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.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Nobody Ever Said Life Was Fair

When I was growing up, I guess I said, "That's not fair!" on a regular basis. And my mother always responded, "Nobody ever said life was fair." So, whether I realized it or not at that time, fairness became even MORE important to me over the course of my life. And injustice/unfairness on any level - big or small, truly grates on me. It chafes me like sand in a wet bikini bottom.

And the last few days, what with the parent complaint and having to reach out to my student and apologize for him not finding the right room, I've spent a lot of time thinking about fairness.

I've also spent a lot of time thinking about the coordinator of my master's program - a man I adored for many, many reasons. I've thought about him more in the past two years than I have in the past ten, because now as an instructor, I realize what an unbelievably great professor he was himself. So many of the things he did in class, I remember and now think, "Oh . . . duh. I get it now!" I suppose it might be like when people become parents and then think back on their own childhoods and suddenly realize that their parents had a reason behind most of the things they did and it wasn't "just to be mean."

This professor told me once that he kept a "course journal" and after each class, he wrote about what activities he did, what articles we discussed, guest speakers he had (if any) so when he went back and planned the same class meeting for the following semester, he had a record of what worked and what did not. I've been meaning to do that myself for two years now and of course we all know . . . the road to hell, etc.,

One of the things he also did on the first day of each semester was review his "fairness" continuum. First he started by drawing a long line, almost the length of the board and wrote "Flexible" on one end and "Rigid" on the other. He said this was one way to look at how he approached things like students missing deadlines, failing to do work correctly, etc., Then he said, "However, this same continuum might be viewed another way" and he went back and crossed out "Rigid" and wrote "Fair" and crossed out "Flexible" and wrote, "Unfair" and "Plays favorites." Then he said, "I think I should let you know that I always reside around here," and he made a large "X" about six inches away from the newly written "Fair" and about six feet away from "Unfair."

And clearly, I still remember that speech, even though it was less than 5 minutes long. It just made a lot of sense. It resonated with me.

It's because of that drawing that I'm really, really struggling right now. I forced myself (well, I didn't force myself - I did what I was told to do) to send the student with the complaining father a long, detailed e-mail. I attached the syllabus, explained what he had missed - gave him my cell phone number (something I never, EVER give to students), offered him a chance to make up the quiz he missed (again - I never give makeup quizzes either), suggested we meet to discuss the lecture he had missed, offered him the extra credit opportunities he missed (my rule is, if you're not in class when I assign extra credit, that's it. Extra credit is a nice gift from your instructor - one of a few rewards for the students who actually show up) - in short, other than going to his dorm room, knocking on his door, introducing myself and handing him a basket of mini-muffins, there's not much more I could have done to make sure he felt "comfortable" with the fact that he'd missed the first two classes. And you'd better believe I carbon copied my department chair on the e-mail and of course - he was thrilled. This is EXACTLY the sort of thing we're supposed to be doing to make sure students feel this is a "student-centered" place. Word needs to get out - here at D-list University! We care. We're the caring university. Here, have a warm chocolate chip cookie, a cup of hot cocoa and a diploma not worth the paper it's printed on.

Aside: A friend of mine had a student miss the maximum "lateness deadline" and told the young chap that he could no longer turn in his paper. Two or three weeks and many lame excuses and promises of "I'll get it to you" were just too much. He went and complained to this same department chair that this evil instructor wouldn't let him turn in this assignment. Our department chair went to my friend and said, "You will let this young chap turn in his paper," and she explained what had happened and said it wasn't fair to the other students, he'd had more than enough time to turn it in and she wouldn't accept it. What she thought and the guidelines on her syllabus were meaningless. Department chair said, "I don't care. He gets to turn the paper in. We need to be patient and understanding." She had to accept the paper. It stunk, and the student got a "D" anyway.

So here's what I take away from this experience (and a few others in the not-so-distant past): For students who know how to read and tell time, and show up to both classes, and even those students who show up to the wrong classroom and building, but manage to e-mail me the next day to find out what's up - they get the "standard of care", if you will. But, a student who isn't grown-up enough, or confident enough, or whatever enough to contact his instructor himself? He gets special, red-carpet treatment.

Flashback to spring semester: the students who manage to show up to the final exam on time? They get exactly that: a final exam. For a student who shows up too late to take the final and also three hours late to the make up final? She gets three extra days to study and coffee made especially for her by the department chair.

If I were a relatively normal student, who functioned at a basic level of competence and I was privy to this information, what would be my lesson here? My lesson would be that at this school, you get special treatment when you fuck up. When you do what is expected and/or required of you? You get nothing special. Yeah, yeah, maybe there's that "sense of accomplishment" crap and the whole "knowing you're capable of managing your life like an adult" but so what? Clearly, another saying from my childhood - "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" rings true.

But you know what? It ain't fair.


Blogger The Teacher said...

I love your site...just found it a few days ago and am taking away a lot of good ideas from it. Thanks!

September 15, 2006 2:29 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Ca said...

It's totally not fair. That department chair needs to realize that some things aren't fair and that you get what you deserve. Someone who slacks does not deserve to get special attention. They deserve a swift kick in the ass and a special magic mirror that shows them how ignorant they are.

September 15, 2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger Miss Britt said...

You're right, it's not fair. And like you, I cannot stand teh idea of unfairness.

Maybe you should adopt your old professor's Fair Continuum in your own classes. And email a copy to your department chair.

