Grading the prof: An ‘F’ for insensitivity

A group of black students at Emory are demanding that students be asked to report their professors’ “microaggressions” in course evaluations, reports the Emory Wheel. If the demands are met, students also would be asked: “Do you think that this professor fits into the vision of Emory University being a community of care for individuals of all racial, gender, ability, and class identities?”

Black students protest at Emory University in Atlanta.

Black students protest at Emory University in Atlanta.

Students’ responses “would help to ensure that there are repercussions or sanctions for racist actions performed by professors.”

(Emory is a “community of care” for people of all abilities? I thought it was a selective university for high-ability students.)

“A microaggression can be unintentional,” writes the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Catherine Sevcenko. “Students don’t agree on what constitutes a microaggression. Under these conditions, “university-level teaching would simply be impossible.”

Surveying students is a lousy way to evaluate professors’ teaching, according to two new studies, reports NPR.

Student rating often are “the only method a university uses to monitor the quality of teaching,” writes Anya Kamenetz.

Fewer than half of students complete the survey form, according to An Evaluation of Course Evaluations. Very happy or very unhappy students are more likely to respond, says Philip Stark, a Berkeley statistics prof.

When results are averaged, the professor with lots of very high and very low ratings looks like the one that everyone rates “satisfactory.”

Michele Pellizzari, an economics professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, believes “course evaluations may … measure, and thus motivate, the opposite of good teaching,” writes Kamenetz.

In an experiment in Milan, Pellizzari measured economics students’ cognitive skills, then evaluated their professors’ teaching ability by how well students did in the next course in the sequence.

The better the professors were, as measured by their students’ grades in later classes, the lower their ratings from students.

Most students appeared to dislike tougher teachers, even if the hard work paid off in the next class. However, classes with highly skilled students gave high marks to highly skilled teachers, the study found.

“An easy-A prof may earn five stars in return for handing out good grades,” writes Kamenetz. But research suggest leniency “does the students no long-term favors.”

Scary snowflakes: Why profs fear their students

I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me, writes a university instructor — under a pseudonym — in Vox. In nine years of teaching, he’s seen students gain “the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance,” writes “Edward Schlosser.”

“While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate,” writes Schlosser, who doesn’t have tenure. Consumers — formerly known as students — might complain.

All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis —from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

So it’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas — they refuse to engage them, period.

Oxford canceled an abortion debate because it would have imperiled the “welfare and safety of our students” to hear both sides of the issue, notes Schlosser.

Hampshire College disinvited an Afrobeat band band that included too many white people. It would not have been “safe and healthy” for students.

“Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated,” writes Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis, who was accused of Title IX discrimination for an essay defending sexual relationships between faculty and students and a subsequent tweet. After an Orwellian investigation, Kipnis was cleared of charges she’d created a hostile environment for students who’d charged a male professor of sexual assault.

Campus censorship is the feds’ fault, writes Robby Soave.

Teachers, profs disagree on college readiness

College readiness is in the eye of the beholder: 89 percent of high school teachers think their students are “well” or “very well” prepared for college in their subject, but only 26 percent of professors say first-year students are well prepared for entry-level courses, according to the 2012 ACT National Curriculum Survey.

Two-thirds of teachers who were aware of the Common Core State Standards said they will need to change their current curriculum no more than slightly in response to the standards, the survey found.

In Colorado, 40 percent of first-year college students required at least one remedial course in 2012, including 66 percent of students who enrolled in community colleges and 24 percent at four-year institutions.  Among unprepared students, 51 percent required remediation in mathematics, 31 percent in writing and 18 percent in reading.

Who killed the liberal arts?

    Who Killed the Liberal Arts?  Joseph Epstein blames his fellow professors in a Weekly Standard essay.

    (Professors) in their hunger for relevance and their penchant for self-indulgence, began teaching books for reasons external to their intrinsic beauty or importance, and attempted to explain history before discovering what actually happened. They politicized psychology and sociology, and allowed African-American studies an even higher standing than Greek and Roman classics. They decided that the multicultural was of greater import than Western culture. They put popular culture on the same intellectual footing as high culture (Conrad or graphic novels, three hours credit either way). And, finally, they determined that race, gender, and social class were at the heart of all humanities and most social science subjects. With that finishing touch, the game was up for the liberal arts.

    Epstein became a liberal arts major because he didn’t think he could pass accounting.

    He’s responding to Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, which complains that most students enroll in college to earn job credentials, not to pursue an education.

    This cartoon says it all.

