The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self respect springs."...  ... Joan Didion.

Commentary of the Day - August 21, 2005:  Students: Take Care of Business!  Guest commentary by Tina Blue.

One of my students sent me this email at the end of Spring semester:

I need to bring you my last essay, but I don't remember your office number, and I can't find my copy of the syllabus with the number on it.

That syllabus she lost, as about half of our students inevitably do, is also posted online on Blackboard, as well as on a Geocities site where I also post all my class materials for those times when for one reason or another students are unable to access Blackboard.

She forgot.

She also forgot that I don't use my university email account for correspondence with my students.  I have a slow dial-up Internet connection, and accessing my university email account requires that I go through several very slow loading pages.  I give my students the proper email address to use, and I also post that address on Blackboard and Geocities.

I check the email I use for my students about ten times a day, including during the late night and early morning hours.  Students who write to my university email account don't get a quick response, since I only check that mailbox two or three times a week.  Students who use the proper address get a response the same day -- often the same hour, and often within a few minutes of having sent their message.

By the way, all my information (office number, email address, office hours, etc.) is posted on several pages on Blackboard and Geocities.  In fact, it is posted everywhere but CNN, and I am working on that.

I also write that information on the blackboard (I mean the real blackboard this time, not the online course site) every day during the first two weeks of class, for students who have just added the course, and each time I do, I tell them to make sure they have written it in their notebook.

And yet on the last day of the semester, Rhonda (not her real name) can't figure out where my office is.  That would be the office where she was supposed to have had three scheduled conferences with me during the semester, conferences that she never managed to make it to.

Meanwhile, there is that email I got today from Neil (not his real name, either), who missed all but four classes this semester.   Now, now -- it's not what you think.  Neil actually has a good excuse: he had surgery two weeks into the semester.  Of course, he waited until six weeks into the semester to let me know why he was missing class and not turning in any work.  I advised him to drop the course, but he really, really wanted to try to catch up.  In the case of "excused" absences, the administration usually prefers that we work with the student.  We can't really force students to drop, even when they have missed so many classes that it is practically impossible for them to learn the course material.

So I met with him in my office, explained what he had missed, and told him what to do to catch up.  I also told him that even excused absences could cause him to fail if he accumulated too many, simply because he wouldn't have learned things he needed to know to do well on his papers, so he should think hard about whether it might be in his best interests to drop the course and start fresh next term.

Of course not.

He diligently attended the next two classes -- as diligently as he had attended the first two classes of the semester.  And then I never saw him again.

I never heard from him again, either, until I got that email this afternoon, begging me to give him a "Withdraw Pass" for the course.

I would be glad to do that, if it were possible, but it just isn't.  It is university policy that all withdrawals must take place by 5:00 P.M. on "Stop Day."  Today is "Stop Day."

There was no way for him to accomplish the withdrawal before the deadline, because I was not on campus today, and I had no intention of walking up that humongous hill (a hill so steep it is called Mt. Oread) in the pouring rain on a day when I didn't have to be there, especially when I had so much grading to do right here at home.

Actually, there was one way to manage it, which I suggested, but I never heard back from him, so it didn't happen.  I don't own a car (adjunct faculty are often very poor), but if he had access to transportation, he could have raced up to campus, scored a withdrawal slip, hurried over to my apartment to get my signature, and then raced back to campus to turn the slip in just in time.

It would help if students like this did not wait to take care of really important stuff until about ten seconds before the absolute deadline.  But having waited until the last minute like that, the least he could have done was check back for my response to his email.

I'm just sayin'.

Now there's only one thing he can do, which is to petition the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to allow him to drop the course.  If he petitions, they will allow it, because he does have a valid medical excuse: he had to return to the hospital for follow-up surgery to deal with complications from the original surgery.  But I just know he won't take care of that petition before I have to post my final grades.  That means I have no choice. I have to record an "F" for him.

No doubt he will think it's my fault.

© 2005 Tina Blue.
Tina Blue is a lecturer in English at the University of Kansas. She also publishes the "Teacher, Teacher" web site.

The IP comments: Unfortunately, Tina's experiences are not unique.  Most university instructors can tell similar stories.  One of the side effects of the emphasis on self esteem and student centered classrooms at the K-12 level is that too many students graduate from high school without having been challenged to develop a sense of responsibility.  Here at Krispy Kreme U. if a student has completed most of the requirements in a course but has not taken the final exam the instructor has the option of assigning a grade of "Incomplete" (I).  It then becomes the student's responsibility to clear the incomplete by the end of the next semester (usually by taking a make-up final exam).  Otherwise, the I grade becomes an F.  The IP has awarded his share of I grades.  However, more than 90% of the students who have received these I grades never have bothered to clear them.

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© 2005 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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