", and for many (not all, but enough) customers, that means demands of special treatment above and beyond what is reasonable for a business, let alone fair for the customer base as a whole.

The principle operating here is that the customer's potential revenue allows them to dictate the terms of service in a way that benefits the customer most, regardless of anyone else. I saw plenty of this as a copier jockey while I was an undergrad. Anything from demanding ridiculously deep discounts on jobs that weren't that profitable to start to impossible printing jobs to just cutting in line ahead of other people. At its core, I don't see that as being much different from demanding a better grade or unreasonable makeup opportunities and deadline extensions that the rest of the class doesn't get. And in my experience as an instructor, when you try to explain the fairness side of the issue to the students doing the complaining, they just don't hear you. "Fair" doesn't enter into it for them. "Fair" is for everyone else.

Besides, there's something about the use of money as leverage in a customer service situation that strongly resembles a master/servant relationship, where the customer service provider - held hostage to the dollar - is just the hired help. And you know what? Teachers in higher education may be many things, but we aren't the hired help.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Else Can We Say Except, "Well, Get Your Rock On, Dude"

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Saturday Smackdown From Dr. ClearlyTooStupidForWords

I am now officially sick of T.

T has so totally been there, done that. T is world-weary and slouchy at her grand old age of 19. She is very cute, with wild curly hair that she cultivates into meticulously casual wildness to make sure that everybody knows she's above caring about her looks even though she uses them constantly to try to get what she wants and wears restrictive, revealing clothing. Sure, that carelessly casual slag look is her own brand of feminism.

T is in my studio class, and believes that because she's taken one class on the topic before, she just has better things to do. Of course, being as it's a studio class, she could work to whatever level she'd like on her own projects and go as far with the material and skills as she'd like. Instead, she prefers to do the bare minimum and then complain about how easy everything is for her. Pushing yourself? Why would one wish to do that? When I push her to do more than the minimum, I'm just "picking at her."

T makes it a point to chat to her friends during other people's studio presentations. Because their work just isn't as good as her work, and she's bored. What could she learn from them? Or from my dumb comments to them? When I tell her to shut it, she rolls her eyes. Yeah, kid, I get it. I. Am. So. Stupid. Gah.

Her work, however, isn't really that good, and she could benefit from engaging with her peers and me in a discussion of how to improve. Oh wait. That was my appraisal, and that appraisal means nothing. After all, I just have a PhD in the field, and as we all know, you don't have to be smart to get one of those. Anybody can do it. It's all just simple process any pinhead who can't make it in real world can do. I also have 21 years of professional experience in the field, my projects have won international design awards, and I have been elected by my colleagues in professional practice to be the national chair for our professional association. What would I possibly know about the real world of our profession that T doesn't? Cha! I flinch with embarrassment at how presumptuous I was to think I might have some insights T hasn’t long ago surpassed, effortlessly.

I am in T's doghouse right now, because I gave her a zero on an assignment after she ignored my instructions. Not once. But twice. I let her off the first time, and kindly reminded her I need the material submitted in a particular way. When it came time to grade, she did not followed my instructions--again. When confronted with her zero, she flew into a tantrum: "You should have reminded me again!" Yes, of course. Not only am I jealous of your copious hair and natural talents, dear little T, but my priorities are messed up. You see, I wasted most of this week working on a research report to finish up a sizable, multi-university grant--a grant that provides a living for several of your colleagues in our program. During that time, I was worried about a progress report to the European Commission, the presentation I have to make in a couple weeks in South Africa, and whether my husband has remembered to give our son, who is at home with a viral infection, his medicine.

Silly things, I realize. But what I really should have been doing was sitting at my desk asking myself what T needs me to do. Because when one is near greatness, one must know one's obligations to it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

We Just Work Here: Snooty Sneddon Hits Us One Time on the Non-America Tip

The amount of complaining from the students, and the Bitching by the prof''s a wonder why America is falling so far behind in every aspect, with regards to the global community. Granted some student may very well be able to get up past noon, attend class unkempt, ask very few questions, and do well......but very few indeed.

As Americans, Both your student and Prof's take the easy road, for the most part. There are very few in either group who are truly striving for, and attaining their full potential. The "I want it now" attitude which is so pervasively entrenched in American society is a conundrum unto it's self. While parents either completely ignore their children, or make endless excuses as to why he/she is a special case, your country's Educational institutions are failing miserably. Sure Teacher/Prof's get paid peanuts, but your the one's calling your students monkeys...Ironic isn't it. Bitch Complain, Bitch Complain etc etc while the rest of the world passes you by, and where will America be then? The big bully on the play ground will be the one with the bloody nose asking "howd that happen?"

