Two Downsides of Academia

Of course this post would come after final exams when almost every professor (whether R1 of SLAC) is a their wits end with excuses, sob stories, and “I didn’t know this would happen if I………” from students. This is the most unappealing part of my job. But then I think to my self “was I like this as an undergraduate?” and my inner self answers “hell no!!!”. Most say it is a sign of the change in times, where entitlement and a lack of social preparedness and grade inflation are rampant. Mizuki has discussed grade inflation on his campus and I agree with most of his comments. However, in my courses where grade inflation is obviously not the case, two other issues have emerged that are definitely different from when I was an undergraduate.

1. Lack of Social Preparedness….The lack of preparedness of students amazes me every day (and by preparedness I am not speaking in terms of academics). Academically we typically blame high schools for not preparing incoming freshmen, then when they fail, oh well, just another case of the broken system. This is the worst stance to take. I view this as a challenge. However, I can quickly determine whether a student is prepared socially. Growing up in rural West Virginia in the coal fields my father and grandfather had great roles in shaping the person I am today. They each made sure that I looked them in the eye, had a firm handshake, and taught me to speak to authority figures with confidence (e.g. voice wasn’t quivering). Now with texting, twitter, facebook etc students have lost touch with the subtle nuances of human interaction and can carry on friendships or even relationships without ever seeing another human being (Manti Te’o comes to mind or the TV show catfish). So when I entered college, I was definitely equipped with the social skills needed to interact with professors and staff of my undergraduate institution. I have been at my current institution for 3 years now and still students come to my office and never look me in the eye, stare at the wall, and ANSWER THEIR F*&#ING PHONES in my office. Then have the audacity to ask me to bump their grade by 3 percentage points.  I can handle those students who are not prepared academically. Once those students understand how a certain professor asks questions and how approachable we really are, they have cleared their first hurdle to academic success (until they get to Ecology or Organic).

2. Sense of entitlement….This is a biggie. I have students who think that because they pay tuition the grading scale automatically begins at a C (70%). WOW! On my campus the greatest sense of entitlement comes from students in organizations such as frats/sorors, athletics, and honors students. We have a broken system here that over the years has given these individuals a sense of entitlement that is tangential to keeping all fairness in the classroom. Primarily we serve an underrepresented group of students and it seems that the underrepresented groups are more understanding of this ‘fairness’ than the “privileged” students. My job is to maintain consistency in all of my courses and to treat each student equally regardless of background, or preparedness. THIS IS A NO BRAINER RIGHT? Well WRONG. There is a situation that arose within the last week or so that has shaken my sense of Academic Freedom and my confidence in the faculty support system. I am sure this type of situation has occurred with many professors. Not to go into too many details (as I do not know who from my university will read this post; hell they probably do not even know my name) but an issue arose, and now I have received multiple phone calls from “other faculty” (please understand that faculty in this sense is looooosely stated) stating that I should show mercy etc. etc. etc. My syllabus states ABSOLUTELY NO MAKE UPS. DONE! But obviously there is a high degree of misinterpretation in this sentence. IT IS MY CLASSROOM or at least I thought. Now I have wasted two days that I should have been in the field dealing with paperwork, phone calls, countless meetings all trying to cover my six. But why should I have to go through all of this when I am not being capricious or/nor/and arbitrary (yay big words from the faculty handbook). I am being FAIR!!!!!!!!!! Well enough about that. I sure that there will be another post on the outcome of this situation.

I did not get into academia to deal with helicopter parents or this sense of entitlement. At what point did college go from “institution of higher learning” to High School: Part Deux? I foresee this as a huge problem that really does little to prepare students for the real world. There will always be success stories and those are what make my job this best in the world. Taking average students and watching them mature before your eyes and seeing them succeed not only in college, but in LIFE. Those students are the ones that have fell at some point in their academic career and hit pretty hard, but they were able to dust themselves off and have now succeeded (i.e., no entitlement). It is rare to have a student that has hit bottom actually thank a professor for showing no favoritism or preferential treatment, but it has happened to me twice. This supports my case and I will continue to be rigorous but fair in my classroom. This is what builds character as my grandfather used to say. I’ve dusted myself more times that I would like to admit, but I am still here. This is the message I often relate to my students. Success is measured in many ways, for me I have a wonderful wife and son…. and a great job…….and could not be happier…..

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2 thoughts on “Two Downsides of Academia

  1. I wonder how much “lack of social preparedness” reflects the very different environment that today’s students grew up in relative to their professors. I don’t excuse rudeness, and I think that many essential social skills have withered in digital culture. However, I would guess that the social development environment of today’s professors was a lot more like that of THEIR professors and teachers than the environment of today’s students. The cultural gap to overcome may be greater than the one that faculty experienced in the past.

  2. I would agree with you 100%. That said, how do we overcome this? On some basic level I find it more difficult to relate to students. It truly isn’t only age (I am only 10-12 yrs their senior). Or is it that I came up through the ‘old school’ ecology ladder where field work was the only work? I do not have an answer for this.

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