Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A System Broken

The semester is over. Finally. 99.9% of grades are posted. (One student e-mailed me a paper - which they are not supposed to do and she sent it in .wps format. (Huh? Wha?) Hubby is slaving away, trying to help me open the damn thing.) I can now explain what happened with Inappropriate Sister "missing" the final and (sort of) missing the make-up final.

I have a policy for all exams: I will accept latecomers (one word? Two word hyphenate? Anyone?) until the first person finishes his or her exam and leaves the room. Then, if I am feeling kind, I will reschedule a make-up exam that will be hellishly more difficult than the regular exam. So don't be late. That simple. This is in my syllabus. I remind students of this the class meeting before every exam.

Guess who strolled in 35 minutes after the final exam started? Yes, Inappropriate Sister. Somehow I just knew this was going to happen. I knew it. After I brought Kiki to class, I was greatly elevated in her eyes, but I just knew we hadn't finished our head-butting festival. Right before the final, I looked around the room and noticed her absence. I asked her brother, "Brother, where is Sister?" He was perplexed. "I dunno. She's on her way. She was with me in the parking lot across the street a minute ago." Whatever. Can't keep track of your relatives for two minutes while crossing the street? That's for their family to work out.

She literally strolled in 35 minutes late. No tears, no panic, no "tragedy struck and that's why I'm late." Just smiling, "I'm here now." Hooray. Let's have a ticker-tape parade. I was not happy. "Sister. Half the class has finished the exam. You are officially 'Too. Late.'" I'm sure you can guess what she said. Because it wasn't her reality, it couldn't possibly be true: "I didn't see anyone leave." I was pissed. And I didn't handle it well. "Here," I said, "Are a stack of finished exams. What more proof do you need?" Now she was pissy right back, "I didn't say I didn't believe you. I just said I didn't see anyone leave." What-fucking-ever. Tomato, To-mah-to.

So, I go through the hassle of trying to schedule a make-up exam. We agree on Friday at 9:00 a.m.

And here, my friends, is where the system breaks down. This is WHY I offer make-up exams and second chances and third chances. But let me back up.

J. used to teach part-time at another local university. Freshman Calculus. For fun. gob bless him. When I first embarked on this ridiculous endeavor called grad school + teaching fellowship, he said, "You will have students challenge you but as long as you have a good department chair, you'll be fine."

But the thing is, ladies and gentlemen, I don't have a good department chair. I don't even have a good department stool. (Ha, ha! With the rage comes the potty humor.)

I can't blame him (the stool) entirely. I know some (or half or all) of the onus is on me for being too spineless to stand up to him, so the system is broken all the way down.

What the hell am I talking about? Here is an example:

After the cheating incident, I spoke with some of my more experienced colleagues. Each of them shared with me example after example of a student cheating and the department chair siding with the student. For example, one of my colleagues said she was reading a paper when about three paragraphs in, she read, "We here at Planned Parenthood blah, blah, blah," and she thought, "Wait a minute. This kid doesn't work at Planned Parenthood," and she paid a visit to their website. Lo and behold, this student's paper, lifted entirely from a Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet. She gave him an "F" on the assignment (which happened to be an extra credit reaction paper to an off-campus speaker) and threatened to take him to Judicial Affairs. He complained to our department chair, who said, "It's just an extra credit paper. Give him a break." The same student was busted for blatantly cheating on the final and did get an "F" in the class, but that's another story, I guess.

I have story after story after story like this: Student fucks up. Instructor puts foot down. Student whines to department chair. All is forgiven. Instructor looks like bad guy; students fails to learn lesson of accountability for actions and department chair is benevolent hero.

Friday morning, after waiting for an hour and a half for Inappropriate Sister, I tracked down my advisor. She's been doing this for 30+ years and is very practical and no-nonsense. Her response? An hour and a half is an hour and twenty minutes too long. She's pushed you all semester and this is bullshit. You have other things to do. But before you go, just check in with the department chair so he knows what you're going to do. Then follow up the whole thing with an e-mail so you have some documentation.

I met with the department chair and he said, "I completely support your decision, of course. But, might I recommend for the sake of peace, just leaving the final exam here with our department secretary. She can administer it to her if she ever shows up." What did I say to the man who holds my career in his hands? I asked, "You really think I should still give her the opportunity to take the exam, even though she is going on two hours late and didn't e-mail or call?" He said, "Well, things happen. Now if she doesn't show up today, but does show up Monday, then I definitely wouldn't let her take the exam at that point." Wow. Way to put your foot down.

I left. After giving the exam to the department secretary. I was torn between hoping she'd show up and hoping she wouldn't. I also had my own school work (take-home final, etc.,) to do so I tried my best not to think about it.

Yesterday I spoke to the department secretary. Here's the skinny:

Sister showed up at noon. Three hours late. She asked the secretary if she could have a few minutes to look over her notes before she took the exam. Secretary said yes. Sister went out in the hallway and read her notes for an hour. Came in at 1:00 pm. to take the exam. Said she couldn't take it until she went and got some coffee. Apparently, we were out. My department chair showed up to save the day. He made her some coffee!!! She got a 72 on the exam. I picked up the exam today. She had written across the top, "Thank you for your grace."

