All Posts Tagged With: "professor"
Before judging, please consider what professors actually do
A lot is being written about universities these days and much of it paints a rather troubling picture. Some of the more popular arguments were put forward by Margaret Wente—who seems to write the same column about post-secondary education every few months—this weekend: the system is in crisis, it doesn’t sufficiently prepare students for the job market, the quality of teaching has continuously declined, and overpaid, lazy professors are sitting in their ivory towers denying that anything is wrong.
Universities are facing real and significant challenges, and I agree that anyone who thinks the only problem is underfunding is deluding themselves (that said, let’s not dismiss funding as an issue: across Canada, government funding as a proportion of university revenues has gone from 80.9 per cent in 1989 to 58.3 per cent in 2009. In Ontario, it is down 49.5 per cent! This trend poses myriad issues, including shifting the funding burden to students and creating incentives for universities to boost funding by adding more students.)
STU profs who plan to boycott convocation should be wary of the message they are sending their students
A group of professors at St. Thomas University are protesting the decision to award an honorary degree to Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside, and some have now threatened to boycott the graduation ceremonies.
In an open letter to the Daily Gleaner, the professors at the liberal arts university objected to the decision to award the degree to a “sitting politician,” as well as because of Woodside’s “record on the environment and by his unwillingness to recognize gay and lesbian citizens.”
Back in the 1990’s, Woodside refused to declare a Gay Pride weekend in Fredericton until he was ordered to do so by the Human Rights Commission. However, since taking office again in 2004, Woodside has declared Pride Week and even participated in some of the events.
But for other professors, their decision to boycott the ceremonies has more to do with the ethics of awarding an honorary degree to a politician who is still in office. “There’s a general sense of unease about the kind of vulgarity and the crassness of that,” Ian Nicholson, an STU professor who signed the letter of objection told Global Saskatoon. “Of sorta paying up to power, of trying to buy favours from politicians by giving them one of these impressive sounding degrees.”
For these reasons, a group of STU professors may be absent at the convocation ceremonies of their students this weekend. And while I don’t agree with their position, it is understandable why they would choose to be so. The ethics of awarding an honorary degree to a sitting politician is undeniably complicated, and that decision is made even thornier when the recipient has held controversial opinions in the past, despite recent reforms.
But by boycotting the ceremonies, these professors are putting their own politics over their students. Which is fine, of course. But small liberal arts universities, unlike large, research-driven institutions, are driven by the reputation of having intimate classrooms and personal connections between students and professors. You go to the University of Toronto if you want to be lectured by a world-renowned theorist who probably doesn’t know your name, but you enroll in St. Thomas University if you want to develop a relationship with faculty and engage personally with your instructors. If these professors don’t show up to their students’ graduations, they will be inadvertently forfeiting one of the great merits of their institution.
Northwestern prof un-apologizes in public apology statement about live sex show
What’s the point of an apology if you don’t really mean it?
Last month, a professor in the United States has become the topic of controversy after he invited students in his psychology class to watch two people engage in a live sex act. The event occurred outside of regular class time and was completely voluntary for both the students that attended and the couple who demonstrated in front of them.
Almost two weeks later, the Northwestern University human sexuality professor, John Michael Bailey, released a statement apologizing for holding the session and to anyone he offended through his actions.
“I regret the effect this has had on Northwestern University’s reputation and I regret upsetting so many people in this particular manner,” Bailey said.
But then, in the same statement, Bailey went on to criticize those same offended people he had just apologized to, as well as the controversy the incident has caused.
“During a time of financial crisis, war, and global warming, this story has been a top news story for more than two days. That this is so reveals a stark difference in opinion between people like me, who see absolutely no moral harm in what happened, and those who believe that it was profoundly wrong,” the statement continues.
Whatever you think about the ethics of staging a live sex show for your psychology class, practically un-apologizing while you’re apologizing doesn’t make much sense to me. If Bailey doesn’t actually think he did anything wrong, which is clear from his statement, then why go through the motions of apologizing? All his statement does is further incense anyone who was offended, as they no doubt feel that Bailey spat in their faces.
