She worked hard but her writing wasn’t great

So this guy teaches a fiction class at Emory. He’s there for only two years, on a fellowship, which turned out to be fortunate for him.

Blunt and scabrous, he prides himself on being frank with his students. “My class is like a truth-telling, soothsaying class, and I tell them no one is going to talk to you like this, you will never have another class like this,” he says.

One student, he says, a freshman woman, sat besides him throughout the course, actively participating. At the end of the semester, he gave her a B+, because, although she worked hard, her writing wasn’t great. “They don’t really understand that they can do all of the work, and turn in perfectly typed up, typo-free papers and stories, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to get an A, because quality matters, talent matters,” he says.

So, according to the story, she accused him of sexual harassment.

The director, he says, told him, “I know this is bullshit, you know this is total bullshit, since you’re gay, [but] you really don’t want to deal with this bullshit. Just give her the grade.” Asked about this, the director says, “I don’t recall that, but I do recall advising him that as with all faculty, per our policy, that this was up to his discretion and thus his decision to make.”

Spoiler: he gave her the grade, but then like The Lord he took it away again.

Recently, there’s been much discussion of what some say is a growing intellectual chill and sexual panic on campus. In the latest example, on June 19, Teresa Buchanan, a tenured associate professor of education at Louisiana State University, was fired from the school where she’d taught for twenty years for using off-color language. Her alleged offenses included saying, in class, “fuck no” and making a joke about sex declining in long-term relationships, as well as using the word “pussy” in an off-campus conversation with a teacher. Reached by phone, she says she had no memory of saying “pussy” to anyone, but said that, if she did, it likely would have been in a conversation about how teachers must learn to handle irate parents. “If a parent is very angry and says, ‘You need to do a better job, you little pussy,” you need to know how to react. I wasn’t calling anybody that word.”

Indeed, a faculty committee determined that there was no evidence that her words were “systematically directed at any individual.” Nevertheless, the committee said her language created a “hostile learning environment” that constituted sexual harassment. It recommended that she be censured and nothing more, concluding: “The stress already inflicted on Dr. Buchanan by the…hearing process itself is seen as an adequate punishment, given the nature and apparent infrequency of the noted behaviors.” The administration rejected that and decided to go further, dismissing her. She plans to sue.

I’m not surprised she plans to sue – she had tenure. Tenure is supposed to protect academics from being fired for trivial reasons. (Note: I’ve never thought Tim Hunt should have been fired from anything.)

There’s also Laura Kipnis, brought up on charges for writing an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Part of the problem is that administrators are now business people as opposed to academics. They think they’re doing customer relations.

Colleges and universities, says Hancock, are “increasing not run by faculty or former faculty. They’re run by professional administrators who have a customer service or client service attitude towards students, as opposed to an educational attitude.” Indeed, according to the Delta Cost Project, an American Institutes for Research program that studies the rising price of higher education, at most four years colleges and universities the average number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by around 40 percent between 1990 and 2012.

Buchanan attributes her firing, in part, to a disjunction between the values of the administrators and those of the professoriate. Starting about 10 years ago, she says, “We noticed that every new administrator that came to LSU had the discourse and language of a business person. So, for example, my dean calls himself the CEO of his organization.”

They don’t know from freedom of inquiry or why philosophy must be argumentative. They know from customer satisfaction, which is a whole different thing. Running a hotel is different from running a university, or at least it ought to be.

Thus there’s a symbiosis between student demands for emotional safety and the risk-aversion of bloated bureaucracies. The students may be inspired by radical ideas, says Michael Bérubé, a literature professor and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State, but “they wind up playing into the hands of a faceless and possibly pernicious bureaucracy.” The kind, for example, that orders investigations of feminist professors for writing inflammatory essays, or fires people for saying “fuck.”

And then there’s the whole “we’ll show you” problem.

