All Posts Tagged With: "freedom"
Student Aubrey Ireland won a restraining order
Despite my needle phobia and uneasiness in hospitals, my grandma always insisted on bringing me up to be a doctor. The first book she gave me was on the human anatomy and I regularly took field trips to the medical centre where my grandpa worked— regardless of my protests.
Thankfully, my mom didn’t force medicine down my throat or tell me to avoid journalism. The reason? My grandparents had hovered over her, which she didn’t much enjoy, and that meant a hands-off parenting approach for me. Hallelujah.
Aubrey Ireland, a University of Cincinnati Student, wasn’t so lucky. After her parents followed her on campus and tracked everything she did with specialized software, the 21-year-old music theatre student got a restraining order that prevents her parents from coming within 150 metres.
Current policies do enough to protect non-smokers
Every student has some way of relieving stress during final exams. Just imagine for a moment that your relaxation method is suddenly prohibited.
That is the dilemma now faced by smokers at the University of Alberta if a new policy introduced by a select group of University of Alberta Students’ Union councillors goes ahead (it has already passed the first reading). The policy would restrict on-campus smoking to remote areas of university property called “health promoting areas.”
Honours woman who won freedom to bare all
Women and men should revel in their right to go shirtless, says University of Guelph student Lindsay Webb, aged 22. That’s why she’s organized the second annual Top Freedom Day of Pride in Guelph, Ont. where that freedom was fought for and won fifteen years ago, she told the Guelph Mercury.
In 1991, Gwen Jacob, then a University of Guelph student herself, was convicted of an indecent act after she walked home from campus with her breasts in full view. Her 1996 appeal made it legal for women to go topless in Ontario anytime and anywhere.
The Top Freedom Arts Festival will be held in Riverside Park on Aug. 20 with plenty of music for men and women to bounce around to. Webb told the newspaper that she was surprised by the number of men who merely stood around to watch topless women last year. This year, she said she hopes more of them will take off their own shirts and enjoy the party.
Compromising a professor’s freedom to assign marks should not be taken lightly.
This past week, a professor contacted us here at OnCampus, indicating that he was being treated unfairly by his administration which had forced him to lower grades in his courses, claiming (wrongly, he said) that the grades were inflated. Others with more journalistic chops than me are looking into the specifics of his case, but the message raised an issue that is too often ignored in our discussions of Canadian higher education.
When, if ever, should a university interfere with a professor’s grades?
Someone more high-minded and idealistic than me (if that’s possible), might argue the answer to that question should be never. A professor has the right to academic freedom, and that freedom extends to teaching, and teaching includes grading. If the professor is a qualified expert in his field, we should leave him to his judgements. It’s not for an administrator to come along after the fact and second-guess whether the grades are fair or not. Nor should that administrator pre-second-guess by insisting that the professor’s grades fall within a certain arbitrary range.
Academic freedom is an important principle — maybe the most important in the university — but it is not the only principle, and policing grades (like policing people) often means balancing one important principle against another. For instance, surely we can agree on the principle that students should be treated fairly, right? But what if students in Professor Curmudgeon’s Intro to Psych class are getting mostly Cs and Ds while students of similar ability and motivation are getting As and Bs over in Professor Candycorn’s section? In other words, if two students are doing work of about the same quality, shouldn’t they be getting about the same grade?
Of course they should, but everyone who has taught at a real university knows that this is not the case. An essay that would earn you an A in Dr Paddington’s class may only tip the scales as a B in Dr Saltmarsh’s section. I once had a colleague who gave a paper a grade in the 40s and when the student complained, gave the paper to two other colleagues in the same department to see what they would have given. One said the original grade was too generous and that something in the 30s was deserved; the other said the original evaluation had been much too harsh and the paper was worth a 70. In my department, the average grades between one section of Intro to Lit and another often vary by 15 points or more.
With all this in mind, wouldn’t it make sense for the university to issue guidelines (especially for multiple sections of the same course) that say the average final grades ought to be within x and y?
Sure, but like student assignments or political revolutions, the basic idea is great, but the execution is troubling.
For one thing, how does one agree on the correct range for the grades? If Professor Gatekeeper has a class average in the 50s, and Professor Flowers has a class average in the 70s, the former will likely think that the latter is too lenient and should be brought to heel, while the latter probably thinks the former is an old sourpuss and should be made to lighten up. Gatekeeper thinks his grades are low because he has courageously high standards, while Flowers thinks her students do better because she is such a good teacher. Even averaging everyone’s grades to get a fair range might not help because Gatekeeper thinks all his colleagues have gone soft, while Flowers thinks that she’s the only one who gets it. And what about the fact that some courses are harder than others? Do we need to have one range for Geology and another for Organic Chemistry? One for Intro to Cinema and another for Shakespeare? And how do we decide those ranges?
And even if we could agree on a range, another problem crops up. What if you genuinely have an unusually good class? In large intro courses with many sections, this becomes statistically less likely, though, even then, there might be factors that lead some sections to have better students than others (maybe the students in one particularly demanding program can only take the course in one particular time slot, so that slot gets a lot of top students). I once had an upper-year drama course where the average was nearly 80 and though I feared I was losing my edge, I was pretty sure then and am absolutely sure now that that was just an unusually smart and motivated group of students.