His fake apology also undermines any dignity the man maintains in the eyes of his supporters. If I didn’t have a problem with his live sex show, I would want to see him standing by his actions rather than bending to public pressure.
How to mess up biology. Or fix chemistry.
Never again would I see the words “valence shell” or “titration.” I’d never have to draw resonance structures or identify the chirality of a molecule. All my remaining science credits are biology courses, which is my favourite subject area. The Reign of Chemistry was over.
This semester I have biochemistry and I can’t decide if I hate it or love it. It’s a combination of biology, my favourite class, and chemistry, my least favourite class.
Which means that when I’m sitting in a lecture, half the time I find the material interesting and engaging, and the other half of the time I want to gouge my eyeballs out with the corner of my spiral-bound notebook.
I’d love to know the origins of biochemistry. Was it created by a thoughtful biology professor who wanted to make chemistry more interesting than usual? Or was it created by a bitter chemistry professor who wanted to make biology more boring than usual?
It’s kind of like the university version of a lame cartoon-crossover.
Except instead of combining The Flintstones and The Jetsons, it’s combining thermodynamics and living organisms.
-Photo courtesy of Alicia Nijdam
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?
He wanted to show us his originality and uniqueness. Using a cleverly placed utensil
The most memorable person from my first week of university wasn’t some new friend or lab partner. Not a professor or TA either. It’s a guy I saw in my first university lecture last September.
I couldn’t say how tall he was. Or recall the colour of his hair, or whether or not he wore glasses. I never actually talked to him. But I definitely still remember him.
I was so busy staring at this guy sitting in front of me, I probably missed the first 10 minutes of what my physics professor was saying.
Actually, I was staring at the spoon tucked neatly behind his right ear.
It was mesmerizing. What was that spoon doing there? Maybe he was about to have a yogurt? Or had just finished his cereal?
I was dying to ask him: “What’s with the spoon?”
I was still wondering about it when I went to my next physics lecture two days later. Sure enough, the spoon was back, in its rightful place behind his ear. It was there at the next lecture too, which gave me yet another chance to play Where’s Waldo, the Spoon Edition.
Then I got it.
He’s Different. And he wanted to make sure we all knew it.
University is a fresh beginning for all of us. You’re free to reinvent yourself, if you want to. In this vast collection of unknown faces, you can take a chance to be a totally different person from who you were in high school.
Spoon Guy wanted to show his originality, his creativity and uniqueness.
Through the use of a cleverly placed utensil.
The joys of not sitting beside the Loud Whisperer
There are more than 300 students in my genetics class. With that many people crammed into a lecture hall, chances are, you’re probably sitting in front of a Sneezer.Or a Loud Whisperer.
Or a Person Who Somehow Keeps Bumping the Back of Your Head With Their Stupid Binder.
But during my last genetics lecture, I didn’t feel a single sneeze mist the back of my neck. My body space wasn’t invaded by someone else’s notebook, or bulky book bag. And I didn’t get stuck beside any of those people who don’t understand the finer points of whispering. Like, uh, actually whispering.
And at one point, when I didn’t quite understand something the professor had said, I just paused the lecture and referred to my textbook for clarification.
Yup. Podcasted lectures rule.
Self-described “anarchist” taught popular Ottawa U activism course
There’s a profile piece on University of Ottawa professor Denis Rancourt in today’s Globe and Mail. As noted in an earlier Macleans OnCampus post, Dr. Rancourt, a noted physicist, academic blogger, and senior tenured professor at UofO, was suspended and banned from campus in December as a result of a disagreement with the university administration about his grading practices. From the Globe story:
Building on his science and society lectures, the self-described “anarchist” developed a popular course on activism at Ottawa U, which was cancelled by the university the following year, and started an alternative film society focused on social justice. He made headlines after 10-year-old twins registered for his course with their mother – and he supported the filing of a human-rights complaint claiming ageism when the university said they couldn’t stay. His research can be equally alternative: He has called global warming, for instance, a myth. He has also been an outspoken critic of “Israeli military aggression” and is not shy about expressing those views with students.