Bagenstos describes a combination of bureaucratic caution and passive aggressiveness. The Obama administration has famously stepped up the use of Title IX against schools that have failed to respond adequately to the problem of campus rape, and in response, colleges are overcorrecting. “If you talk to administrators at universities around the country, they are really responding in a deeply overwrought way to the expansion of Title IX enforcement by the Obama administration,” says Bagenstos. “I think what’s going on in part is this reaction: You’re really going to make us do all this stuff we don’t want to do, we’ll show you it’s ridiculous by going the last mile and the next mile beyond that.”

Sulky babies running the hotel – not ideal. Academics should be worried.

That is, if they care about advancement in academia. Levinson, who just finished his stint at Emory, does not. He says he never wants to teach undergraduates again, and thus sounds almost merry as he unloads his disgust with the whole process. “The academic world can go shove itself up my ass,” he says. “I’d rather dig ditches than have to deal with a bunch of spoiled rich white kids.”

Ultimately, Levinson says, he gave in to a combination of administrative pressure and fear of being forced to endure the bureaucratic gauntlet of a sexual-harassment investigation. One administrator, he says, told him that while he could fight the potential charges, “at the end of the day he was like don’t bother, it doesn’t even matter. It’s just a stupid grade.” Levinson changed it.

Then, when his fellowship was over and he’d left campus, he logged back in the system and changed it back.

Digging ditches is not a bad gig.


  1. iknklast says

    This is something I’ve noticed in my job. Typically when a student lodges a complaint of any sort, they are promised what they ask for before anyone even checks with the professor. And if the very specific situation that has arisen, which has never arisen before anywhere on campus, isn’t specifically addressed in the syllabus (which we are constantly reminded is our “contract” with the student), then we will not be allowed to use our judgement, we will be required to give the student what they want, even if it is not reasonable.

    Even something like kicking my shoes off during class and lecturing in my stocking feet because I have foot problems. There is no rule against that (as long as you are not in a lab), but when a student complained, it was required that from then on I never kick off my shoes at any point. My temptation was to make the entire class stand at all times that I was standing, but I did not know which student/class it was. We are never given access to that information.

    And once they talk to us, and realize the student was, shall we say, embellishing things a little (I always keep all documentation), the answer is, well, I already promised them.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    The problem with the first scenario is that the instructor basically admitted that there was no way that student could possibly hope for an A, because she wasn’t “talented” enough. That’s a judgment call, and there should be nothing in academia to protect assholes who simply want to sniff “Not good enough for me, so not good enough for an ‘A’.” By his own account, the student did *ALL* the work, attended, participated, and turned in assignments meeting all the requirements. He just thought she wasn’t a good enough writer to meet his standards. This is very, very wrong and he deserves to be sued for that.

    If he wants to do it his way, there should be a clause in the course description: “Only truly talented writers will be qualified to earn a grade of A. For the writers who are not of that caliber, no grade higher than a B+ will be possible. The level of a student’s talent will be determined exclusively on the opinion of the professor and not on any objective criteria.” Then he should offer a means whereby interested students could submit a sample of their work to find out if they’ll be in the “talented” category or relegated to the “not talented” category (and thus at risk of harming their GPAs).

    Yes, digging ditches is not a bad gig when you’re that much of an asshole.

  3. says

    That’s a judgment call, and there should be nothing in academia to protect assholes who simply want to sniff “Not good enough for me, so not good enough for an ‘A’.” By his own account, the student did *ALL* the work, attended, participated, and turned in assignments meeting all the requirements. He just thought she wasn’t a good enough writer to meet his standards. This is very, very wrong and he deserves to be sued for that.

    I don’t know from nothing because I’m a grade-school dropout with barely an 8th grade formal education… but in any course involving the creative process doesn’t there have to be room for judgement calls? How can it be that in a course meant to develop talent, all that matters is “worked hard, handed in assignments on time, showed positive attitude” and no room for “the work just wasn’t GOOD?”

    Something here doesn’t add up to me. Some people just don’t have certain talents, or haven’t enough of them, or perhaps haven’t developed them as fully as they should be expected to have, or whatnot.

