It’s that time of year


Stress levels are high. In our classes we’re winding down the teaching part (the fun part!) and focusing on the assessment part (the miserable boring side). I guess sometimes people — students and/or professors — snap. Professor Irwin Horwitz just gave up, failed an entire course, and stopped teaching. He explains why:

“Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to ‘chill out,’ ‘get out of my space,’ ‘go back and teach,’ [been] called a ‘fucking moron’ to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students…. None of you, in my opinion, given the behavior in this class, deserve to pass, or graduate to become an Aggie, as you do not in any way embody the honor that the university holds graduates should have within their personal character. It is thus for these reasons why I am officially walking away from this course. I am frankly and completely disgusted. You all lack the honor and maturity to live up to the standards that Texas A&M holds, and the competence and/or desire to do the quality work necessary to pass the course just on a grade level…. I will no longer be teaching the course, and all are being awarded a failing grade.”

Hang on, something is wrong here. I’ve taught at the Great Big Urban State School, and I’ve taught at the Tiny Rural Liberal Arts College, and I’ve never seen that kind of behavior. I’ve encountered a few snotty individuals, and I’ve had a few classes that were remarkably apathetic about the subject matter. Those are challenges, though, and that’s what teaching is about — trying to get through to them and instill a little glimmering of enthusiasm. I’ve had students reveal that they don’t like me at all on my class evaluations, but they’ve also been mature enough to handle the classwork with a little dignity. (I also like all of my students, so those are the evaluations that sting a bit — but I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, I know that there will always be personality clashes.)

But I’ve never experienced that kind of outrageous mob behavior. There’s a kind of classroom culture that prevents it: I think it requires a bit of mutual respect, some satisfaction at accomplishment (you can put up with an obnoxious professor if you feel like you’re learning something), responsiveness and willingness to change on both sides, and a sense that you’re working towards an achievable goal. Put all that together, and self-interest keeps the learning environment functional.

So I’m wondering where both the professor and students failed in that classroom, because they both did. No one is off the hook. I’d really like to see an independent evaluation of that class, because catastrophic failure can be extremely informative. And that’s a class that blew up shortly after launch, and somebody better be gathering the data to prevent it happening again.


  1. A. R says

    Apparently this was a “Management” course. Perhaps the Randism of the professor conflicted with the Randism of the students?

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself

    aarrggghhh, to fail an entire class, by generalizing about single incidents is. too extreme. “one student did bad_A, one student did bad_B, I’ll fail the entire class and resign post haste.”
    It sounds like extrapolation of grade school: when the teacher asks, “who threw that paper airplane?” and when no one raises hand, says “well then, all of you got detention!”
    And then to be so offended by rumors, to walk away and fail his entire class? Extreme. So much, I can’t even.
    And won’t that come back to ‘bite him in the @$$’, when applying for his next teaching role? You know, “The grade point ave. of your last class was ZERO, explain that.” I don’t think the explanation quoted in the OP will go over very well at such an interview. Grades are not supposed to be punishment for bad behavior, but to represent the learning they accomplished. To say none of his class learned anything, reflects on the teacher’s skill.
    [countdown to contrarian rants about grade INflation… 3… 2…]

  3. marcoli says

    From what I see of this, this professor is failing professionally & this will require a major intervention as his grading can not stand for tuition paying students. Several of the events he describes are not failing offenses, and he paints an entire class into one category. Unless he is tenured he is out.

  4. anteprepro says

    “I’ve seen cheating by some students, so I am going to fail everyone because a lot of people were also rude”

    What a fucking douchebag.

    From the article:

    Horwitz told Inside Higher Ed that “’a few’ students had not engaged in misbehavior,” but guess what, he failed em anyhow, and now the University is overturning his wild ass action.

    So yeah, he failed everyone even though he knows that everyone wasn’t part of the problem behavior. Sounds like a real gem of a professor there. Good thing the University is overruling him.

  5. Sastra says

    Reading this gave me a flashback to all the times I sat quietly in an unruly, loud, obnoxious class gone haywire and ended up being punished because the “class” had misbehaved. If and when the mild minority complained, we were usually ignored. The excuse was that we were involved in the mayhem because we either didn’t stop it or we participated on some level by smiling at one of the jokes or something. The real reason probably entailed a victim being unable or unwilling to distinguish the members of a mob. ‘No one is off the hook’ can be very frustrating.

    Of course, I am remembering just a few incidents in elementary school and maybe high school. Adults presumably ought to have more responsibility.

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    in @3, I wrote:
    countdown to contrarian rants about grade INflation… 3… 2…
    oops, I was late. Should’ve read that site linked to in the OP. plenty of contrarians there: applauding the prof for failing the entire class when a few of the students in it behaved poorly. Nota Bene: “bad behavior”, not “poor academic performance”.
    I guess I hold teachers to a higher standard than everyone else. (how’s that for gross unjustified generalization)

  7. says

    I guess he’s still expecting to be paid for the course, right?
    As for the mutual respect: yep, that often works. I once “toured” a primary school. A different class each day. In that whole school, one class was loud and chaotic and not a good learning climate. Before we entered the class their teacher had told me that we were “entering the lion’s den”.
    Somehow I don’t believe that all badly behaved kids were in that one class or that there ad been someting in the air the air they were born…

  8. says

    #9: That article does make the interesting point that the administration has incentives to allow in students who don’t really belong in college, but…I’ve taught at Temple U, which has a mission to allow students in from impoverished areas, to give them a chance. And I had a few bad apples there (like the student who took my intro biology course 5 times, failed every time, and blamed me for destroying her dream of going to medical school), but I never encountered anything like what Horvitz describes.