All that said, there must surely be cases where administrators must step in. I recall a case where an instructor routinely gave virtually all the students in all his courses 90 or higher. Needless to say, students flocked to his classes, and needless to say, not all of them were earning those A+ grades. Some of them probably didn’t even deserve credit in the courses, and some of them might have been given an unfair advantage when competing for scholarships and prizes. Others might have used the easy 90 to raise their overall average and thus be eligible to graduate when they otherwise would not have been. At a certain point, doling out top marks indiscriminately is not exercising one’s academic freedom; it is shirking one’s academic responsibilities.
One way to improve things would be to include rankings on students’ transcripts in addition to the grade. That is, your transcript could say that you got an 80 in Professor Middleton’s class, and also indicate that that was, say, the fifth highest grade out of thirty students. Including such information is frowned upon by registrars in Canada and is rarely done, but the obvious benefit is that it would instantly provide a clearer picture of what the grade really means. For instance, let’s say Lindsay and Megan both get 85 in different sections Intro to Poli Sci. But look closer and you see that Lindsay was ranked first in her class of thirty, while Megan was ranked tenth in her class of the same size. In all likelihood, Lindsay did much better because her professor was a tougher grader than Megan’s. Lindsay’s 85 is worth more than Megan’s in the same way that one country’s dollar might be worth more than another’s.
Rankings wouldn’t solve all the problems – the top ten students, for example, in one class might all be very close in terms of their grades, making the tenth place student look worse than she deserves — but the rankings would help. Bragging rights would go to those who did the best in their classes, not who earned an arbitrary number or letter. I doubt it will catch on, though. When I proposed adding rankings to transcripts at my university, the proposal was shot down, partly on the grounds that knowing where they were ranked might hurt students’ feelings.
Universities have an obligation to police grades when the grading is so out of kilter that it threatens the integrity of the school’s offerings. In general, administrators should be more concerned with grades that are too high than grades that are too low because numerous pressures conspire to inflate grades, and low grades can always be appealed. Still, any system to regulate grades must be done with enough flexibility to allow for special cases in particular and academic freedom in general. After all, I can’t ask a journalist to look into every case, now can I?
Academic life gets complicated when tolerance and freedom clash.
Ryerson University released its sweeping report into racism on campus, yesterday, and the full text of the report was just made available on its web site today. Looking over its recommendations, one sees numerous suggestions that will, if implemented, surely make Ryerson a better place. Still, in the areas where the report deals with the issues of warming the “chilly climate” at the University, especially when it comes to teaching, I suspect many readers will be struck by just how vexing the intellectual problems are.
These questions are not unique to Ryerson, of course. I arrived at the University of Western Ontario as an undergraduate when the furor was raging over psychologist Phillipe Rushton and his research on racial differences; my view then was the same as it is now, that Rushton’s work should be judged by his peers in the field of psychology, not by protesters or politicians. Not too long after that, a scathing report came out at Western about the “chilly climate” for women on campus, which sparked wide-spread debate. Here at my own university, I was once shocked when student advocates told members of my school that we should never use racist language, even if it meant avoiding teaching classics of literature like Huckleberry Finn. We didn’t have the skills, we were told, to deal with the complexities of the issue.
I have been to Ryerson, by the way, though I did not spend enough time there to know it intimately, so I freely admit that I cannot speak to the specific conditions there. But I do find the larger questions intriguing, and would like to venture a few more thoughts occasioned by the new report.
Consider, for example, recommendation 6C, which calls for a stronger anti-discrimination policy at the school, and for every course outline to include a statement to the effect that all individuals are to be treated “with respect and dignity.” So far, so good. I include such a statement in my own syllabi, though my university does not require it. But note carefully what follows:
Students moving away for university often cite more freedom as a motivator – but what does this really mean?
I write this post from Tofino, B.C., a small surf town on the beautiful west coast of Vancouver Island. I am on a final family holiday before moving across the country to start university at the end of August. One might reasonably assume that I would seize this opportunity to spend quality time with my dad and younger brother, enjoying their soon-to-be-rare company and our incredible surroundings. And yet, this simply hasn’t been the case.
I find myself almost constantly caught up by thoughts of my impending departure and thus very much removed from the present moment. This absence from the moment necessarily impedes my enjoyment of my family and the experience as a whole; obviously not the best way to spend my final days with them, but perhaps excusable given the relative enormity of the change ahead.
This has all lead me to consider what exactly it is about moving away to university that so excites me (and pretty much every other college-bound friend I know). What, truly, are the differences between living with and without your parents, and why are they so appealing?
The obvious answer, of course, is more freedom, but this too begs further investigation. Freedom to do what? At this point, most somewhat reasonable 18-year-olds I know enjoy the trust of their parents enough that they are allowed to do pretty much everything they want. So again, freedom to do what?
A concept that keeps coming up in discussion with fellow soon-to-be- as well as current university students is a desire to re-invent oneself. Of course, our parents aren’t forbidding us from doing this now, but the freedom that comes with moving away to a place where you don’t know (many) people makes re-inventing oneself a lot easier.
Before I go any further, I think it’s important to clarify that a desire to “re-invent yourself” need not carry a negative association with low self-esteem or an explicit dissatisfaction with your current self. To me, it represents a recognition that any negative behavioral trends or patterns are much easier to correct (at the same time as putting new emphasis on those traits you like) when surrounded with people who don’t already expect you to behave a certain way – and this is a good thing. This is what I think that notion of freedom ultimately means – a fresh start – and this is pretty exciting.
So as the countdown to move-in day begins, I’ll keep this in mind as I try to stay present and enjoy the last days with my family, friends, and old self.