    And then SUED?

    I remember 1st grade… we got to choose what Popeye character teacher would stamp on our hand if we completed our work. Is that what University is supposed to be? Because if so, lemme in – I’ll get about 12 degrees.

  4. says

    Oh nonsense, Blanche. He did not say there was no way she could get an A. He said she didn’t in fact get an A because her writing wasn’t great, and then went on to say that the students don’t realize just ticking all the boxes isn’t enough – which is not the same as saying there’s no way they could improve. Yeesh.

    I give you a C in reading comprehension. That’s being generous.

  5. echidna says


    He said she didn’t in fact get an A because her writing wasn’t great, and then went on to say that the students don’t realize just ticking all the boxes isn’t enough – which is not the same as saying there’s no way they could improve. Yeesh.

    I see it slightly differently. The problem is, at least in the descriptions here, is that “talent” is a subjective assessment. That is why rubrics, and “ticking all the boxes” exist in the first place: to put some objectivity in the marking scheme. Has the student met all the expectations? Then by all means give them an A. If there is some indefinable “extra” that is required for an A, then this is absolutely open to abuse. The lecturer has a duty to be explicit about what it takes to get an A, and he hasn’t done that.

    Nor do I trust anyone to recognise “talent” when they see it, what they have is strong expectations. For example, some of Beethoven’s works were ridiculed when they were first performed, because they were so out of step with what people expected to hear. Eroica was one example. The seventh symphony was another: from Wikipedia

    Carl Maria von Weber considered the chromatic bass line in the coda of the first movement evidence that Beethoven was “ripe for the madhouse”.

    Weber was a noted musician himself, but even he didn’t recognise what he saw on the night that Beethoven premiered both the sixth and seventh symphonies. It took time to adjust expectations.

    I’m not saying that this student is comparable to Beethoven, I’m saying that application of marks needs to be objective, and the lecturer is being lazy, at best, if he hasn’t made what he expects of “great” writing explicit.

  6. Mr. Upright says

    Wow, Blanche. That’s a strange grading scale you’re working under. I don’t know about Emory, but according to my college’s catalog, a “C” represents “satisfactory” work. Without reading the student’s work, “meeting all the requirements” seems satisfactory. On the other hand “B” means “very good” and “A” means “distinctive”. It sounds like the instructor did not find her work distinctive. And yes, that is based on the instructor’s judgement.

    I’d hate to think you’d call me an asshole just because I don’t inflate grades.

  7. iknklast says

    echidna, I suppose it’s possible things have changed (since last December when I got my MFA in creative writing), but there is a certain standard of writing that is expected of a student. I didn’t just tick off boxes; I did that, of course, but I also had to write compelling fiction that kept a reader (or in my case, audience, since my MFA is in playwriting) involved, made them want to read to the end, etc. Yes, there is some subjectivity in that, of course. But…an instructor usually is connected enough with the writing world that they know what is expected by publishers/producers. It may not be there own tastes, but it needs to meet a certain basic quality of writing. To give a student an A or A+ simply because they turn in every single assignment, but their writing is pedestrian or uninteresting is not acceptable. If it is subjective, well, the entire field is subjective. When the student goes out into the world and submits writing for publication, the editor/publisher will evaluate her work based on their own idea of what they think they can sell. There are some formulas, but that is not enough.

    The field of creative writing is not an objective field. There is absolutely no way to grade objectively unless you are willing to give high grades to work that just isn’t good. Teaching IS more than ticking boxes, and in the end, we all make a lot of subjective judgments, whether we like it or not. We do our best to remove that as much as possible, partially by not looking at the name of a student before you grade the paper, and things like that. In writing classes, there will still be a decision about whether the writing is “good” which goes beyond proper margins, proper spelling, proper punctuation, and appropriate use of paragraphs. That’s just the way the field works.