Its the same with sex, it takes two to tango. Your falling behind in Math, Science, and have always been behind the rest of the world in Languages, and probably always will. Bottom line is this.....Teachers, and Prof's need to get with the times, and teach in an interesting realistic way. Students need to be just that, curious, excited, movers and shakers. Each of you need to do your "JOB", so that the other may do their "JOB"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Last Word: Closing up the "One of the Guys" Posts

The energy I read in the recent posts about "One of the Guys," tells me that the prof who offered the wake-up call pressed a few buttons. Could it be that the good teacher spoke some truth that makes you uncomfortable?
  1. I'm so glad that none of you feel the need to take notes, that you get more out of listening. How's your recall? When you get to the end of the semester, having had 40 or so class lectures, will you remember the details of lecture 23? Writing down what the professor says allows you to repeat to yourself what he/she said - that means you have now entered into the realm of learning and out of the realm of television watching.
  2. You didn't read any books for your history major? Wow! There's something to proclaim to the world! You may have jumped through the hoops, passed your classes and gained your degree - but you're obviously an idiot. You, and your cohorts, have turned undergraduate education into a game of cat and mouse wondering if they'll "catch you" or "find you out." Please, grow up. The only one you are really fooling is yourself. When you seek your job later on, and they see you as or find you to be incompetent and you think, "Why didn't I read that text book then?", you'll know what I mean.
  3. You dress like a thug and you think that sleeping in everyday until 12 noon is cool and there's nothing wrong with that. Okay, sweetie, let me clue you in on a few facts. Studies are showing that schools with dress codes actually produce students who accomplish more than those that don't. The way most of my students dress, the lack of personal hygiene, and the constant struggle for some to stay awake at 12:20 in the afternoon through a 55 minute class tells me that they're not ready for adulthood. You have put your biological clocks through a tsunami because you don't have someone telling you to go to bed. You dress like a refugee and smell like...well...shit! Your self esteem is in the proverbial toilet. In a word, your pathetic appearance and demeanor tell me you don't care about your self. So, tell me, why should I care about you or give you any respect?
  4. When you finally get out to the "real world", you'll see what we've been talking about for the last four years. We professors, by the way, do live in the real world. We pay bills, have relationships, eat dinners with friends and, from time to time, have bad days. You will step out of our hallowed grounds of learning where you've been protected and enabled by this dysfunctional system and find yourself having to pay rent, meet your student loan obligations, experience a tremendous amount of loneliness in your first two years out because you won't have dorm buddies two steps away anymore, and you'll find that most people sleep at night and work during the daylight hours. You'll have to show up to work on time, limit your absences, get reports handed in on time without excuse, and be judged by your superiors more than twice a year. (Yes, there are others superior to you - no matter what your helicopter parents have told you!) You won't have time to cram. And those helicopters won't be able to fly into the office and threaten your boss to get you out of a jamb that you and your idiocy put yourself into!
  5. Finally, a little respect goes a long way. You may really detest your professor and find his class more boring than counting the number of tiles in your bedroom ceiling. Too bad! He's not there to entertain you. Class is not a video game, a porn site or a South Park episode. The prof earned her doctorate. She has worked in her field probably longer than you've been on this planet. He has something to offer you, to give you insight into your pathetic little life and, hopefully, make you a more intelligent human being. Stop the puling and posturing, stop trying to find the loopholes, stop thinking that college is hoop jumping. Get your lazy ass out of bed at a regular hour; shit, shower and shave before you come to class; buy a pen and a notebook (maybe you can give up a couple of bottles of beer over the next year to finance that purchase!); teach yourself how to write with a pen; buy the books for your courses and read them. If you're very brave, you could actually review your notes and your reading together and see if they make sense to you, write down an original question or thought to share with the class, and work out so you can lift up your arm (with your hand attached) to signal the prof that you have something worthwhile to contribute.

"One of the Guys" Makes Her Own Case

First off, I have been a university student the moment I stepped into my first class. Secondly, I am far from book-phobic. One look in my room will show that. My dresser has more books in it then clothes. I not only have the required books for my classes, but have purchased several different books on each topic from outside sources. I actually spend a lot of time in the library reading up on the topic discussed during the lecture.

I may sleep past noon, but when my classmates are out getting wasted till 3 am, I am preparing for the next day of classes. I may not take notes but I do read ahead in the text-book and mark up the text with my thoughts and underlines, so that I can compare what the professor says to what my thoughts were on the material. I am aware classes will get harder, that I might have to crack open the notebook during class, or better yet get permission to start recording the lectures so that I can have the best of both worlds.

