All Posts Tagged With: "policy"
Prof. Pettigrew on the Ontario PC Party’s plan
The conservative Ontario PCs have released a new policy paper on higher education. Amid the usual boilerplate rhetoric that conservative politicians trot out on such occasions was this little gem regarding student loans:
Decisions about who should receive loans and how much money is to be awarded should involve assessments of future employability and reward good academic behaviour. Rewarding good behaviour means not only making the smart and efficient choice about where to go to school, but also keeping students accountable for how they choose to spend the money the government is lending them. To maintain aid, students must demonstrate a minimum level of academic success. Too often, our loans and grants programs reward mediocrity.
It takes a while for the magnitude of what is being proposed here to hit you. When it does, you realize that the PCs are proposing twisting the student loan system into a bureaucratic nightmare of nearly Orwellian proportions.
Yet another pointless report on higher education: Pettigrew
We hear a lot of noise about “outcomes” at universities these days. Much of it is well meaning, but little is helpful. Government types like to make these kinds of noises because they want to be seen as good stewards of public money making sure education is providing good value for the dollar. But all this talk about outcomes and its demented twin “quality assurance” does nothing to make universities better. A good, or rather bad, example is this week’s report about “ensuring quality” from the Council of Ontario Universities.
According to the report, a focus on outcomes is necessary to “assure taxpayers, policymakers and government of the excellent return on investment of a university education.” I could say plenty about this kind of ugly, narrow-minded view of higher education that sees learning as merely another engine of utilitarian economic growth rather than a means to nurture a democratic civilization. And I have. So I won’t repeat those arguments here.
Instead, I will argue that any attempt to refashion university education along an outcomes-based model is, or at least should be, doomed to failure. Here’s why.
When a professor holds your marks hostage
During my first semester of university, I met with one of my professors to discuss a mark. It wasn’t anything official. The midterm had been handed back to the class, and I was surprised and disappointed by my mark.
The last page of the test had been an open-ended, essay kind of question. I’d expected my answer to earn a higher mark, and I wanted to understand where I went wrong.
After re-reading my answer, the professor explained where I should have elaborated more. The meeting was very short, and my mark didn’t change in the end, but I thanked the professor for taking the time to meet with me. I now knew how I could do better on the final exam.
What I didn’t know at the time: I was lucky to leave that meeting with my marks unscathed.
It was only after the fact that I suddenly remembered that section in the course syllabus. The part that explains how, if a student asks for a mark to be reconsidered, the professor reserves the right to assign an even lower grade than the one you started with.
I’m not just talking about a university’s formal appeal procedure, where a student requests (through a department chair or a dean) a review of their grade. Many of the classes I’ve taken include an individual course policy, something along the lines of, “If you request for a paper or test to be re-graded, you can end up with an even lower grade than you started with.” Right. So in other words, “Buzz off.”
It just seems wrong. If someone believes they’ve been assigned an unfair mark, and they ask for their paper to get a second look, why should the professor be sneakily taking hostages?
I’m sure that most of the time, the professor can give a perfectly fair, logical defense for the mark they assigned. But what if they made a mistake? What if they’re wrong? What if you deserve a higher mark? If someone thinks their paper deserves a better mark, why should their marks be held at gunpoint?
If I tell a cashier in a store that I think they accidentally charged me too much, and then I turn out to be wrong, should they have a license to then punish me for being wrong? You know, grab my wallet and take a couple bucks?
After all, if the cashier turns out to be wrong, I don’t get to penalize them for their mistake. I don’t get an extra five dollars back in change.
Maybe some students aren’t reasonable when they challenge a mark. Or maybe the fear is that without the threat of a negative consequence for burdening the professor and/or TA with having to take a second look, there would be a flood of second-guessers.
But why create a policy that treats every student as a potential time-wasting cry ass?