    I think culture makes a huge difference. Temple did not pretend to be an elite school: we were told that it was our job to find the diamonds in our region and make them better. Rough kids, rude kids, kids with serious educational deficiencies…it was our job and our responsibility to teach them. Blaming the administration for letting in poorly qualified students wasn’t an option.

  9. says


    That was an interesting perspective and I agree that the administration probably has a lot of responsibility for this mess. I’d like to know how much the professor did to bring these issues up to the administration before going nuclear.

    I’ve seen the “admit them as long as they can pay and are breathing” thing. A friend of mine teaches at a prestigious private school (K-12) and had several students who were really struggling. She went and looked at their records and found that these kids had reading scores in the Special Ed range. Sadly, the school doesn’t have the process and infrastructure to deal with the kind of remediation necessary. So this all gets dumped on the individual teachers. There’s not much that they can do, either, because these are the children of wealthy and influential people who will become extremely angry if their little Filbert is having trouble at school — and it’s all the mean, mean teacher’s fault for making things too hard for Filbert.

  10. karpad says

    It seems to me that this prof actually made punishing the “bad behaving” students harder. He decided to arbitrarily fail everyone, despite knowing that this would be overturned. so it is. And now these students he said cheated, or fighting or spread rumors or whatever the fuck get their F reversed along with everyone else and there’s this massive burden of proof to indicate that yeah, no, this is the student who actually DID deserve to fail, and the administration will probably just pass everyone in the class regardless now.

  11. Alverant says

    I realize this is a generation ago, but back in jr high school I was in a science class that was out of control. Most of the other students were disrespectful and worse to the instructor. It got so bad the instructor had to retire at the end of the school year, he got pushed to the breaking point and did something he shouldn’t have. AFAIK the offending students weren’t punished.

  12. HappyHead says

    I spent about ten years teaching at a University level, and during that time, ran into every one of the behaviors listed in that article except “being caught between fighting students” (though one of the other profs in my department did, he got out of there and called the police). Frankly, these are just the things that you have to deal with if you’re teaching first or (sometimes) second year students. The worst of them will fail themselves out before they reach graduation, and if you do your job properly, a lot of them will fail themselves out before they leave your course. (Much like PZ, I’ve had a student fail my course five times, and my U required students to take a year off if they failed the same course twice. He kept coming back, and he kept copying test answers from the person beside him who had a different test…)

    The problem here though, is that even when it feels like there’s an overwhelming tide of horrible cheaters and jerks in your class, and you want to hate them all, it’s really going to be maybe (in extreme cases) half of them at most – the rest of the students are just there to do their work, keep their heads down, avoid notice, and learn. The jerks tend to drown them out and make them hard to see, but they’re still there, and you need to be fair to those people. The prof here had a major problem, and took the wrong route to deal with it.

    The only reason I stopped teaching was because I got a job offer that paid a lot more in another city. (Sessional Profs do not make the big bucks.) Even after I had a student stand up in class and spend ten minutes screaming at me that I was a horrible person (from what he was yelling, it mostly appeared to be centered around me speaking english, and giving him a bad mark for an assignment he didn’t turn in), I never considered quitting or taking it out on the class.

  13. anteprepro says

    Oh look.

    The spokesman said that one cheating allegation referenced by Horwitz has already been investigated and that a student committee cleared the student of cheating…..

    Asked if the decision to fail every one of the 30-plus enrollees was fair to every student, Horwitz said that “a few” students had not engaged in misbehavior, and he said that those students were also the best academic performers. Horwitz said he offered to the university that he would continue to teach just those students, but was told that wasn’t possible, so he felt he had no choice but to fail everyone and leave the course….

    Horwitz said he believes his academic freedom has been violated in this case, because the university is changing the grades he has assigned……

    One of the only reviews I could find of him from students, cited in a news article. One month ago on

    One of the least empathetic people I have ever had teach a class. So full of himself and how smart he is. I could not stand him.

    Yeah, gonna say that the news we are seeing seems consistent with that assessment.

  14. tmscott says

    At the risk of sounding cliche’,
    “It’s a poor workman that blames his tools, and a poor teacher that blames his students.”

  15. says

    I have a friend who’s father held a teaching position at a large company I used to work for. Intro courses for apprentices and similar, so I had the privilege of having him as a teacher myself when I started there.

    He once told me that his job used to be to introduce young minds into the word of knowledge but it now was more like throwing false pearls after real swine. That was when he knew it was time to retire. This incident has the same ring to it in my ears.

  16. congenital cynic says

    I had a “bad” class this term. Not rude, but half of them were exceedingly lazy, and didn’t seem to want to learn anything. I find groups like this very frustrating. Especially contrasted with one of my fall term classes which was the best group I ever had. Never wanted to fail everyone though. Only the ones who have earned the F.

  17. anteprepro says

    Erlend Meyer:

    He once told me that his job used to be to introduce young minds into the word of knowledge but it now was more like throwing false pearls after real swine. That was when he knew it was time to retire. This incident has the same ring to it in my ears.

    Sure it does. Sure it does.

  18. moarscienceplz says

    I’ve never been a teacher, but I have a lot of respect for them. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I have a really hard time believing every single student in that class failed.

  19. Alverant says

    I can. My mom taught college math for years and tutored after retiring and my brother teaches economics now. Both have complained about their students and at times told me the whole class doesn’t seem to care (especially when Mom did a summer session). For me, I liked summer school because it taught classes it didn’t normally teach during the school year like sociology. A class where every single student deserved to fail is unlikely but possible IMHO.