I am also aware that I might have to take a morning class because that is the only time it is offered with a professor who is known for making students actually deserve their A.

I have had it with professors writing students off after one semester. I have had it with those who judge students based off of the work they think a student is doing. My friends may become fry-cooks, but I make my friends based off of their character not their grades or their jobs.

My alarm clock is more then loud enough. I don't have the option of going to a 1:30 church service, so I am up bright and early at least once a week. Which by the way I also go to with wet hair, jeans and a hoodie. I figure it shouldn't matter what I look like on the outside; it is the inside that counts.

A Very Big Mail Night Yields A Lot of Support For "One Of The Guys"

Your professor who responded to that freshman with the high GPA needs to get over himself. I speak from experience; I took my degree from a major national college with a 3.45 with similar study habits. I took 5-7 courses per semester, which allowed me to branch out from my history major (for which I did none of the reading) into computer science (took no notes, didn't use the books) and Japanese, for which I probably studied the most (albeit that says very little).

It turns out that every curve has its outliers. Re-reading his response, I don't think he even read what she claimed and switched into tirade mode after the second paragraph. What part of "upper level courses" brings to mind phrases like "high school rehash" or intro-level courses? Further, where did that bit about tuition come from? I don't see a word of her posting that even implies the consumer attitude of entries past.

Seriously, some people out there don't need to kill themselves to do well in college. Get over it.


Given that the original poster is a second-semester freshman, it would seem reasonable to assume that she is indeed a university student. It's interesting that the "prof" makes comments about the poster being a "deluded, book-phobic 'hands-on' learner"without having ever met the student.

I also noticed that the student clearly says that she was taking upper-level courses as a freshman, yet 'prof' claims, "... semester one was a somnambulistic haze of high school rehash and/or some intro-teaching prof asleep at the wheel."

The professor also comments,"I assume we are not shutting down the library." First, CS students are often quite nocturnal, and second, many assignments in computer science courses involve lab work and wouldn't be completed in a library. I find it ironic that 'prof' says,"Listen to me," but apparently can't even bother to read the student's post carefully.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"One of the Guys" Hopes to Break the Stereotype, But An RYS Correspondent Says She Needs a Wake-Up Call

From a freshman:

As a female computer science major who is 'one of the guys,' I have to overcome a lot of first impressions. I don't sit toward the front of the class, and the majority of the guys I hang out with are on academic probation. I come to class wearing a hoodie and old jeans everyday, with my hair still wet from the shower. (I don't wake up early enough to dry it even though it is a 1:30 class.)

My handwriting is awful, along with my spelling and grammar. I typically don't take notes since I get more out of listening to the lectures without having to think about writing down what is said. I have a pretty awful habit of not doing the suggested homework.

But a quick look at my transcript will show you that I break the stereotype. I am taking upper-level courses as a freshman and I have a 3.85 GPA. The biggest difference between my friends on academic probation and me is simple. I am here to get as much out of these four years as I can.


From a prof:

Let me see if I have this correct. You have one semester notched on your transcript, so now you're under the impression this qualifies you as a university student. Everything that you enumerate-- poor study skills, the self-prescribed pass on note taking (let me guess, you're one of those deluded, book-phobic "hands-on" learners), the abysmal grammar and spelling, sleeping past noon (I assume we are not shutting down the library) -- all speak to a trainwreck no later than your sophomore year.

I have had it with second semester frosh opting for cruise control because semester one was a somnambulistic haze of high school rehash and/or a free pass from some intro-teaching prof asleep at the switch. Listen carefully. Your friends are fry-cooks in waiting. Somewhere, as we speak, their name tags are being pressed. You may survive, but you will send each a postcard from your graduation; provided they have an address.

Please do not confuse paying tuition with paying dues. You have a long road ahead of you; much of it you cannot even see or imagine.You may indeed have brains under that damp hooded mop of shampooed hair, but habits of action are going to carry you to commencement. Ditch the losers. Purchase a louder alarm clock. Move up a row in class. And let's get to work.

An RYS Correspondent Offers The Smackdown

Allow me to introduce Mr. C.

Mr. C. is allegedly a member of one of my remedial Comp I sections. Mr. C. is ALSO a prominent member of a sports team at my institution.

He embodies every stereotype of the dumb scholarship jock who relies on his team standing and his coaches to make sure he successfully navigates the swirls and eddies of higher education. He is abrasive, arrogant and, if I can be forgiven an aesthetic judgment, not particularly attractive. This is due as much to his disagreeable disposition as it is to the unfortunate arrangement of his features and his truly epic acne.