  8. iknklast says

    Also, the Beethoven argument? For every Beethoven that was turned down, there were probably a thousand others turned down that never went on to achieve anything. I wouldn’t want to be the guy that told the Beatles to go back to Liverpool, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be the person that gave an A+ to Snoopy just because he submitted his work.

  9. luzclara says

    I was often afraid when I was an academic. And teaching students to compose academic writing for thesis and dissertation purposes was very difficult and heartbreaking. So many students who think that a syllabus is a legal document and that getting an advanced degree is a matter of following a check list. . . Writing is one of those school things that students generally get a bad start with, when they are 6 or 7 or so. So they are touchy about it for life and take comments personally. And they don’t necessarily want to improve. They just don’t want to get a B+, b/c they are “A students.” Whether I see their A-hood or not. I spent hours coaching and writing explicit comments on their drafts, which they either did not read, or read and ignored, or did not understand and were too shy or embarrassed to ask about. I once had a HS English teacher finally admit that she did not know what I meant when I told her to avoid using passive voice b/c it made her writing slow and dull to read, and b/c it was hedging, instead of just saying who did what. OMG I am glad those days are in my past. I wasn’t mean either, although some felt I was b/c no one had ever pinned them down on their academic writing. And they were in graduate school. Yes. Very glad those days are in the past.

  10. Pen says

    By his own account, the student did *ALL* the work, attended, participated, and turned in assignments meeting all the requirements. He just thought she wasn’t a good enough writer to meet his standards.

    You can’t run any class with a subjective component that way, unless you switch to a straightforward binary grading system of pass (did the work) / fail (didn’t do the work) with no pretensions of commenting on the quality of the work. Anyway, B+ is (or should be) be a high grade, indicative of being everything short of extraordinary.

  11. xyz says

    The bigger question is WHY would a student think it’s at all appropriate to accuse someone of sexual harassment for not giving them an A, assuming that’s indeed what occurred. And how broken are the processes that the solution to that situation is to give the student an A.

  12. echidna says


    Maybe I haven’t made myself clear.
    Beethoven wasn’t “turned down”, he was at the height of his career. It’s just that his work had moved ahead of the curve. The point was that our ideas of what makes a good piece of writing changes with time, and is very much in the eye of the beholder. Even an eminent musician can misjudge the work of another eminent musician. To his credit, Weber was detailed in his criticism – a chromatic bass was unheard of. The lecturer in this article seems to give us no such insight.

    If you look at what the research says about how to create improvement, whether in industrial processes or learning or sports, one of the key ideas is that simply saying “do better” is next to useless. Whether improvement depends on refining technique, metacognition or diagnostic assessment of potential impediments to success, sweeping statements are rarely going to help – you have to know how to improve.

    I’ve no problem with quality of the work being part of the criteria for grading. I am arguing that the explicit criteria for success seem to be lacking. The lecturer should be able to say: the work was of insufficient quality because the student did not demonstrate X, or ideas were insufficiently developed/original/integrated, or whatever it is that you are looking for in a piece of work.

    It’s up to the course instructor to make expectations clear. It protects the instructor from accusations of unfairness as much as it helps the student succeed.

  13. iknklast says

    echidna – it seems to me you are assuming that the expectations weren’t clear. I’m not so sure about that. I have a syllabus that spells out nearly every detail in my class, the students are required to take a test over it to demonstrate that they have read and understand it, and they are required to sign an agreement that they understand it, which includes initialing key points that they will need to know. In spite of that, students remain unclear about what is expected of them, because to them the syllabus is the same as those user agreements we all click on without reading. My expectations are perfectly clear. I make it clearer than clear that I don’t take late work; my students still turn it in late. I make it exceptionally clear that all make up tests are comprehensive and at the end of the semester; students still expect to be able to take a make up test on demand. I make it very clear that I grade grammar and spelling; students still expect to get by with sloppy punctuation, random capitalization, and significant grammar mistakes. I make it clear that students are required to cite their sources; I will continue to receive papers without sources throughout the semester.