  20. anteprepro says

    moarscienceplz and Alverant: Except the professor explicitly said that there were students not engaging in the behaviors that he was deciding to fail everyone for. In fact, he said that he would like to continue teaching the class with just those students and when not given that option decided to just fail everyone. See the quote I provide at comment 5, and my first quote provided in comment 15.

  21. moarscienceplz says

    I shoulda read the article before commenting.
    So he DID have some passing students, but he failed ’em anyway. Cuz they’re part of that entire generation of no good, disrespectful, irresponsible, and worst of all, YOUNG people, I guess. So they deserve it.
    OK, this professor is an utter failure.

  22. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Apparently, shortly before I started at CSUS there was a professor in the mechanical engineering department who failed an entire class…allegedly, after the entire class turned in the exact same file for their final project. I think that was overturned and he was fired, though. :/

  23. neverjaunty says

    So, the professor doesn’t know how to manage a class and threw a tantrum as a result?

  24. chigau (違う) says

    “throwing false pearls after real swine” sounds like the teacher was burned-out.
    Retiring rather than inflicting himself on another crop of young minds sounds like a wise decision.

  25. anteprepro says


    Apparently, shortly before I started at CSUS there was a professor in the mechanical engineering department who failed an entire class…allegedly, after the entire class turned in the exact same file for their final project. I think that was overturned and he was fired, though. :/

    Now THAT is what a legitimate “you all fail” looks like. Horrible that the professor got punished for doing the right thing.

  26. uri4 says

    @PZ #10

    I think culture makes a huge difference. Temple did not pretend to be an elite school: we were told that it was our job to find the diamonds in our region and make them better. Rough kids, rude kids, kids with serious educational deficiencies…it was our job and our responsibility to teach them.

    I did my undergraduate work at Temple. I transferred in after flaming out at another university and doing a year at a community college. My professors at Temple were much as you describe; tough, rigorous, conscientious, committed, and wholly unsympathetic to students who did not step up and do the work.

    When I started at Temple I was sent to an orientation in which it was explained to me (and every other physics, math, and chemistry student entering that term) that the school had generous admission standards, but generally had very few seats in any upper division science class. That we could expect to be graded on performance, and to be failed when we failed to perform.

    The advice that stuck with me from that meeting, that still rings in my head after 27 years; “Don’t talk to us about ‘the real world’. This is the real world. It is the part of the real world where you are a student. Do your homework.”

    I think about that orientation — conducted by a professor whom I’d later have for partial diff. eq’ns — whenever I am faced with a student who wants to talk to me about “learning styles” or who complains that the class I am teaching “doesn’t matter” in whatever career he to which she aspires, and should not be graded rigorously (or graded at all).

    In recent years I’ve had all of the kinds of students that Professor Horwitz says he saw, although I’ve never had ONLY uncivil and/or dishonest and/or incapable students in a class. I fail students for cheating at least once a year. I eject students and refuse them re-entry when they refuse to turn off their cell phones or tablets, or when I catch them taking pictures/making videos in class. I’ve had to call security for an escort, because a student has threatened me, more than once. I’ve had to lock a student out of my class-room when he became violently agitated over a failing exam grade.

    And, I’ve had little or no support from the administration at the school were I teach. I’ve take students to the conduct officer over threats of violence, and been told to “work it out”. I’ve had department chair intervene to set-aside my grade for a student who complained that I made her “feel stupid” (not that I called her stupid, only that I hurt her feelings).

    I am repeatedly told that retention numbers are paramount. That academic considerations are secondary to keeping the classes filled and graduating as many students as possible as efficiently as possible.

    What keeps me from doing as Professor Horowitz did, and abandoning a class, are the few students in every class who show up and do the work. I teach to them. I teach for them.

  27. lrak nnam says

    A few years ago I took over a intro to statistics class about a third of the way thru the semester, the class was mostly Asian and the initial instructor had a very thick Spanish accent, it was not working. My first night of class was the first exam and it appeared to me that almost everyone in the class was cheating, they were allowed to use lap tops and it appeared they were all emailing each other. Most the class did poorly on the exam anyway, my solution was to allow everyone to throw out their lowest exam score, and make it very explicit that anyone caught emailing or communicating during any exams would get an”f”. My point is that the students were behaving badly in a response to an impossible situation for them. I wonder if maybe this teacher didn’t in some way add to the disaster that was his class.
    Although as someone that can always appreciate a good rant I kind of enjoyed what he said anyway.

  28. drst says

    I gave an entire class a 0 on a quiz once. I had been battling with a small number of really obnoxious freshman who kept using their phones during class despite my repeated warnings. I finally said “If this happens again, I will end the class, walk out the door and everyone will get a 0 on the quiz.” That worked for a week. The next week I made the same promise, one of the guys answered his phone during class, and I walked out. I learned later that the kid responsible got chased across the quad by an angry group of his classmates. He wasn’t injured, thankfully.

    The response from the class had some fascinating gender dynamics. I had female students approaching me all week apologizing to me for their classmate’s behavior. I had several young white dudes emailing me (never came to talk to me face to face) complaining that since they hadn’t personally done anything wrong it wasn’t fair that they were being punished. And of course several parents calling my department chair and the dean to complain, both of whom were stuck since my policies were spelled out on the syllabus and the students were given a direct warning that night.

    I sent an email saying that at the next class meeting, I expected an apology from the responsible student and only if that happened would I consider what, if anything, I was going to do about the quiz. The student apologized, and I attempted to explain to the entire class, including the misbehaving freshman, that they owed it to their fellow students not to be such assholes no matter how bored they were or how much they disliked the class, because preserving a functional learning environment was what it was always about. You don’t have classroom rules for the sake of being a fascist, you have them so people can concentrate and learn in a safe environment without unnecessary distractions.