Mr. C. arrived in my class with an admission slip and a note from his academic advisor, explaining that he was on double-secret, last-chance academic probation. Last semester, his GPA was Flounder-esque: a 1.4 overall. (How he maintained his sports eligibility is a mystery best pondered with a good bottle of Knockando, straight up.)

This past week, I had to sit down with Mr. C.'s advisor and coaches to explain that, six weeks into the semester, it was all but statistically impossible for him to attain anything above a "C."

What, they wanted to know, was Mr. C. doing that was so bad?

  • He spends a great deal of time picking at the zits on his face and wiping the effluent on his desk. Ditto for any finger-trout that he is constantly fishing about in his nostrils for.
  • He has yet to actually bring book, paper or pen to class.
  • He has failed three quizzes, and neglected to turn in two papers (out of the four that comprise his grade for this semester).
  • He engages in vigorous and enthusiastic scratching of any nether regions that need attention, with appropriate sound effects. I wonder if he has a fungus or small parasite problem.
  • He emits obnoxious racist and sexist comments as often as he emits foul aromas, both north and south.

In short, he is disruptive and ignorant, and shows no shame or indications that he wishes to improve himself.

His head coach explained that he was damn important to the school's team, and his scholarship would be toast if he got below a "B+" in my class.

I admit that I lost my temper -- just a bit.

Was the scholarship committee willing to foot all of Mr. C.'s bills for the rest of his life, I inquired? Because, quite frankly. Mr. C.'s communications skills rank somewhere below "troglodyte" at this time, and I seriously doubt he could become gainfully employed even at a fast-food joint.

The coaches hemmed and hawed. Could I find him a tutor from amongst the other students, who would help him?

Well, in as much as the other students -- including a young man who is on the team with him -- find him personally repellent, probably not. No one is willing to sit near him, much less work with him.

The meeting ended on a very dissatisfactory note, with no real resolution. His advisor indicated that she might try to fit him into another class...but I remain dubious.

I'm probably going to be saddled with this zero all semester, and it makes me nauseous.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Delicious Errors In First Impressions

We all have expectations of students based on our first impressions and the thing that I love about the first exam of a semester is that you get a real chance to see how those impressions and expectations match up to reality. Usually we're right. There's the guy who sits in the third row and is always raising his hand for clarification or to offer an example, or the kid who sits in the back row and usually take a mid-morning nap. There's the girl who flubbed everything up last semester, yet decided to take another course from me, who thought that going out of state to watch the Superbowl would be a good idea - the night before the exam, in the middle of a blizzard. Not surprisingly, she got a zero.

But then there are the ones that don't live up to expectations. They're the ones that make this game so much fun. Like the guy, whose appearance and demeanor give every indication that he's a "dumb jock," yet he earned the highest score on the exam. Or the kid, whose name is actually a synonym for "brilliant," who somehow, as a living contradiction, managed to earn the lowest grade on the exam. Or the girl who likes to be one of the guys, sitting spread eagle in the back of the class with her ball cap on, surrounded by the riff-raff, who blew her compadres out of the water. The surprises are an important reason I teach and they make it more fun.

They should also be a reminder that no matter how long you've been doing this, first impressions are never a perfect science.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Press Blackout

About a year ago, when the current moderators took over RYS, we made a decision not to entertain press inquiries. There was, as most of you know, a tremendous flurry of national media attention for this site during its nascent period. The original moderator was quoted widely - and we thought brilliantly - in outlets all over: NY Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, NY Post, the Chronicle, Village Voice, countless campus newspapers, and newspapers in Australia, England, and elsewhere.

The original moderator did his best to explain the genesis of RYS, and a good deal of his time and energy was spent doing phone interviews on a nearly daily basis.

But when we took over, we didn't feel as though we had any right or obligation to explain why RYS existed or what it was for. The readers drove the content, and we felt as if we were truly just moderators - nobody here was interested in explaining why we came together to talk about the topics that keep RYS humming.

The press inquiries tend to ebb and flow. For a while we only got a few a week, but recently there's been an upturn, and the current methodology has been for writers and editors to request that we turn over to them some email addresses from recent or frequent posters to the site, so they can be asked about RYS and its mission.

We have not done such a thing, except for a couple of occasions when frequent correspondents have actually asked us to put them in touch with some of the folks in question. To reveal a site secret, we do not keep a list of the posts that come to us. As the moderators and our assistant all operate out of a single email account, we keep no records of past emails to us. We answer a lot of mail, as I'm sure you'd imagine, but we don't even keep a database of the folks we hear from most. (We did collect addresses last June in order to update folks for the Fall return of the site, but even that list is gone.)