Adjunct professors use food stamps, aid

Poorly paid adjunct professors are using food stamps, Medicaid and other public aid to pay the bills. Some 70 percent of college instructors are adjuncts with no job security, no benefits and low pay.

Overpaid and underworked?

College professors get full-time pay for part-time work at colleges and universities that focus on teaching rather than research, argues David C. Levy, a former university chancellor.

Faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom and perhaps an equal amount of time preparing for class and grading papers, Levy writes. That puts their workload at 36 to 45 percent of the hours non-academic professionals.

Administrators do even better. Despite a sharp fall in graduation rates, Wayne Watson received a golden parachute worth nearly $800,00 when he left. It’s “like giving a performance bonus to the captain of the Titanic,” says the CEO of the Better Government Association.

Does professor quality matter?

Does professor quality matter? U.S. Air Force Academy students did better in introductory calculus classes taught by less experienced instructors without a PhD than in classes taught by senior professors, concludes a study (pdf) by Scott Carrell and James West in the Journal of Political Economy. But these students did worse in follow-on math and engineering classes.

The overall pattern of the results shows that students of less experienced and less qualified professors perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course being taught.  In contrast, the students of more experienced and more highly qualified introductory professors perform significantly better in the follow-on courses.

The academy was used because students are assigned randomly to professors in introductory and follow-on courses; professors use the same syllabi and exams,  and grade exams together.

One potential explanation for our results is that the less-experienced professors may teach more strictly to the regimented curriculum being tested, while the more experienced professors broaden the curriculum and produce students with a deeper understanding of the material….Another potential mechanism is that students may learn (good or bad) study habits depending on the manner in which their introductory course is taught. For example, introductory professors who “teach to the test” may induce students to exert less study effort in follow-on related courses.

Via Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution.

Why so few conservative professors?

Why so few conservative professors? The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy asked conservative and libertarian professors to respond to a paper by Neil Gross, a University of British Columbia sociology professor, and Ethan Fosse, a doctoral student at Harvard, which argues that conservatives don’t seek jobs in academia because they see it as a liberal profession.

Duke’s Michael Munger, a economics and political science professor, scoffs:

In other words, conservatives aren’t interested in things like history, literature, and the classics. Presumably, the idea is that conservatives just want to play golf and wear plaid pants and sweater sets in alarming colors.

This idea is absurd on its face: history, literature, classical education, and constitutional government are at the very center of the conservative ideal.

. . . quite a few faculty have told me with straight faces, that expecting a history or English department to hire a conservative is like asking a biology department to hire a creationist. Being a conservative, in many places, is just not intellectually respectable.

Academia is a “hostile environment” for libertarians and conservatives, adds Jonathan Bean, a history professor at Southern Illinois University.

Change vs. classics

Teaching civic engagement and appreciation of racial and ethnic diversity is a high priority for college professors, concludes a new UCLA report, The American College Teacher.

While 57.8 percent of  professors want to encourage students to be “agents of social change,” only 34.7 percent said teaching the classics is very important,  notes Chronicle of Higher Education:

Sylvia Hurtado, a professor of education at UCLA who directs the research institute, said the gap between those who value teaching Western civilization and those who value teaching students to be social activists reflects a shift in emphasis from the abstract to the practical. “The notion of a liberal education as a set of essential intellectual skills is in transition,” she says. “It’s also about social and personal responsibility, thinking about one’s role in society, and creating change.”

In transition? Or just going to hell?  I suspect the agents of change in the world will be people who’ve developed their intellectual skills.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, says he believes faculty members should teach the classics. “I teach American literature all the time, that’s what I do,” says Mr. Nelson, who is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

But he says that to many professors, teaching the classics has become part of a “conservative agenda” that they don’t want to be part of. Conservative critics of academe, he says, “have poisoned the well for these subjects because they’ve gotten politicized and become symbols of a reaction against the progressive academy.”

Change vs. the classics is a false dichotomy, points out Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass.

The classics are works about social change, in one way or another. That’s true of Greek tragedy, of Chaucer, of Shakespeare, of Milton, of Defoe, of enlightenment philosophers, of romantic poets, of Victorian novelists, of modernist writers. Some register upheaval in their form, some in their content, some do both. Some try to provoke change, some try to register and reflect on it, some try to resist it. But great literature is always hooked into the great tensions of its time — even as it is also hooked into a longer tradition.

Intellectuals should decide what to teach based on reason, not emotion, O’Connor argues.

In other words: If professors can’t teach Antigone (loyalty to family and religion vs. patriotism) for fear of making a conservative smile, that’s just stupid. And stupid is not supposed to be the strong suit of academia.