Student power and the end of reason

Posted: February 8, 2022 by chrisharper in Uncomfortable Truths
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By Christopher Harper

Although I know that colleges have been bending over backward to kowtow to students, I didn’t realize how far until recently.

In 27 years of teaching, I’ve never had a student officially challenge a grade. Until now.

A student, who was described as a “star” of the Department of Journalism at Temple, took my course in media law. She was a dreadful pain, consistently filing late assignments or asking for extensions.

By the end of the course, others followed suit, apparently driven by the less-than-stringent rules offered during the pandemic. In fact, I allowed for up to a grade of “C-” for assignments turned in within a week of the deadline.

By the end of the semester, I’d had my fill. Two days before the final assignment was due, I announced that no late submissions would be accepted.

The “star” was the only one who sent the material in late. I gave her a zero, earning her a “C” in the class.

In an email, I explained to her, “Over the course of the semester, you have asked for exemptions, extensions, and preferred treatment. On Saturday, I informed the class that no extensions would be granted. Deadlines in journalism are critical to its endeavor. It’s a truism you should learn. I will not accept your submission because it is past the deadline. It may be the most important lesson you learn from this class.”

Instead, the student learned how to work the system. She appealed the grade because I had changed the “contract” of the syllabus by eliminating late submissions.

Even more amazing is that my department chair ruled in the student’s favor.

“[T]he last-minute deadline change, in this case, goes against what is spelled out in the syllabus, which is a contract between a professor and students,” the chair wrote.

I didn’t change the deadline. I simply refused to accept late submissions.

What’s more important here is that a syllabus has somehow become a formal contract, which is unlikely to hold up in any court. Moreover, students have become consumers and teachers are products.

College is no longer a learning experience but akin to buying a car.

Thankfully, my time as a journalism professor comes to an end in June. If colleges are aiding and abetting such students and hiring administrators as consumer advocates, journalism and other professions will get even worse. Now that’s downright scary!

  1. Artur Banaszkiewicz says:

    Thank you for sharing this experience of yours, Chris. A valuable lesson from an academic, or presumably, more broadly, from the academic side. Fully understanding the student was a pain (many are), I need to defend her right to expect that she might bend another deadline as she had before in your class. It is a matter of consistency and human beings wishing to use every help they can (and as little energy as possible) to arrive on a goal.
    I have been dealing with student’ “crisis” academic cases and what I find often is exactly this: once they’re used to flexibility, the tend to expect it all way through.
    To be clear: I am not defending her in general, as she failed to submit within the deadline.
    What does the syllabus formally say?
    I also agree, purchasing an academic programme is becoming a little bit like buying a car. Studying, should’t be simply like driving, but the simpler and clearer the rules, the better the experience. Le’s remember, students should focus on taking in and consolidating by producing, not gaming the system, but the assignments, deadlines etc. are part of the contractual process to get what they pay for.

  2. Andrew X says:

    Glaringly obvious proof that “universities” etc are not providing education or bewtowing wisdom, they are simply purveyors of a product: credentials. Pay your membership fees to the tune of $50,000 to $250,000, earn your literal paper ticket into mid-and-upper level management across the board. Any education you might happen to pick up along the way is entirely happenstance.

    Now look around at our managerial class as a whole.