Of course those of you who took part in the "Excuses" article (a shared venture with the Chronicle) know that the material made its way to them, but that was something we were up front about from the beginning.

But we wanted to let you know that we're not passing along any information about those of you who write to us, as we feel that would be an inappropriate invasion of the trust we feel we have with our readers.

We Hear This Idea A Lot, But Are Never Keen On The Image of Us Handing Out Towels

Whenever I detect the student-as-consumer attitude in my class, I tell my students that if they must think of themselves as "customers" at the university, they should employ a "health-club" or "gym" analogy.

Does paying for membership in a health club automatically entitle you to washboard abs? If you never go to your cardio kickboxing class, or when you do go, you mostly just slack off in the back row daydreaming or checking out the butts in front of you, and when you go home you stuff your face with pizza and ice cream instead of a healthy meal, would you complain to the health cub management when your own butt doesn't get tighter?

And if you go to every one of your yoga classes, and try to practice at home, and you still can't achieve the difficult positions, would you complain to the health-club management that the class is too hard?

If you would, can I go with you? Because I really want to see how that works out for you.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Where We Ponder How Ponderous It Is, and Offer a New Call for Posts - Old School Smackdown?

Readers tell us that the site's been a little drab for the past couple of weeks. "Ponderous," we've heard. "Turgid," we've heard. "Tedius," we've heard.

Some folks want us to have more "fun," to "lighten up," and to get "the stick" out of our asses.

Well, this is your site, folks. We post stuff that comes to us. We're not creating any agenda here. We report the news as it comes in from the outlying districts.

One note we got last night reads: "What's wrong there in RYS-Land? Why all the boring posts lately. Can't you liven things up with some old school smackdown? If I wanted heavy lifting and heavy thought, I'd go to a faculty meeting. Let it rip! Let's rate some students!"

We Love Student Letters

Hey there Professor Jones,

I had some concerns that I would like to bring up to you. I am really concerned about your class. I took Introduction to X to complete my general education requirement, along with many of my classmates, but this class seems like more than I can handle. I was expecting the class to be a historical aspect of X, not an in-depth look. A few of my suite mates are claiming how easy their Introduction to X classes are and I was wondering why I got the raw end of the deal.

Please don't get me wrong; I am not judging your teaching style. It's just that I am very concerned. For the test, I studied for a combined 5 hours, read every reading assignment, attended each class, and every went to one an office hour for tutoring once. And with all that, I still was unprepared for that test. I don't know what else I can do?

I got the feeling many times through that test that you were just out to trick us. There were many straight forward questions, but some answers were ridiculously difficult. And those A-K multiple choice options seemed too difficult for a class of freshmen who are solely taking the class for the general education requirement.

In short, I am just scared about this class. I cannot afford a bad grade in this class. I am willing to work hard, but you make it seem like we need to eat, sleep, and live X to succeed in this course. I have two girls in the floor above my just bring to my attention how hard your course is (they both failed in last semester and they're intelligent women).

Is there anything you can do to help me? I would appreciate anything.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Five Readers Want to Talk About Research and Publishing

I will be the first one to admit, I have been know to complain with the best of them about deciphering university policy or departmental norms concerning ‘what it takes’ to get tenure.

How does one weigh the differences between first and solo-authored publications? What if you have several publications in mid-level journals, and someone else fewer but published in the top tier journals? How many grants do I need to have to show the university I have value? Does teaching really ‘count’? I have heard on many occasions, “Good teaching will never get you tenure, but poor teaching may keep you from getting tenure.” Let’s just all gather together and read the tea leaves…

But regardless of the countless discussions with my colleagues, one question I have never asked was, “what is the point of research and publication?” I can only assume this question is from someone who has not yet earned a Ph.D. in their chosen discipline; someone who is unfamiliar with the process.

Simply put, the purpose of earning one’s Ph.D. is the production (research), dissemination (publication) and teaching of knowledge. Clearly, there are a variety of ways a person can utilize their advanced degree (e.g., university, research shop, think tank, public agency, private sector). What is reflected in the majority of our complaints is the difficulty in finding balance among these competing tasks.


In response to the perennial adjunct: There are many good reasons to publish. Historian James Axtell set out twenty-five of them in an essay that every prospective professor, regardless of field, should read.

A few choice points from Axtell's piece: Beyond the whole "advancement of learning" thing -which I don't mean to dismiss; it's why I became a historian rather than a stockbroker -publishing keeps us honest. There's no re-certification in higher education. Regularly presenting our work to peer review reinforces habits of scholarly honesty that could get lost if all we did was teach ignorant undergrads. And the professor as researcher acts as a model to students: really mastering a field requires seeking out new knowledge and criticizing received views, not merely repeating what is already known.