These innovative and dedicated professors are Canada’s best
Baljit Singh, a professor of anatomy at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, laughs about it now—but during his first year as a veterinary student, he failed the very course he now teaches. “I always tell my students,” says Singh. “I use it as a very inspirational example. I say, ‘Look, this is what happened to me in my first year. And I ended up teaching anatomy.’”
Singh, the one-time academic bungler, has since gone on to receive numerous academic distinctions, and is one of 10 professors named this year to the 3M National Teaching Fellowship. The award was established 24 years ago by 3M Canada in collaboration with the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Maclean’s has been the award’s media partner since 2006.
These new fellows join an elite club that now includes 238 professors. To win, it’s not enough to be merely a great teacher. “We’re looking for personalities, for people who are authentic, who are passionate—and Baljit is a great example,” says program coordinator Arshad Ahmad, a Concordia University business professor and a 3M fellow himself.
Singh attributes his pedagogic success to the teachers in his own life. “They have built a fire in my mind,” says Singh. “This is the power of a teacher—once you are hooked up with an outstanding teacher, half the battles are won.”
The 3M National Teaching Fellowship rewards great teaching, and the teaching leadership required to share innovations with the broader educational community. Fellows are regularly brought together to exchange ideas, making the club an incubator for new teaching techniques. In June, they will gather in Fredericton; in November, this year’s inductees will attend a retreat at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Quebec. “We bring these people together to get to know each other as teachers and learn from each other,” says Ahmad. “There they are using their cutting edge stuff and sharing it, mentoring others to follow in those footsteps.” Here are a few that will be among them:
Glen Loppnow, Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta
“This is the extract from thousands of fireflies,” jokes Loppnow. Before a class of rapt first-year science students, Loppnow pours a beaker of bleach into a bottle containing the chemical luminol. The result, known as chemiluminescence—what a firefly does inside its glowing tail—transfixes his students. “No fireflies were harmed in this experiment,” Loppnow promises, before outlining how the energy of the chemical reaction has been converted into this blue, otherworldly light. That illuminating glow is a nifty metaphor for Loppnow’s brand of teaching excellence.
Loppnow admits he wasn’t always a great teacher. Had you caught one of his lectures a decade ago, he says, “you would have seen somebody whom the students considered mediocre and grumpy. I was rapidly getting a really bad reputation.” Caught up in the imperatives of research, Loppnow realized he was neglecting his real passion. “I was really denying my true self,” he says. “I really wanted to be a teacher.”
As a kid growing up in a tough neighbourhood in New Mexico, university didn’t appear to be in the cards for Loppnow. No one in his family had gone beyond Grade 12. But it was a high school English teacher, Susan Frye, who saw promise and encouraged him to apply to college. He got in, eventually doing graduate work at Berkeley and Princeton. Frye “changed my life,” says Loppnow. “That’s really the transition from my being a truck driver—which is what I thought I was going to be—to being a professor.” After the death of his father, Loppnow took an introspective sabbatical and realized what he needed to do to change his life—concentrate on teaching as much as on research. “I wanted to change students’ lives the way that my life had changed.”
It’s as if my mom suddenly said, “None of this ‘mom’ business. Call me Kathy.”
Some of my professors have started asking the class to call them by their first name. They don’t want to be “professor.” They want to be “Stu” or “Doug.”
But when I e-mail a question to one of those professors, I just can’t bring myself to type, “Hi Dan.” It feels way too familiar. Like I may as well write, “Hey Dan-man, wanna give some tips for assignment number 14?”
Not to mention, it just feels weird. Sort of like if my mom suddenly announced, “None of this ‘mom’ business. Call me Kathy.”
A first-name basis with university professors creates a false sense of equal-ness. “Dan” is an equal. He’s your buddy. Someone you play Xbox with. Someone you can discuss the latest episode of Dexter with. If Dan is being a jerk, you can… well… call him a jerk. Or ignore him. Or sign onto his Xbox profile and change his emblem to a picture of monkey testicles.
But a university professor? They correct your tests. They mark your essays. Or at the very least, they’re in charge of the TA’s that do. They dictate your quality of life for four months. They’re The God of 50 Minutes of Your Life every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Just don’t forget to call them Dan.