    (Not being an idiot, I told them I wouldn’t make a move about the lost quiz until the semester was over, to incentivize them to behave themselves for the remaining 3 weeks. I think I ended up dropping the lowest quiz grade for everyone, which negated the 0.)

    Long way of saying I’ve had plenty of problematic classes or generally good classes with major problem students. Sometimes the group is just rambunctious and you have to find a way to work with it. Sometimes you have to be the fascist asshole coming down on them for the sake of the entire room. Sometimes they don’t care and you have to give up on that class and put your energy into the students who do care and leave the others to their fate. Welcome to teaching.

  29. anteprepro says

    The student apologized, and I attempted to explain to the entire class, including the misbehaving freshman, that they owed it to their fellow students not to be such assholes no matter how bored they were or how much they disliked the class, because preserving a functional learning environment was what it was always about. You don’t have classroom rules for the sake of being a fascist, you have them so people can concentrate and learn in a safe environment without unnecessary distractions.

    drst, I have never seen an explanation of that policy put so well. Perfect.

  30. Xaivius says

    So, tell me, DRST, why are you any better than the professor above, outside of the fact that your Gambit worked? You did roughly the same thing with lower consequences. I don’t care if it was effective, punishing a disparate group for the actions of a few is still fucking despicable and petty.

  31. anteprepro says


    One- Failing one quiz is not equal to failing people for the whole class.
    Two- Repeated warnings were given, which is not known to be the case for the professor from this story.
    Three- An option was given by which the punishment could be removed, which was also not noted in this story.

    drst’s punishment, or gambit as you call it, also “worked”. That itself distinguishes it from the one in the story. Not because the other professor’s punishment didn’t “work”: It was that the punishment wasn’t supposed to “work”. It wasn’t meant to improve student behavior in class, it was meant exclusively to hurt students in retaliation for unpleasant classroom experiences, with no intention to correct any behaviors and no intention of giving them anyway to remedy the situation. In addition to flunking them for the entire class, not just one part of it, the professor in the main story explicitly says he is doing so because he doesn’t think the students in the class deserve to graduate!

    I don’t approve of collective punishment either, but the punishment in drst’s case is hardly as bad as you are making it out to be.

  32. phira says

    I’ve been trying to think of an eloquent, reasoned response to this professor’s behavior, but all that I seem to be able to come up with is, “You’re a bad professor and probably a bad person.” I come from a family of educators and I teach at the college level (I’m a teaching fellow, but at a school that prioritizes teaching, and I hope to continue teaching after I get my degree), and I can’t imagine justifying failing an entire course of students.

    Even if everyone failed for real, I’d still feel personally responsible. The way that assessment works is to see how well students understand the material you taught them. Some people understand the material better than others, but if NO one understands it (or you created assessments that don’t accurately assess), that’s your own damn fault.

    This professor clearly doesn’t understand class management, and clearly does not truly care about teaching. It’s embarrassing that people like him are faculty.

  33. Al Dente says

    I agree with Xaivius @33. I really dislike collective punishments for the actions of one person or a few people. I’ve been given collective punishment when I was not at fault and I resented it intensively. Punishment me for my transgressions and I won’t complain. I’ll complain bitterly if I’m punished because of someone else’s wrongdoing.

  34. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    I don’t approve of collective punishment either, but the punishment in drst’s case is hardly as bad as you are making it out to be.

    There is no circumstance in which punishing an individual person for the actions of someone else, whom they have no position of responsibility over, is not abusive.

    Fuck your excuses.

  35. anteprepro says

    Okay, you think drst was abusive Azykyroth? Make your case to them then. I won’t make excuses for their grading policy. Have at it.

  36. says

    Also, collective punishment gives the assholes power.
    Maybe they know they’re going to fail anyway, maybe they resent those students who work and participate and get good grades. Trigger some collective punishment and they are fucked, too.
    I know, sometimes you have no other choices*. But don’t make it extra work, don’t give good students bad grades.

    *Collective punishment I enforced:
    -Since I couldn’t finish my lesson in time because of interruption, I used some minutes of their break.
    -Since they were way too loud, they had to put away everything but their book and start writing. Yes, the kids who hadn’t been loud felt that this was unfair.

  37. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    There’s something nasty about collective punishments when the teacher’s idea is to punish everyone so that then the rest could punish the actual culprit in revenge… which is actually the way these things are usually dished out (see drst) because you know other students are going to resent the guilty party.

  38. wcorvi says

    I inherited a physics class from a known problem-professor, and expected that I would be a breath of fresh air. Turned out that some of his students had gotten the exams ahead of time, and they were the only ones to pass. So, when I held them to task, they rebelled – told the chair that I had put things on the exam that weren’t on any previous exams. Well, duh. How did THEY know?

    I ended up moving the interested ones to a different room, and told the rest they could come only if they didn’t disrupt the class. That worked.

    We’ve all had unruly, disruptive students, and I suppose it’s possible to get an entire section of them. Peer pressure wouldn’t work, as there is none. IF that were true here, then maybe the prof wasn’t out of line. I wasn’t there to say.

  39. drst says

    Azkyroth @ 38

    There is no circumstance in which punishing an individual person for the actions of someone else, whom they have no position of responsibility over, is not abusive.

    Students have power over other students. Classroom spaces are a social environment. The approval or disapproval of other students is a large part of classroom dynamics and it has to be carefully managed by a good teacher. But the students have a role to play as well. Peer disapproval is a factor in classroom behavior at all levels, and in this case, it was enabling the continued breaking of rules.