Tell anyone coming into the academy that they must publish, but that it means nothing.

Imagine that there is a large produce scale inside the conference room at each and every tenure and promotion meeting, and you'll be on your way. Fill that scale up with enough chapters and you're on your way.

I've been reviewing people for tenure for 10 years now, and I have never read a single word of their monographs and books - beyond the title perhaps. It's a carny game. Yes, you must publish, but it almost doesn't matter what, with whom, or how.

Anyone who tells you differently is at an Ivy or simply deluding themselves.


At last someone has dared broach the research question. In an increasingly competitive student market, how can self-serving heads of school keep toeing the line that research rules, regardless of the teaching fallout? I work in a very large journalism department, and it has always been the same: money and prestige can only be gained through research and publication, and undergrad classes will never have priority over these endeavours.

But when there’s only a handful of new research students each year and in-house journals that no one else reads versus 300 or so beginning undergrads, the research myopia seems not only misguided, but a serious threat to what is surely a more reliable (and historically consistent) money maker.


Academic publishing has long been a joke. We all can pretend that scholarship and research may fire our own teaching, but really it's just masturbatory indulgence. I don't write for any other reason than to thicken my tenure portfolio. I rarely write about things that interest me; I never write about anything that would mean a bit to my sophomore seminar students.

I saw the way the game was laid out when I started grad school, and I've followed the rules as they have been. I've worked my way through monographs of my favorite professors and they almost always make my vibrant mentors seem like dunderheads and dolts. They have learned a language that obsfucates enough to sufficiently charm the editors and readers at the various outlets. It's ridiculous, but at this point in my career (tenure year minus one), I'm not about to suggest the system be changed.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Someone Wonders About the Point of Research

Can someone please explain the importance of research and publishing? At the moment I am a perennial adjunct, but hope to change that someday with a full-time teaching position. I used to work for a scholarly publisher and find the entire publishing end of the eduation arena a little ridiculous. Although we published textbooks (the big money makers), we published huge numbers of monographs (books no one reads unless you are in the education field and subject area).

We used to send review copies to all the education journals, which were created and run by professors. Aren't the pressures of publishing self-created? I am not even sure this relates to every field of study - a painting professor has to show or publish? Publishing is a job within itself and from what I have seen colleges require a high course load per semester. I just would like to understand what constitutes publishing (journal or book) and why it is so important aside from college prestige.

Oh, But if It Were Only So Much Fun - An Exercise in Letter Writing

Classes at Elite State U started in mid-January. A week and a half later, one of my students approached me and asked me to write a letter of recommendation for a program she wanted to apply to (that, incidentally, had to be mailed within the next 48 hours). I explained to her that it was just too early in our relationship for this big step. She seemed surprised and confided that she thought she had made “enough of an impression” on me during the three whole class sessions we’d shared to warrant a "glowing recommendation." I suggested she seek out a reference from someone who could attest to knowing her for more than a fortnight…

Just for fun, however, I decided to write the letter and submit it to RYS. Don’t misunderstand: I’m happy to write a letter of recommendation for any student who gets a B+ or better in my class and I think I write pretty zippy letters for the students who have known me for at least a semester. My hope is that this can be a warning to other students to wait at least until after mid-terms before asking a new instructor for a reference.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am thrilled to be able to write this letter of recommendation for Name Withheld. I may not know much about Ms. Withheld, but I can nonetheless strongly encourage you to admit her to your program. You may or may not be sorry if you pass up on a student like her. Although I have only known her for ten days, I can attest that Ms. Withheld looks just like all my other students. Not only that, but she usually sits near the front of the room. I know how hard it is to find warm bodies to fill those seats in the first few rows, but if she is admitted to your program, you won’t have to worry about filling one of them on most days.

I first met Ms. Withheld last Wednesday when she presented me with a sob-story about why I should disregard the waitlist and immediately enroll her in my (full) class. As sob-stories go, it was one of the better ones I’ve heard in five years of teaching. So much so that I went against my better judgment and admitted her even though she was number 23 on a 30 person waitlist. The ability to tell a convincing sob-story is a skill that Ms. Withheld will be able to use in whatever endeavor she finds herself in. I have not yet graded any of her work but I can easily say that Ms. Withheld is in the top 100% of students I have taught at Elite State U. This puts her somewhere within a very strong group and means that she will or will not be able to excel in your program.

Regardless of her inevitable success or failure, I know she is just what you are looking for. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

Very Truly Yours,
Some Department
Elite State U

P.S. She also has perfect attendance.