    It is not enough to say “do better”. It is also not enough to tell them what the expectations are. The student themselves must have a role in this. They have to understand and meet the expectations. So assuming that he did not make the expectations clear is assuming something not in evidence.

  14. quixote says

    I have a horse in this race, as a college prof for a bazillion years, so have to give my two cents’ worth. I’m in biology, where subjective talent is a bit less of a factor, but there are still plenty of students with obvious aptitude for both remembering everything and putting it together intelligently. Do they get higher grades for talent? Yes. Should they? Yes. Part of what the college degree is telling people is how good people are at what they do, regardless of how hard they have to work to achieve that.

    So, yes, the jerk-sounding guy is quite right that ticking all the boxes is not enough.


    Is he really that confident that his grading scheme was so perfect that he can tell the difference between B+ talent and A- talent? I doubt it very much. And judging by his petty vindictiveness in changing the grade after he left the job (highly doubtful that is a valid grade change), it sure sounds like there’s a good bit of subjectivity in his grading. If he felt strongly about it, he could have refused to change the grade while on the job.

    Was the student right in putting sex harassment out there? That really depends on whether any harassment went on. Anyone who doubts gay men can harass female students in a way that’s likely to feel sexual to the students needs to get out more.

    (How would I handle this as a Dean? Ask two or three other English faculty, preferably at some other institution, to evaluate the student’s work for the semester and grade it. That’s for perspective on the validity of the grade change. Investigate the harassment charge separately. Yes, I know, none of that is remotely likely to happen.)

  15. chrislawson says

    There’s something very fishy about the story. First of all, while I think any academic should be encouraged to be blunt and frank, I’m not so sure about “scabrous” (to be fair, those were the reporter’s words, not necessarily Levinson’s). But the idea that Levinson gave in and changed the mark and then logged in *after* his appointment had expired and changed it back — this is not only completely unethical, I would think it’s illegal too. Some martyr for academic freedom they’ve got there.

    And then there’s the canard that Levinson couldn’t possibly have perpetrated sexually discriminatory language or behaviour because he was gay and the student was female.

    I’m most definitely not saying this to defend university administrations (I have direct personal experience of political and administrative obstructions to good, evidence-based teaching in pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary eduction in Australia), but this particular article seems a bit on the nose to me.

    Finally, I’d just like to add my suspicion that this is part of a stealth attack on Title IX itself — which, if you look at its history, has long been an aggravation to colleges that want to spend millions on their football team but then won’t pay for basic equipment for netballers. Even if the article isn’t *intended* as an attack on Title IX itself, you can bet it’s going to be quoted endlessly by Title IX’s critics — even though Title IX has led to demonstrable improvements in college women’s sports participation and forced colleges to create more effective policies against sexual assault and harassment.

  16. says


    Part of what the college degree is telling people is how good people are at what they do, regardless of how hard they have to work to achieve that.

    This. 1000x this.

    I earned an undergraduate degree in computer engineering (that’s electrical engineering with a focus on digital design). Just barely earned it. It turns out that although I enjoy the field, I’m just not good at it, and I had to work a lot harder than my peers in order to do the necessary tasks to earn the degree. Recognizing this, I returned to graduate school in a related field with just as many technical/math aspects, but one which I had realized I was talented at–and I excelled. And now I work in that field, and if I do say so myself, I’m pretty damned good at it, and I enjoy my work immensely. Had I stayed in computer engineering, I would have been a mediocre employee, at best, and probably miserable.

    Not everybody is good at everything. We do students a disservice by rewarding them with good grades for work that doesn’t meet the standard, simply because they feel like they tried.

  17. says

    Should a university resemble a 100% politically correct Hollywood show with the producers regarding scientists as their actors, adjusting the numbers of sexes and minorities and dictating when they should cry and laugh and what they should say?

