Professor’s tough love manifesto

In A Tough-Love Manifesto for Professors in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas H. Benton, an English professor, argues that professors are setting low expectations, enabling “a student culture of self-indulgence.”

At many institutions, courses have been gutted to the point that students receive high grades for minimal effort, and the lowest grade many professors can risk assigning is a “B+.” Even that will produce imperious complaints from students who think they are destined for greatness: “I worked really hard. Your class is not fair. Raise my grade or I’m taking it to the provost. Just wait till you get your evaluation!”

The consumer mentality of students results in their desiring less rigorous instruction because they are paying more for it. They use the cost of tuition — which, I acknowledge, is far too high — as a justification for lowering standards. So they will pay again later when they discover that their degrees are a form of inflated currency and that employers will not treat them like little geniuses but expect them to actually work without complaining. Even if one accepts the instrumentalist view of education, we do our students no favors by letting them leave with so little knowledge and so much attitude.

Counting teaching assistants and adjuncts, “it’s probably safe to say that more than two-thirds of college teaching is now done by people who are routinely punished for maintaining standards. The professional survival of untenured faculty members depends on processing large numbers of students without making waves.”

Benton has just received tenure so he can practice tough-love teachng without fear of poor evaluations affecting his career. I notice he’s still writing under a pseudonym, however,

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  1. Just because he has tenure doesn’t mean he’s immune. Some schools “care enough” about student evaluations that getting promoted to full professor requires sucking up to students.

  2. The cure is very simple. Base the course grade on exams written and graded by someone other than the instructor. This will work for most lower-level undergraduate courses.

    Another option is to have the instructor rank student performance and have the department supply the curve.

  3. It would be really cool if prospective employers could find out which courses taken by their applicants were taught by hard-nosed profs vs by wimps, so they could put GPAs in proper perspective…