    I doubt you would be able to find a teacher anywhere who has not used or threatened to use collective punishment on a classroom, and frankly any teacher who claimed otherwise I would assume to be lying. It’s easy to make blanket absolutist statements in a discussion. The real world is a lot messier than that.

    Giliell @ 40 – that is a definite risk. That particular class happened in April so I felt fairly certain I was not going to trigger further assholery. I also was pretty confident that the students responsible had just not thought about the fact that there were 90 other people in the room and that their behavior wasn’t just an annoyance to me but was negatively impacting people. In this case I wanted to get them all to understand the responsibility they owed to their fellow students, in my class and in all their other classes.

    Beatrice @ 41 – that was a concern of mine, and as I said I’m thankful the kid wasn’t hurt and that the class was large enough that most of them didn’t know who he was. That was also why I sent the email about the apology almost immediately, to make it clear that there was an option to fix the situation. I admit my sympathy was somewhat limited since the rules had been clearly stated repeatedly and he broke the rules anyway.

  40. says

    Back in college a roommate was accused of cheating in a history class. The instructor told my friend he knew he hadn’t cheated but to get the ones who did, members of some fraternity, he had to accuse “regular” students too.

    The frat brothers had a paper file of passing papers for certain courses and some instructors hardly changed their classes over the years.

    My friend was cleared but it did lead to some sleepless nights

  41. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Students have power over blah blah blah blah blah

    I repeat:

    There is no circumstance in which punishing an individual person for the actions of someone else, whom they have no position of responsibility over, is not abusive.

    None of your response, which could be summarized as “it’s easier this way,” has any bearing on that.

  42. says


    Students have power over other students.

    Which means that you’re pushing your discipline problems onto them to solve.
    a) you’re being oaid for this, they aren’t. To make your problem their problem is inherently unfair.
    b) What would you have done if the others hurt the kid? Stand by and say “oh my, look at those bad kids”?

  43. drst says

    anteprepro @ 31 – thanks. I could see as I was explaining it to them the next week, a lot of wide eyes and nodding heads as it sank in that this wasn’t actually about me having secret fascist ambitions but about what they owed to other students. It wasn’t a huge campus and I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with this problem. I was hoping it would have a ripple effect. Even if you hated me as a teacher or hated my class, disrupting the class doesn’t impact me nearly as much as it impacts other students who haven’t done anything to you.

    Xaivius @ 33 – anteprepro already covered this but no, I did not do the same thing as the professor in this story did. For one thing, I wasn’t acting out of revenge, but to enforce rules necessary to preserve the learning environment of the class. For another, the rules were spelled out clearly in advance. Any of the students who couldn’t abide by the rules had ample chances to leave the class before that point. (And before you ask, the class was an elective, not a requirement, so nobody needed to be there to graduate.) It’s not clear from the article but this professor does not seem to have said that flunking an entire class was a possibility that could be avoided. It wasn’t a learning opportunity, it was him being vengeful. I also offered a way to right the situation even though my original rules didn’t include that chance.

    phira @ 35 – yeah in this case if I hadn’t read that some of the students were actually passing I would have assumed the professor had completely failed in his job. I ran statistical analysis on every test and quiz I used in that class and any time a question got close to being missed by a large percentage I would toss the question out because obviously the problem wasn’t the students, it was the question. This case, though, seems more like a tantrum being thrown.

    Al Dente @ 36 – I’ve been in that situation too and I didn’t like it either, but sometimes you have to engage with social dynamics to make a point. I definitely tried everything I could to avoid hitting that point but eventually I had to follow through on my own rules.

  44. Al Dente says

    drst @43

    Fine, the ONE GUY out of 90 broke the rules. How do I, sitting six rows away, have the slightest impact on him talking on his phone? Am I supposed to leap over five rows of people, rip his phone out of his hand, and grind it beneath my jackboots? Or am I going to sit there, fuming because the asshole prof is punishing me for someone else’s action?

    You’re a fucking bully, using a position of power to abuse innocent people because you’re pissed off at one person. Fuck you!

  45. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Fine, the ONE GUY out of 90 broke the rules.

    Basic rules of behavior during a group session. Turn your phone onto vibrate, and if you must take a call, YOU leave to do so.
    Should be part of socialization 101.
    Do anything other than that during a company meeting and you will be talked to, up to and including being terminated for repeat offenses.
    Where does this socialization start?

  46. Xaivius says

    @DRST: So it’s in your syllabus that a student can fail a quiz because ANOTHER student misbehaved? Fuck that, I’d report you to whatever school or university body was in charge of monitoring such things. This is just bad pedagogy.

    If one person is being a shit, tell them to get out. Report them to security if they’re being dangerous. But punishing an otherwise normal, well meaning student for the actions of another is just FURTHER disrupting the learning process in the class, because now EVERYONE is angry, and not necessarily at initial interlocuter (the asshole student) but several correctly recognizing the real source, the second interlocuter: You.

  47. Xaivius says

    @DRST: To clarify, if you’re punishing a class with TANGIBLE NEGATIVE IMPACTS (of which a written grade is such) for the actions of a subset, you are wrong. Period. Full stop. You have failed as a teacher and an Instructor. You should have simply dismissed the students from the class and been done with it. Your immediate apology afterwards shows that you apparently did NOT think this through, because I can tell you that I would have been your office post haste and pissed off because I was just given a zero on a quiz because you couldn’t handle a discipline problem in a classroom.

    tl;dr: Tests, quizzes, exams, and, ultimately, grades, are tools to Assess learning and knowledge of students. they are not your personal fucking tool to browbeat non-offending students with. Your actions were ill-thought out and not, in any way, shape, or form, befitting someone instructing others.