    The removal of Sir Tim Hunt is the second case of political persecution of a Nobel laureate, the first was that of James Watson. In both cases, their alleged “crime” was purely political, and it was framed in political slogans, “racism” and “sexism”.

    The public debate around the decision of UCL to remove Tim Hunt is missing the point. (Were his words a joke or not? Was there enough “sexism” in his words? Did twitter remove Tim Hunt?) Let’s now get serious and ask: Was the removal of Tim Hunt legal? I believe it was completely illegal. And the law does exist here, it is first – the law against discrimination and second – the law protecting freedom of speech.

    Discrimination is an act of using irrelevant considerations (such as sex, colour of skin, etc.) in a decision/judgement made by an official against an individual. Discrimination is taken as an act denying an individual his or her human right(s). Such act is illegal, and the discrimination must be proved. There is no claim and no evidence that Sir Tim Hunt has committed such act. His speech did not represent any decision, and, being a joke or not being a joke, did not, and was not even capable of damaging/changing the standing of any women before the law or denying their human rights.

    Then, what is the accusation against him? The official explanation is the letter of Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost, “Provost’s View: Women in Science”, see

    This is a remarkable document. In it, Michael Arthur 1) did not refer to any law whatsoever, 2) refused, in his own words, to “…repeat or re-analyse who said what…”, i. e. refused to present the evidence, 3) justified the removal of Sir Tim Hunt solely on his (determined by the administration) “sexism”. The text seems to be written by a political agitator in the smashing style of Leon Trotsky, totally disrespectful of the law and civilized academic tradition. He calls the removal of Tim Hunt an “episode”.

    In sharp contrast with discrimination which, in a particular decision, is depriving individuals of their human rights, “sexism” in a speech is incapable of doing this. The accusation of “sexism” here is no more than a political opinion, a label which cannot be used to punish anyone. Therefore, the removal of Tim Hunt was an illegal act, patently – a political persecution. Moreover, it was an act of discrimination and a denial of the basic human right – freedom of speech.

    Looking closer at this “episode”, I believe it was designed not even so much against Tim Hunt, but with the purpose of establishing a precedent for persecution of any political dissent. Tim Hunt was chosen as one who loved his university and would not start a legal fight. He was chosen as a top scientist to show that no one is immune to political persecution, and that interests of science are the last item on the administration agenda.

    As a Provost, Michael Arthur failed to uphold the law and academic freedom. As a President, he failed to act impartially and, actually, fuelled the “gender war”. In his letter, he claims to have acted on behalf of women, but the women appeared on the side of their former teacher, actually proving that Michael Arthur’s claim of acting on their behalf is a false claim. UCL urgently needs the new Provost and the new President.

    Finally, it is important to understand that an employee does not sell his whole self to his employer. A woman cannot be obliged to sleep with her boss. Why, may I ask, a university includes political and social agenda in its rules for the employees? The scope of this agenda must be severely restricted to respect basic human rights of all its employees. A public university cannot be run as a political party or a Hollywood show.

    I had posted a few comments on the matter at
    My web page:
    My email is probably hacked.

    Please, re-post this message to other blogs. My computer is under attack, it’s impossible to post on most wordpress.

    Michael Pyshnov

  18. says

    Michael Pyshnov – UCL says on the page for academic honor positions that it reserves the right to withdraw the honor at any time. It’s not illegal to withdraw an honor. Don’t be silly.

    Hunt was not an employee of UCL; he has never been an employee of UCL. You should get your facts right before you do so much typing.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    Running a hotel is different from running a university, or at least it ought to be.

    We’ll really see some changes when most of the faculty’s income comes from tips!

  20. iknklast says

    Pierce – if most of the faculty’s income comes from tips, any changes you see will be bad. Faculty will no longer have any academic freedom, because their income will be based on making the students happy. So never challenge the students, never count a clearly idiotic answer as wrong, never, ever, ever, ever teach the student something that they don’t want to learn. In fact, students will be allowed to show up for class only when the feel like it, do the work they want to do, and take only those tests they are in the mood to take. In short, a disaster.