Grace, my ass.

This makes me want to quit. Or cry. Or both.

Also, please don't blast me for being a spineless wuss. At least not today. Can I have a make-up blasting on Friday?


Anonymous janet said...

maybe you can deduct a point for every hour she started the test late from the original one. so like....48 hours? 72 minus 48...There's an F for you.

May 16, 2006 5:42 PM  
Blogger ColoradoCastaway said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your feelings on this one, and I sympathize. Too many times(and it happens as a parent too) i have been given a position of superiority over fellow workers. as I go about my routine of dising out work assignments, praise and ridicule(for lack of a better word) inevitably someone decides to go over my head because they are unhappy. so here comes my boss to side with mr/ms underling without even considering my side of the equation. I end up looking like an ass everytime. Perhaps renaming him the Dept. Stool is fitting considering the dual meaning of "stool" But, duh, I'm sure that was your intent in the first place. :)

May 16, 2006 6:13 PM  
Blogger Lundie said...

Hi there. I drifted in from Antique Mommy's blog, and got addicted.

All I can say is kudos for not quitting! Hope your day is better tomorrow!


May 16, 2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

The part that gets me is that she got a 72! Damn! At least she could have graced (ha ha) you with the satisfaction of completely bombing the exam so the connection between being a total f*** up and poor performance could have so wonderfully been illustrated.
If you don't show up for your make up blasting on Friday, you can talk to my department chair on Monday- she'll make you coffee.

May 16, 2006 11:56 PM  
Blogger zygote daddy said...

Wow. That is fucking ridiculous. I probably would have taken out my frustration her exam, and left it in little bloody F-worthy pieces. But that's just me.

May 16, 2006 11:57 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

TL, I love reading your stories and knowing what kind of crap you are required to put up with, I would never blast you for going that extra mile. You were more than fair with this twit. My beef is with that idiot who should be backing you up.

Honestly, it is like this everywhere. I'm beginning to think we are becoming a nation of handholders. True, not everyone is up to the task of being head bitch, but those that are in charge should have some semblance of kahonas. Personal responsibility, or lack of it, is one of my absolute pet peeves. It. Drives. Me. Insane.

May gob have mercy on her employer. No, wait, I take that back. May gob have mercy on her co-workers because those are the poor schmucks who are going to get stuck picking up her slack when she enters the workforce.

May 17, 2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

One of our friends is a professor at a college here and he talks about his department chair quite frequently. (and not so nicely, either.)

So sorry yours is a boob. Is there any possibility he'll be gone soon?

May 17, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger liberalbanana said...

Right on, Zygote Daddy - that IS fucking ridiculous. Man, I just wish I lived in the same town as you. I'd march myself right down to that school and give that thoughtless little twit a piece of my mind. What balls she has! She sounds more like Mariah "Diva" Carey than Jesusy H. McJesus!

May 17, 2006 1:14 PM  
Blogger simply wondered said...

this is why I don't attempt to teach people things - but well done anyway; there must be someone/thing somewhere/when who cares and thinks you're doing a good thing. No? oh well; at least you get paid a tiny fraction of what someone useful like a bond trader would get. There must be good bits?

May 17, 2006 5:35 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

Okay, you are ALL the new chairpeople of my department. Chairman Boob just got "reappointed" for another 4 years. I am mystified. And you know, Sue, you are so right. We ARE a nation of handholders. Chairman Boob says, "A test is just that - a test and it's not worth one of our students being suicidal over." Well, I'm not saying I want anyone to be suicidal. I'm saying, two strikes and you're out. And two is more than enough, I think. But you have all been so great - I honestly would NOT have made it through this semester without you. Everyone gets an A++!

May 17, 2006 9:36 PM  
Anonymous kakes said...

I can't believe that the students get away with so much. Why are they even at college if they can't spell or write a coherent sentance? I'm at university in England and there is no way I would ever be able to sit an exam if I decided to turn up late. If you're not there when the exam starts, tough, you're meant to be 20 years old and intelligent enough to do a degree so they assume you can tell the time. If you fail once, you might be able to do a re-sit in the Autumn but that depends on extenuating circumstances. I'm surprised these students are even employable when they leave considering their blatant disregard for their studies. I guess it just works differently in America and that some people get in because Daddy can afford to send them, I don't know?

May 18, 2006 5:38 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

Welcome, kakes! What a fabulous international perspective you bring! I think you're quite right about the financial thing - not just that Daddy can afford to send them, but also that the university at which I teach is so desperate for tuition money that they're very hesitant to let a student fail - one less student's tuition translates to thousands of dollars, you know.

May 18, 2006 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Lady S said...

The principal at my elementary school is the same way, gob forbid he back up the teachers.

At my college, as I have mentioned, we could take our exams when we chose, but only during certain time slots (9 am and 1 pm I think) each day. However, you have to pick up your exam by 5 minutes after the hour, or you couldn't take it then.

I agree with Janet, I think you should deduct points for every hour she was late.

July 06, 2006 9:10 AM  

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