  48. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    @DRST: So it’s in your syllabus that a student can fail a quiz because ANOTHER student misbehaved?

    in drst’s defense (hardly), Putting it in the syllabus is supposed to be a deterrent, so all the students will be ‘considerate’ of their classmates, and not risk causing others (innocent ones) to fail for one’s misbehavior.
    We all know ‘deterrents’ don’t work out. So expecting it to, does, indeed, fall under “Bad pedagogy”.

  49. says

    several years ago now, I taught freshman level chemistry lab at the university I was attending. Thankfully I never had any students misbehave with the chemicals, but I did my best to make it clear from the start that chemicals were things to be respected, not played with.

    We had to give lab quizzes over the previous weeks lab. I had two attendance based rules: 1) that if you arrived after the last quiz had been turned in when I had already started lecture, you got a zero for that quiz and 2) if you arrived after I’d finished lecture and the lab had already started you had to ask the professor permission to attend a make up lab on a different day for safety reasons.

    I only had one student push either of those. Once he came in after the lab was in full swing and had to attend a make up. The rest of the time he was chronically late, showing up after more than half the class had already turned in their quizzes.

    He kept showing up later and later, and I kept starting precisely on time. His classmates got so annoyed with him they would show up to class early to finish the qizzes and have them all turned in before he would arrive so that they wouldn’t have to wait on him to finish the quiz before they could start the actual lab. After he came in after the last quiz had already been turned in a few times, low and behold if he didn’t suddenly learn what a clock and schedule were for.

    He was on time for my class by the end of the semester.
    He did pass by the way, you could fail nearly all the lab quizzes and still pass the class as they were weighted very little.

  50. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So it’s in your syllabus

    It shouldn’t be on a syllabus. It should be in the rules students are expected to abide by in class. Which should be college wide.

  51. evodevo says

    Wow! Sounds like he was teaching high school …. I’ve taught both HS and university level – never let any of my classes get THAT out of control.

  52. ck, the Irate Lump says

    I have to be honest here: I get visions of the guys who complain that every girlfriend they’ve ever had slept around behind their back. Either I have to believe that all women are cheaters, or I can believe that the only consistent feature of all these dysfunctional relationships (i.e. the complainer) is probably at the root of the problem. Occam’s Razor cuts pretty cleanly here.

    I’ll grant that cheating and other misbehaviours may have happened in his class, though. The thing is, it pretty much happens in every class occasionally.

  53. Menyambal says

    Well, I just finished writing my roughest feedback ever, for the elementary class that I was the substitute for today. I ended it by saying that the good students did not deserve such a poor classroom environment.

    I several times during the day tried to get the disruptive students to see how their behavior was affecting others. I told the good students to not laugh or encourage bad behavior, but that was as far as that went. I worked hard to get the class to lunch on time, and to recess, despite the scuffling, so they did not have to suffer all for the sins of the few.

    It may be that the prof was right in his assessment and action – he may have had a statistical anomaly that corrupted the few good apples – but it seems to me that the more likely case was one bad prof.

    After my day, he has some sympathy, but he still should not have done that. The college has to do something – giving everyone an averaged grade is my first suggestion. I don’t care what they do with the prof.

  54. Xaivius says

    Alright, nerd, seriously. You’re saying that you support the punishment of people not involved with an issue? I thought better of you.

  55. psychomath says

    I honestly cannot believe that DRST’s collective punishment isn’t being universally condemned. I would certainly have reported any professor who did such a thing, whether I had been informed of the policy beforehand or not. Disgusting.

  56. rghthndsd says

    drst @ 43: “I doubt you would be able to find a teacher anywhere who has not used or threatened to use collective punishment on a classroom, and frankly any teacher who claimed otherwise I would assume to be lying.”

    I have taught university level mathematics for the past 13 semesters (19 including summers), ranging from services courses (the calcs) to graduate courses, with well over 1000 students in total by now. I have never once threatened collective punishment, and I find the idea that some consider this appalling.

  57. chigau (違う) says

    You’re using the I thought better of you. argument?

  58. Menyambal says

    Yeah, the last time I saw collective punishment was in my high-school gym class back in 1975 or so. Coach Wilson had us all running laps because he thought one of us had committed some piddling infraction. I knew that it hadn’t happened because I was the suspect. I didn’t dare speak up because I knew the other guys would believe that I was guilty, would kick my ass even if I was innocent, and would be horrified at the thought that Coach considered me part of the group enough to issue group punishment, and kick my ass. (The only time I have ever seen a person’s heartbeat through their back, and I didn’t say a damn word.)

    Group punishment for the crimes of the few is wrong, even when it is a government doing it to the citizens of another nation during time of war.

  59. Grewgills says

    The closest I have come to collective punishment while teaching college was when I was alerted by a few students that some students had cheated on a test. I hadn’t seen the behavior and the students didn’t want to officially come forward and make the accusation to the administration. At the beginning of the next lecture I had the students all answer two essay questions from the test they had taken two days prior. I let them all know that I would be comparing the answers and that if I was convinced they cheated the consequences would be far more dire than if they came to me and admitted what they had done. The students that I had been told about all came to me by the end of the day and admitted what they had done. I took them to the dean and all were put on academic probation in addition to failing my class.
    When teaching middle school and high school I have kept classes over time if they were disruptive, but that was a pretty rare. The students knew I had a set amount planned to cover and if I finished early they would have time to work on their homework with some assistance.