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Theory About Science, the Humanities, Authority, and Collaborative Education + A Quick Dissent

I've been reading RYS for a while now, and I do share some student gripes with your regular contributors (notably concerning the whiners who are constantly searching for special treatment). However, my students generally address me as "Sir" (even while whining), speak respectfully to me in class and at office hours, and write e-mails to me in complete sentences, often taking the time to start with "Dear Professor."

For the most part, they are attentive and appropriately dressed in class. I was wondering whether the students at my school (a middle-of-the-pack large public university) were somehow more refined than average. I find this proposition doubtful, since I did graduate school at the nearby so-called "elite" university, where my experience as a teaching assistant was similar. However, after reading "Rachel at the R1", I suddenly realized what the difference might be.

Both I and Rachel are faculty members in the sciences; Rachel and I both like our students. Meanwhile, when I read the "student behavior" complaints, they generally have keywords (like "doing the readings" and "class discussion") that indicate the poster is in the arts or social sciences. This observation is, of course, informal. And I'm not trying to provoke a science-versus-arts flamewar: the students are different, one group is not necessarily better than the other. RYS could have a disproportionate number of posters in the arts, and the science types would complain more if given the opportunity. But that doesn't stop me from suggesting a theory.

Science education is not collaborative. There is no discussion; instead, I teach and the students listen. There is not much point in a student arguing that E should really equal mc cubed, because that is verifiably false. This mode of interaction reinforces the authority of the professor and promotes conformity among the students. The authority relationship of the professor over the student is thus reinforced, which may lead the student to act more deferentially towards the professor.


I must say that I would beg to differ with the writer above. I am a graduate student in Mathematics at the University of Connecticut and have run across many students that do not care to read the book and try the exercises before they come to class. The students constantly complain that I do not go over every type of problem they see on the homework, even after I've told them that this would be impossible and that if they have questions they should come to office hours.

They call me "Dude" and "Hey, You." (I dress up to teach, too. Most days a button-up shirt and a matching pair of slacks.) They always ask me if the material I am discussing will be on the exam. Basically, the gripes of "Arts" instructors may apply to "Sciences" instructors, too. I also take offense to separating the academic fields of study into two groups, called Arts and Sciences. It is utterly absurd because there are many Mathematicians who would consider what they do as "art."

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Because You Don't Get Enough Spam On Your Own

Dearest one,

I am Mrs Gloria Pelaez A complete citizen of Philippines . I was the Wife of Late Mr Emmanuel N.Pelaez of Philippines he worked with America Embassy as An Ambassador for years and hold Political positions in Philippines before he died in the year July 27 2003. We were married for 19 years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days. Before his death, we were both living together happilly with his relatives . but after his death life turn miserable for me through my husband relatives. whom has swear to see me dying at all cost.

Before my husband Death I inherited a total sum of (9million United state dollars) from my late Husband when he was in his Sick bed, This money which is concealed in a metallic trunk box is deposited with a security and finance company in Cote d' ivoire under a secret arrangement as a family treasure. This means that the security company does not know the content of this box that was shipped from the Philippine to Cote d' ivoire under a diplomatic coverage.
Recently l Fell Sick and my Doctor told me that from all the test conducted on my health, Without and Urgent and a specialist From your Country I am not going to last long, expecially, due to my Throat cancer and stroke. But what disturbs me most now is stroke.

Having known my condition, I decided to Contact you and Reveal to you in person Regarding my Heritage from my Late husband after my late husband brothers has neglected me and has well sit on my late husband properties and his bank accounts.hence why i am seeking your to help me Secure the release of this Fund from were it was deposited and utilize this money the way I am going to instruct. and also help me to your Country for best Medical Treatment. I took this decision because I don't have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives Have kept me under dureces just to know the wereabout of this said fund, after they have inherited all my late Husband Properties because l could'nt bear a Child for their Late brother. I don't want my husband's hard earned money WILL to me to be misused or taken from me by my late husband wicked brothers and use for their own selfish interest and in an ungodly manner.

I don't need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health, and because of the presence of my husband's relatives around me sometimes. I don't want them to know about this development.

As soon as I receive your reply in my next mail I shall give you the contact of the Security and finance company in Ivory coast and the Authorization Certificate which is the Certificate of deposit that they gave me on the very day when the box of money was deposited under their company to enable you call them and give them your address for the immediate shipment of the box to you as the original- beneficiary of this fund.

I want you to always pray for me because God work in misterious ways. My happiness is that if this fund is used for the less previlage one. Any delay in your reply will give me room in sourcing for another person individual for this same purpose. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I stated herein. Hoping to hear from you soon . Indicate your intrest.