    Making customers in a restaurant happy is one thing; making students in a college class “happy” is another. (And just in case you misunderstand me, I do not personally feel that a waiter’s income should come from tips. I believe they should make a living wage, and tips should be simply an extra from a satisfied customer that can be enjoyed by the waiter without having to go to pay the rent. And yes, I do believe that major chain restaurants can afford this; mom and pop restaurants I don’t know; I haven’t seen any income figures for them).

  21. says

    This story by Michelle Goldberg in The Nation is disturbing on many levels, not the least of which is that we have almost no information on which to base an opinion. Yet it’s been copied to other sites, sometimes without attribution, and attracting comments without questions. I’ll illustrate what I mean by writing about the Emory case part of her article. It’s about a teaching fellow, D.S. Levinson, and an unnamed freshman female in his Intro to Fiction class.

    I followed the link, and didn’t find any quote by the student laying out her actual claim. There are only descriptions of what she said, reported by the accused teacher, but no statements from her, nor copies of her alleged Facebook contact and emails to him. What sort of sexual harassment did she claim? I ask because the teacher quotes his program director as saying, “I know this is bullshit, you know this is total bullshit, since you’re gay . . . .” How could anyone believe that a gay man couldn’t possibly sexually harass a woman? Is this related to the idea that sexual assault is caused by a woman’s attractiveness, clothing, movements, etc.? In other words, does the program director believe that a gay man, who wouldn’t be aroused, couldn’t sexually harass a woman?

    The case is so vague; in fact, we never hear that she’s decided to file a harassment case against him, nor that she’s ever told him that. The reporter writes:

    When Goldberg writes this, what does she mean? Did Levinson hear the “whine” directly from his student so that he was able to imitate her? Or is this Goldberg’s interpretation? From whom did he learn about the threat? Was it a threat alone, or did his student file a case? Since he was only a Fellow, and had no job to lose by refusing to alter the B+ to an A, why did he do it? It’s possible he wanted a job at Emory and believed changing the grade would show he could “play nice” with other teachers. However, he claims he wasn’t interested in a job there, nor in teaching at all. He goes on to say he changed the A back to a B+ after he left the school. That doesn’t ring true to me; let me explain. How would he have had access to secure files after leaving? is tech security that lax at a major university. It’s possible, for sure. But since the A had been recorded, how would the discrepancy escape her notice? Something like that is a far more serious infraction in academic life.

    This, and other such examples, are used to build a case that teachers are under siege in American higher education, and that this is primarily led by left-wingers. Goldberg does mention some of the threats are made from the right, too, but there’s no evidence given in the piece. In fact, there’s no evidence that fraudulent claims of sexual harassment are as widespread as the writer says they are.

    This is an extremely important issue in higher education. Are most of these allegations by students untrue? Then please – tell us. Are teachers being dismissed for little or no reason on campuses across the country? We need to know that.

    Tell me, for all the gods’ sakes: am I just too tired and cranky? You know, a baby who missed naptime?

  22. Pierce R. Butler says

    iknklast @ # 22 – I said a tip-based payment program would change academia; I didn’t say for the better.

    I have no idea where to go try to look this up, but vaguely recall descriptions of medieval “universities” based on payments-set-by-the-students financing – a libertarian utopia which, sfaik, produced approximately zero success stories (not counting the parties).

    And I agree entirely about all professions now dependent on tips needing reform to livable wages, but doubt we’ll see it until they get >50% unionized.

  23. says

    When I was in college I took an intermediate fiction writing class. The first day the instructor said we would have to show her we deserved an ‘A’ in the class by writing great fiction. We knew she would be deciding it and the hint was if we didn’t like it we needed to drop the class.

    I do know that when I was in school kids would use whatever “tools” they could to get a good grade. People in my math section filed a complaint against the instructor because he had a thick Chinese accent and they claimed they couldn’t understand him. That was after they didn’t do as well as they thought they should have on the first few tests.

