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- So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities?
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Category Archives: Communicating and Managing Expectations
The following is a post from cac.ophony by David Parsons, a CUNY Writing Fellow, on a recent email exchange between Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of business and a student, which has begun to generate all sorts of interesting discussion on the ways in which faculty members should or should not communicate with students. The original post is here.
A professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Scott Galloway, recently sent an email that has gone viral, due largely to its unique approach in response to a student’s particularly obnoxious behavior. The student, who remains anonymous, had arrived an hour late to class and been denied admission, and later emailed the professor to explain that he was late because he had been “sampling” different classes, the last of which was Professor Galloway’s, and that it was within his rights to explore different options at the beginning of the semester.
Galloway’s response has caught attention because of his brutal honesty in addressing what he sees as the student’s overall functional weaknesses. In short, he takes him down a few notches. You can read the full exchange here, but I wanted to focus on a specific piece of Galloway’s final advice:
“Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…”
Did you see the article “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes” by Max Roosevelt in the 18-Feb-2009 NY Times? The article asserts that students are feeling more entitled to high grades than in years past.
I made a small change about five years ago that significantly reduced the number of end-of-semester grade disputes. I wonder how many of my colleagues do the same. It’s simple: after every graded assignment—homework, quiz, project, exam, presentation, whatever—post the student grades on Blackboard (see the “Grade Center” in Blackboard 8.0’s control panel, formerly called “Gradebook” in version 7.0).
At all times during the semester, students can check their running tally. And they do. The C and B students who would otherwise fight at the end of the semester now know where they stand from day 1. Rather than holding a discussion at the end of the term, we talk about how the student can meet my standards months earlier.
I know students can keep their own running tally as we hand back every graded assignment—they don’t need Blackboard for this information. But by posting their grades, we communicate transparently our understanding of their performance, as well as any assignments that are missing. In addition to the student’s individual scores, the student also sees class statistics (mean, std. dev., high, low, etc.). It’s also a good “quality inspection” to eliminate grade book errors. (What, you never entered an 87% as a 78%?).
There are some downsides. First, it takes five or ten extra minutes per assignment to upload a grade spreadsheet into Blackboard, and entering the grades directly into the Blackboard grade book is not much better due to a gludgy interface. Second, some students obsess about their grades resulting in two issues: being hounded with emails 48 hours after an assignment was collected (where’s my grade?), and an apparent gradebook-checking obsession among some (if only they would dedicate as much energy to the readings).
At the end of the fall semester, I received this e-mail from a student in my MSC 1003 class who had recently earned a D grade:
i am on academic probation. if my G.P.A. doesnt reach 2.0 by the end of next semester, im kicked out of baruch. i mathematically cant make 2.0 if i have a D on top of a F. please, im begging u. i need to retake music or i will end up in community college.
This was just one of several e-mails from this fellow who begged for me to reward him for his D-work with an F. His agony was based on the shame of having to tell his parents that he’d be transferring to Kingsborough Community College because a mere music class beat him down. I told him that community college is no shame and reported on two close friends who started at QCC (one now a CPA who works for the AICPA and the other the chair of an art department at a Maryland college), and I sent him the Wikipedia link to former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona who started at BxCC. I spared him my usual spiel about how I’d bet music was not the only subject giving him trouble.
I find these requests more troubling than the can-you-raise-my-grade ones. Maybe it’s because the student should have had a good sense that he was running a D with 80% of the grade completed by early December, and he easily could have bailed on the last quiz, had he done the math; so this bespoke a kind of detachment from his own academic progress. Maybe because he failed the course once, in ostensibly an easier version of the course, only to stumble into my CIC version with all its extra writing-based requirements. Maybe it’s because, if he had attended only seven of the hour-long workshops that accompany the course, he would have received extra credit enough to raise his D to a C. Maybe because it is ultimately educationally sound for a D-student to re-take a course when he finally has become mature enough to pass it. Anyway you slice it, he could have either gotten his F or his C with very little effort. Yet the flurry of e-mails that his D engendered showed that he was eager work the art of the deal with me, to spend time arguing in favor of his F, and, of course, to preach to me about what it is really like to be a student.
Is it better–educationally sound–to give D students the retroactive F, if requested? Is it fair to others? Is it even legal?