  60. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    The very few times I used collective punishment early in my school teaching career were enough to teach me that it doesn’t work. In the years I subsequently spent training teachers, this was one of the basic tenets (not that, as happened to me as a trainee, the advice was always followed). In the decade I’ve spent teaching at university level, the idea that other adult paying students should suffer because of the actions of others has never been one that I had heretofore thought would even cross the mind of even the most pedagogically ignorant of my peers.
    There are always students who behave problematically. Some problems arise from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, some from an inability to adapt from the spoonfed nature of school learning to the expectation of more self-motivated effort, others from downright immaturity and rudeness, others still (not, of course, in my classes) are due to the inability of the instructor to make classes engaging. In all of these cases, there needs to be both a short term and long term attempt at solution.
    Short term, disruptive students need to be removed from the class and cheating students dealt with by disregarding assessments on which they cheated. Someone being disruptive or cheating by using a phone during an in-class test? Throw the individual out, give them a zero. Far less disruptive to the innocent majority, fewer of the others are liable to do the same, and you can even stipulate that repeat offenders will have more severe penalties up to failing the course. The only social pressure I’ve had to use is on the one occasion when a group of students didn’t believe me when I said I’d ask them to leave if they kept talking over me, and I stopped the class until the other students all joined in telling them to get out (after I’d given them directions about where to go to make a formal complaint about me) – so around 5 minutes out of a 2 hour class, and the later classes were far less chatty.
    The short term solutions are sticking plasters, and aren’t worth a damn if you don’t follow up by addressing the underlying causes. If your institution doesn’t have a tutorial system that will help guide students in becoming better learners, that’s an institutional failure. If there isn’t a code of conduct that means staff who remove disruptive students are supported, that’s also an institutional failure. If there isn’t a clear set of regulations and procedures where students who cheat on assessments are given the zero marks they deserve and given harsher punishments for more severe or repeated cheating, that’s an institutional failure. I don’t know that any of these would be a failure of T A&M, but my guess would be not. If your institution has all those provisions and you fail to use them to address bad student behaviour, or if you don’t make your classes engaging and the assessments challenging, accessible and not susceptible to cheating, then the failure is yours as an instructor.
    Also, I don’t know how it works in the US, but here in the UK everything that is assessed to form part of a degree has to be internally and externally moderated – a sample of the work is marked by a colleague to ensure we’re giving consistent marks for similar work within the institution, and someone from the same discipline at another institution looks at a sample and takes an overview of the procedures to ensure there is parity between higher education providers. Giving a whole class a failing grade without marking actual work (or in spite of good quality work submitted by some students) wouldn’t even pass the first hurdle of internal mark moderation. It looks like that has happened in this case as well, so I don’t see how Horwitz thought the effect of this would be anything but totally counterproductive.

  61. carlie says

    I have used collective stern talking-tos a few times, when there was a precipitous slide towards complete apathy in a class, but I have never penalized one student for another’s performance. I refuse to even do group projects where the project itself gets a grade that applies to each of the students – when there is group work, I still grade them each individually on their clearly-marked portion of the project. Hell, I even think grading on a curve is in many ways unethical, as it makes each student’s grade dependent on the performance of the random sampling of other students who happen to be in the same class with them.

    So no, I don’t agree with what this teacher did, at all. Not even a bit.

  62. Anri says

    So, in the US we’ve been training generation after generation to have contempt for education and the educated in general, and teaching and professors in specific, and we find that academic professors are sometimes afforded little respect?


  63. drst says

    Giliell @ 46 – no, I was using the social dynamics of the classroom to help teach them about their responsibility to each other. The solution wasn’t left between the students – I set the terms, it was my decision. The remedy I offered was for the student to apologize to the class (not to me). Also it was the entire class’s problem, not just mine, since they were disrupting the entire class. And I would have been horrified if that kid had been hurt, but as I said, most of the class didn’t know who it was.

    Al Dente @ 48 – no, 10 or so guys out of 100 broke the rules repeatedly for about 12 weeks of a 15 week semester. And they were warned repeatedly about the consequences. If they couldn’t abide by the rules of the room, they could have left. They kept coming to class and being disruptive, so there were consequences. And I would point out I didn’t actually abuse anyone since the student apologized and the “innocent” students weren’t penalized. But hey if it makes you feel righteous rage to call me a bully and scream epithets, have at it.

    Xaivius & slithey tove – actually deterrents do work but only if they’re not empty threats. I never made an empty threat to a classroom. In this case they were warned repeatedly, ignored it and there were the exact consequences I told them would occur. Oh and it worked, there were no more phone disruptions in the middle of class for the remainder of the semester. And my evaluations for that class, which I would have expected to be completely awful, were pretty much the same numbers as the previous times I taught that course, so I think I made the right call.

    Xaivius – you seem to have missed the part where there wasn’t an actual punishment, since the student apologized to the rest of the class for breaking the rules. I did not apologize to anyone. Please actually read what I wrote before you tell me what a worthless human being I am. And yes, it was in the syllabus that if you used your cellphone in class the instructor would act. Having to stop class to eject a student doesn’t fix the problem that the class is being disrupted. I don’t really care about your opinion on the situation. I did the right thing under the circumstances, so conjure up whatever maledictions you like.

    rghthndsd @ 60. – ok. I don’t believe you but claim whatever you want.

  64. drst says

    I’m wondering how much of the response to my story here is mirroring what happened in reality, where it was white dudes telling me what a horrible unfair fascist I was being punishing the INNOCENT PEOPLE rather than only the guilty party, treating the class as a group that had responsibility for each other rather than individuals, while the women were angry at the person who broke the rules and caused the problem for the entire group (as well as being angry with me).