    I was working a group project in a media buying class where we would meet for a few weeks and write up our own reports and give a presentation in class. Grades for the project would be weighted based on the work the people did. If everyone in the group did equal work then all in the group would get the same grade. The three people in my group knew each other outside of class and after the assignment was turned in the instructor called me at home and had me come in his office. My groupmates had said I didn’t carry my weight in the group so they wanted a better grade and with mine being lowered. What they didn’t know and the instructor did was I was auditing the class to make up an incomplete from the previous semester and he had my report so he knew I did the same amount of work as the others. He called me in his office to let me know about the issue. We all got Bs

  24. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Hey, we’ve gotten to the conspiracy theory part of the Tim Hunt saga. Hold on to your freeze peaches, because the Global Initiative Institute Hivemind Of Feminazi SJWness, which of course runs the whole world in secret since they decided that the Illuminati were sexist and the Reptile people were racist, is coming for ALL of it!

  25. iknklast says

    Pierce – sorry if I sounded snappy. As a college instructor, I am feeling under a lot of pressure lately to become an automaton on an assembly line, turning out identical students, all above average, all maximally happy, and all totally conforming to the standard of the consumer-military-culture. Between students, administration, and the media, which seems to be taking the attitude that all problems in our society are due to lousy teachers, it’s difficult to find much to be positive about. When one of our instructors got up in a meeting and said that we should be careful not to teach anything that violated what the legislature believed so they wouldn’t defund us, my head nearly exploded. Since I am in a deep red state (with one little spot of purple in our largest city), that means my entire class would have to be incorrectly taught, since I teach Environmental Science.

    It is becoming difficult to function in a society that values the bottom line so much that education becomes making students happy.

  26. Pierce R. Butler says

    iknklast @ # 28: Understood.

    I live near the University of Florida, an absolute paragon of the problem you describe, and regularly commiserate with faculty (and a few of the more aware students) inside the same ideological autoclave.

  27. iknklast says

    Pierce – and your pay-as-you-go medieval universities are actually rather common now, in the for-profit university market. One of the large for-profits was recently shut down as it was revealed that they were not giving the students a good education. The whole University of Phoenix phenomenon is pushing both public and private universities more toward that model, which is not a great educational model. It functions more as an effective business model than education. But when places like this offer easy degrees, where you can get a four year degree in a year or two with minimal hours of work a week, it appeals to a lot of people. Our school has in the past decade reduced the amount of hours required for a degree, and is considering reducing it further, even though more and more of our students are arriving lacking the basic math and reading skills required to succeed in college.

  28. Pierce R. Butler says

    iknklast @ # 30 – Not to mention the spectacular financial success of Jerry Falwell Jr’s “Liberty® “University””™, which reportedly now takes in >$500M each year in taxpayer-funded tuition alone.

    I get the impression that our (the US’s) political and business leadership (insofar as they might be differentiated) approached their higher education strictly as a vocational training & network-building program, and sincerely have no conception of it having any other function.

    The long-term consequences of such an approach have both immediate harmful consequences – half-educated environmental scientists, for a close-to-hand example – and prolonged impacts almost invisible to the ruling classes in terms of erosion of democracy, diminished creativity, and the export of excellence as the brighter students seek higher-quality opportunities in nations which retain superior standards than those allowed by The Almighty Market.

    At least the medieval tutors collected their cash directly on the barrelhead without building huge speculative bubbles based on squeezing further payments out of their students for the rest of their (the students’) lives.

  29. hoary puccoon says

    So I left academia and ran away to sea. Best decision I ever made. That was over twenty years ago, and things seem to have gotten even worse since.

    If professors can’t grade for quality of writing, what the hell is the point? Just give multiple choice tests, run them through a test-grading machine, and spend your weekends doing something interesting. Your students won’t learn how to write well, of course, but if the students, parents, and administration don’t care, why should the professors?

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