Friday, October 5, 2007

A Few School Stories To Amaze And Amuse

For these first two stories, it never ceases to amaze me how our taxes are being spent - I mean we pay these people's salaries! Who hires these people anyway? These are supposed to be kids' role models.

Indiana Teacher Charged With Being Drunk At School
In Indiana, a Valparaiso first grade teacher was arrested with a blood alcohol limit twice the legal limit (.20 percent) and two cans of beer inside her purse.

Vegan Teacher Dave Warwak Was Terminated After Giving Lectures On Veganism
In Fox River Grove, Illinois, a vegan middle school teacher was fired after officials complained he had turned his art classes into lectures on veganism. The teacher said he would not return to the classroom unless the school served only lunches free of animal products. After that, District 3 school board members voted on Sept. 24 to fire him while also stating that meat would remain on the menu.

and here is this one about a University of Massachusetts at Amherst College Student who took his "C" to federal court
The judge dismissed the case. The story began when the student got really angry when he got a "C" instead of an A-minus and then went on to make a federal case of it.
Marquis, a 51-year-old paralegal seeking bachelor's degrees in legal studies and sociology, filed a 15-count lawsuit in US District Court in Springfield in January after a teaching assistant graded a political philosophy class on a curve and turned Marquis's A-minus into a C. Marquis contends that the university violated his civil rights and contractual rights and intentionally inflicted "emotional distress."
Well, that last one is an interesting article.. and can you imagine if he won in court? Every student from here to the moon would be dragging teachers to court. I do agree that this guy was probably given a questionable grade, but sometimes you just have to deal with a bonehead instructor - or worse yet, their student teaching assistants. I never really liked the fact that instructors pushed off their work to others - after all you pay good money for these college classes and you should be taught and graded by the professor you signed up with. I also never agreed with grading on a curve. That's just bogus.

So who is teaching your kids?
Moreover, what are they teaching them?

1 comment:

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


I do have an issue with you about that last case you cite. I do have experience teaching at the university level that is germaine to my comments. With respect to the outcome of the case as you describe it: it will probably not cause millions of grade discrimination lawsuits. The outcome of the case depends on what the course syllabus says, and how it aligns with the departmental and school policies. A syllabus is the contract for the class. If a specific grading policy is stated in the syllabus, then it must be followed and a TA cannot simply change grades for a curve or for any other reason. If a grading policy is not discussed in the course syllabus, then departmental, school and university policies must be adhered to. All of these rules are in place in order to make sure that grade discrimination does not take place and that the grades are fairly awarded according to a defined standard. This is important to the university for several reasons. Serious grade discrimination would affect real-world outcomes for graduates, which in turn can affect the reputation and the endowment (private funding) for the university. Also, grade discrimination can affect the accredidation status of the university and can have legal effects based on state and federal ant-discrimination laws. Finally, it is best if grades in a particular department align with grades in the same department in other universities, so that graduate schools can make judgements about the grades. Otherwise, your students are less likely to be admitted to graduate and professional programs at other universities and your university and department will see enrollment drop. Enrollment determines departmental budgets and research funding!

Therefore, most universities are pretty careful to prevent grade discrimination and resolve the case immediately if it is brought. However, universities also run by controlled chaos at the departmental level, and sometimes these cases do end up in court. They rarely have much effect beyond the immediate situation tried. This is because the student will win only if he can show that the grade manipulations did not match the syllabus or policy. Since most universities are diligent about adhering to these contractual obligations, there are not many other students who could bring such a case.

On the more practical side, as a professor or TA you also want students in your courses to be able to predict their grades based on the work put in and the averages achieved on tests and projects. If you don't, word will spread rapidly, complaints will be made to the dean, and your course enrollment will go down. This means that you may be SOL when it comes to a job and/or research funding anyway--even if there is no lawsuit.

Fair grading is important and a lot of attention is paid to it. Either this student is a whiner and his lawyer is making money, in which case he will lose and the world will go on with little effect. Or the TA is terminally stubborn and the department head is a political idiot, in which case the student will win, his lawyer will make money and gain increased status, the TA will lose funding, and the department will clean up its act rapidly. And the larger world will still go on as usual.

Either way, the case is not likely to create a lot of copy-cats.