September 15, 2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Wow, you are a saint. I would not be able to put up with that kind of crap. Good luck with the rest of the semester and Hap.


September 15, 2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

Seriously, your department chair- which one is his car? *twirls Swiss Army knife in hand expectantly*

I also despise the coddling of the fuckups that occurs at my fine institution. It's so. not. fair. to those who have their heads together. This attitude toward students not only underestimates them, it also shortchanges them. Somewhere, in some way, the rules are going to start applying to them. It reminds me of an adage left over from retail- the customer is always right. Which, btw, infuriates me too!

September 15, 2006 6:20 PM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Gob, that is so WRONG! You have all my sympathy.

September 15, 2006 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually i don't like tenure. But this dept. Head is just a tool. He needs to be told "no". What sort of reputation is the school going to get when the graduates demonstrate this sort of behavior. Do you really want these people to represent your school?

September 15, 2006 9:25 PM  
Blogger MizMell said...

Fair is where you get cotton candy.

September 16, 2006 6:27 AM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

Your first paragraph...OMG, ditto ditto ditto ditto!!!

September 16, 2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger fillyjonk said...

And how is it "fair" to the professor to expect them to bend over backwards for one "latey" who can't get themselves out of bed on time, or write the paper on time, or whatever?

I've stopped offering make-up exams. I tell people, if you miss the exam and do not contact me with a documentable reason that you cannot be there, you don't get to take the exam.

Why? Because I have to write a whole new exam for the late student. Why again? Because I have been burned too many time by irresponsible students who failed to even show up AT ALL for the makeup exam I spent an hour or more of my life writing for them.

I get tired of the coddling we're expected to do of students. At some point, they're going to have to grow up and face the cold hard real world, where failing to be in the place you are expected to be in at 8 am means that you don't get a pat on the back and a "that's okay," you get the exciting adventure of finding a new job and negotiating the unemployment system.

And it IS unfair to the hardworking students. I know, I was one. There were many times I'd've liked to have had an extra day to study or a few more hours to polish a paper. But I wasn't going to get it by being dishonest or irresponsible.

September 16, 2006 5:46 PM  
Blogger Mamacita said...

Someday when I cool down I will tell you about the student who, a full year after the fact, complained to my department head that I had failed him because I was jealous of the fact that he was the son of Elvis.

Hmm. I think I smell a blog post of my own here.

And by the way, I think you are my new IDOL.

September 16, 2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger ProfessorDog said...

Gah, I'd be livid if I were you. I'm not sure I could stand being forced to give special treatment to fuckups.

September 16, 2006 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Lady S said...

What I find so interesting is we have the same problem in my ELEMENTARY school. Here we are dealing with 5-12 year olds, and we are dealing with the same issues. I have been asked on more than one occasion to make up a packet of work for a student who is going to miss a week or more of school for a vacation. Usually, two days before they leave. Our principal is so spineless the kids know they don't have to listen to their teacher, they can just appeal to him and the rules go out the window.

No wonder they are like this at 18!

September 16, 2006 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Antique Mommy said...

The "I Care" policy of your university is really helping those students, because, you know, that's so how it works in the real world. Better that they should get used to to be coddled.

September 17, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger Kate C. said...

This sounds so frustrating. I love your teacher's depiction of fairness, though. I have never used anything that graphic in my classes (though I might now), but I have been trying to discuss fairness when I explain the rules the students. Last term, I flunked someone for turning in a plagiarized paper (which she had cut and pasted off of the New York Magazine website) and when she was giving me all the reasons she had to cheat, I finally said, "It is just not fair to the other students who did the work." Luckily, the chair of my department agreeed.

September 17, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger Suzi said...

I am appalled. I can't believe you had to offer him the EXTRA CREDIT assignment.

Of course, if I had to deal with this chair, I don't know what I would do. But I do know what I did when I had to give someone an extremely extended deadline because they were a whinerhead. I gave everyone in the class who turned the paper in on time two 100s. One for having their paper in on time and one for not whining about it. I didn't tell anyone. I just did it.

Stupid whinerheads. And their parents. Thank God that in Texas legally I can't talk to a parent. (The admin still does sometimes, but legally I can't do it. Makes my life easier.)

Don't you just love that they don't contact you but your boss. Would that work in the non-collegiate world? Yeah, maybe.

September 17, 2006 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Erika said...

I learned that lesson in college also, that the more you screwed up the easier things were made for you. Unfortunately, it's the same way in the "real world" after college and just as infuriating.

September 18, 2006 6:18 AM  
Blogger liberalbanana said...

Damn right it isn't fair! It's like when I always got A's and my brother got D's: When he raised his grades to a B level, my parents were so happy and rewarded him. I was like, "WTF?!?" Note to parents: don't forget to reward the kids that are good in the first place and don't "need" the extra attention.

The way your advisor's boss treats the faculty is just ridiculous. Students need to learn to be self-sufficient and respect their professors.

September 18, 2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

Gaaah, that just pisses me off. So not fucking fair, man.

And your department chair is an ASS. An ass, I say!

September 18, 2006 8:20 AM  
Anonymous edj said...

That is SOO UNFAIR!! Grr...
Reading your blog is good for me. It helps me find perspective on life here in Mauritania, where it doesn't matter what you do, it matters who your parents are. So deadlines get changed, extended, etc. and grades are massaged, but good students can be failed at random.

September 18, 2006 10:33 AM  

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