    Women get judged for the actions of other women ALL THE TIME. Hell women get judged in comparison to the existence of other women constantly. Women and members of minority groups go through their whole lives being judged based on the behavior of other people in their group or worse, stereotypes of their group that may or may not be relevant but that someone else is assuming apply to them. Being a member of an oppressed group you’re always being held accountable for things that aren’t your individual actions, whether it’s people judging a young black man as a threat on a street even if he’s done nothing or a woman being called a slut for wearing a skirt someone happens to think is too short. Being in a minority group means you basically never get taken as an individual first.

    It’s interesting. People who are accustomed to not being able to be treated as presumed individual first and group member second have had wildly different reactions to this whole thing than white dudes. Of course I don’t know the gender or ethnic identity of many of the commenters here, but I have a sneaky suspicion it mirrors what happened among the class.

  65. magistramarla says

    The first thing that I noticed was that this happened in a Texas university.
    I think that much of the blame for this poor student behavior rests solidly in the failure of the K-12 education system in Texas.
    I taught in a Texas high school. Early in October of one year, I had sent out progress reports showing that several of my first year students were failing. I was called into the AP’s office because I had such a high failure rate.
    I explained to her that this was my way of giving those freshmen a warning and that most of those grades would be passing ones by the nine week report card. Once the students figured out that actually doing homework was important, they would be fine for the rest of the year. Her reply was that I should give the students a day every week, such as Friday, to finish homework and take make-up quizzes during class time.
    I felt that this was terribly unfair to the students in the class who did come prepared. It was also not in the best interests of those students who were struggling, since I considered high school to be the time that students should begin to learn responsibility and better learning habits. She told me that it was my responsibility to make sure that all students passed no matter what, since the school had a goal of having a 100% passing rate.
    The educational system in Texas is failing to teach the students the basic skills that they need to succeed in college. Because of the massive grade inflation, those unprepared students are being accepted into college and the professors are being handed the behavioral problems that the high schools should have dealt with much earlier.
    The professor may have made some mistakes, but I feel that it is not his responsibility to deal with high school level behavioral problems.

  66. ragdish says

    To veer into a slight tangent here, I’d like peoples’ thoughts on biology teaching. After slogging through undergrad pre-med and med school, I’ve always hated the rote memorization that is expected in biology. Very few profs celebrated understanding mechanisms and processes over blindly remembering facts. Honestly, I think a lot of biology courses that I took were no different than madrassas that force children to recite the Quran. Even in high school we had to hang ourselves upside down and flagellate ourselves until we’ve committed to memory the life cycle of a frog. And mind you the life cycle of a frog is truly fascinating as the tadpole develops appendages and gradually matures into an adult frog. Think of all the genes being elegantly switched on and off until we get Kermit. Think of the complexities of frog anatomy and physiology. And only one lone biology teacher in high school favored understanding over rote memorization. That same teacher whom after school showed me and a group of other nerds cyclosis in a plant cell under high magnification. The beauty and majesty we saw made sense to all the steps in photosynthesis. Mind you this was all 30 years ago. Has biology teaching evolved from high school all the way to postgraduate education? Are current teachers and profs more like my lone biology teacher or like PZ Myers? What are your experiences?

  67. Xaivius says

    Alright, so DRST comes in a posts the same story with a few differences in outcome that PZ is fucking ripping into in the OP, and claims that ‘nonono, you see, I can just have the STUDENTS do my discipline FOR ME”. Fuck this. Not dealing with authoritarians this early in the morning. I’m out.

  68. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says


    treating the class as a group that had responsibility for each other rather than individuals

    How am I responsible for some student 5 rows from me texting or talking during class? Or cheating?

  69. Seize says

    DRST, I understand your frustration, but collective punishment is harmful to any community, including a student community.

    I wanted to respond to this thread because I actually had an experience with an attempt at collective punishment this year in medical school. I’m a first year student and I was elected by my peers to be the liaison between our class and the course directors in a specific basic sciences course. There was an academic integrity issue where essentially a handful of students (4 or 5 out of 150) were allegedly faking their class attendance by gaming the attendance system. The course directors responded to this by telling me that I needed to warn the whole class that the class would bare the brunt of any punishment if this behavior was not curtailed by the class.

    After considering this threat for several days I chose not to communicate it to the class. Our degree is very stressful and “unit cohesion” is critical to long term success as a physician. I chose not to be a mouthpiece for an authority which would threaten the cohesion of our class as a social unit by forcing students to report on and police one another.

    Even if I believed this kind of threat would be effective at modifying behavior, I would not support it because the side effects are not worth it.

  70. psychomath says

    DRST @68

    So, since women and minorities are used to being treated unfairly, they don’t complain when you do it. And this is good? I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you’re an asshole, and what you did was wrong. It is your job to discipline students. It is not the job of other students. That is all there is to it, and if you can’t understand that, you should not teach.

  71. Al Dente says

    drst @67

    Al Dente @ 48 – no, 10 or so guys out of 100 broke the rules repeatedly for about 12 weeks of a 15 week semester. And they were warned repeatedly about the consequences. If they couldn’t abide by the rules of the room, they could have left. They kept coming to class and being disruptive, so there were consequences. And I would point out I didn’t actually abuse anyone since the student apologized and the “innocent” students weren’t penalized. But hey if it makes you feel righteous rage to call me a bully and scream epithets, have at it.

    So your story changes from one guy talking on his phone to 10 or so (10%) of the students pissing you off. The other 90% have no control over the 10% but, since you’re an asshole, you punish them anyway. And somehow it’s my fault that you’re a fucking bully. I sure am glad I’ll never take a class from you because you’re a fucking lousy teacher as well as being an asshole.

  72. felidae says

    Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a Texas A&M grad–nuff said about the quality of students