God bless you.
Mrs Gloria Pelaez

Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Student's Perspective on the Research Conundrum

From the perspective of a student who's honestly just trying to get his money's worth out of four years of undergrad, I appreciate the perspective and honesty of Rachel and others on the research vs. teaching issue. The knee jerk part of me is bound to immediately advocate teaching as the essential over research at all costs: I fear the professors who are too obsessed with the sub-concentrations of their fields to have the breadth to teach intro courses and are willing to help us lowly freshmen.

I come from a self-labeled "medium sized research university," and much of what goes on, especially in my department (political science) is to a certain degree specialized. However, I think that a balance must be struck between these two extremes to keep professors personable while keeping them engaged in their fields. The worst professor I've ever had is the one who placed the entire burden of teaching on his TA. In his case, that meant showing up late for classes when a quiz was administered, regularly being absent from lecture, playing irrelevant videos in place of lecture, etc. This prof assigned six multiple choice quizzes and one final - no papers, no discussion - while other sections of the same introductory class taught by different profs went far more in depth. I came to the obvious conclusion that this prof cared naught about his undergraduates and spent most of his time on his "research" (which was more like feeding quotes to newspapers than it was actual academic study.)

The best professor I've ever had actually had a heavy research load - he was brought to the university to head a center for his area and has written extensively on it. The way he went about applying his background, however, produced a number of advantages. First, he assigned his own book only as an optional text (bad prof had us read the whole thing and it was terrible.) Second, his experience in the research field lead him to choose primary and recommended texts that he not only knew extensively, but knew their authors as well. (While clearly, not every prof has this luxury, I was very happy the professor didn't saddle the class with a $50 - 100 text he didn't care about.) Third, he made the assignments for the course research-extensive, allowed us to travel down the same paths he once did, and offered extensive commentary on research essays not only about my writing but about the balance in my source citations, points I may have missed, etc.

I came away from the course not only with much greater knowledge about the subject than I could get from reading a book, but also having learned a very important skill. It is not coincidental, I don't think, that this professor's favorite rant was about the Ivory Tower nature of academia. As long as a professor remembers that his or her students are people, many of them are eager to take the course and at least some actually want to learn, then research does not have to be a vice.

Friday, February 2, 2007


The administration at my university (and many other schools as well) has started referring to students as “the customer.” I understand the need to attract, recruit, retain and grow our student population. Of course, we have to have students to teach, duh. But this student-as-consumer attitude is folly.

Treating the student as consumer creates an atmosphere where they begin to believe they are paying for a degree, not earning a degree. They start to tell us that we have an obligation to pass them. We do not. We have an obligation to teach them how to learn. That is it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not the jerk professor who just says, “deal with it” when a student comes to me for help. I will work with them one on one, as much as I can, to help them when they are stuck. They must be willing to work at it and not expect me to just throw some information at them that they can memorize and reguritate onto exams. The worst thing a student can say is “I don’t get it,” or “I am lost.” At least come to me and say, “I’ve read the chapter, and the first thing that I do not understand is…” That shows me you are taking me seriously.

Do I have an obligation to pass a student just because they say they are working very hard? No.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Idealism Hanging On

While I may still be one to hold idealistic thoughts of what I do, I do believe that in some ways I reach the students in that imagined, Robin Williams/ Dead Poets' Society way. I know that the majority of my students don't give two shits about my class, but the few who do make it worth it. I am not there in the circle of tables or standing on my desk yelling "O Captain, My Captain!" for the ones who don't care. I am there for the ones who light up at the new perspectives they see through the assigned reading. And I am left feeling sorry for the few who didn't do the reading and now don't understand.

Yes, my views my seem very Pollyanna-ish, but it really does 'make me glad' when students ask what classes I teach the next semester or I find out that my classes are full and there is a waiting-line. I don't have the full-time, tenured job that makes me feel important, I have the returning student with hunger for more in their eyes. That's my thanks and that is my Dead Poets' moment.

Is Attendance Our Obligation As Well?

I hate my attendance policy, but I will continue to use it. Now, when I taught a course at a "real university" while on sabbatical I did not enforce attendance. Indeed, the best student rarely came to class and students who struggled with the material were bright enough to know they needed to come to class. It is not so at my regular place of employment.

I have never had a student who missed class often do well in one of my courses. When I started imposing an attendance policy in my freshman and sophomore level classes the pass rates went up. I believe that students have an obligation to the tax payers to go to class as needed, and that in my present context I have an obligation to make my students show up.

"The teacher is not to serve the pupil; rather, both are the servants of their culture."
Herman Hesse (1877-1962), from The Glass Bead Game.