Wow. Having high standards will apparently get you yanked from teaching your own course at Louisiana State University (h/t Inside Higher Ed). Yes, that’s right: an introductory course (!) for which the faculty member volunteered (!!!). Well, as they say: no good deed goes unpunished, right friends?
Dominique G. Homberger won’t apologize for setting high expectations for her students.
The biology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge gives brief quizzes at the beginning of every class, to assure attendance and to make sure students are doing the reading. On her tests, she doesn’t use a curve, as she believes that students must achieve mastery of the subject matter, not just achieve more mastery than the worst students in the course. For multiple choice questions, she gives 10 possible answers, not the expected 4, as she doesn’t want students to get very far with guessing.
Students in introductory biology don’t need to worry about meeting her standards anymore. LSU removed her from teaching, mid-semester, and raised the grades of students in the class. In so doing, the university’s administration has set off a debate about grade inflation, due process and a professor’s right to set standards in her own course.
But, “[t]he class in question is an entry-level biology class for non-science majors!” Who said that–a complaining student? An outraged Sophomore who’s sure this grade is going to screw her chances for med school? No–it’s a quote from a statement by Kevin Carman, dean of the College of Basic Sciences at LSU! Awesome! Who the hell thinks that “entry-level” classes for “non-science majors” should mean “gut class?” If low expectations weren’t a clearly articulated expectation of the biology deparment and the College of Basic Sciences for their entry-level courses (which of course always have more non-majors than majors), then I call bullcrap on this.
No one from the administration contacted her about their concerns about her students’ grades. No one came to visit her class to see what was going on. No one alerted her to any problems until she was informed that her services were no longer required. (Dean Carman says “Professor Homberger is not being penalized in any way; her salary has not been decreased nor has any aspect of her appointment been changed.”) More from IHE:
At the point that she was removed, she said, some students in the course might not have been able to do much better than a D, but every student could have earned a passing grade. Further, she said that her tough policy was already having an impact, and that the grades on her second test were much higher (she was removed from teaching right after she gave that exam), and that quiz scores were up sharply. Students got the message from her first test, and were working harder, she said.
How, you might wonder, did anyone know that at mid-term 90% of her students had failed or dropped? “[T]he university’s learning management system allowed superiors to review the grades on her first test in the course.” Let that be a lesson to those of you who report your grades on BlackBoard or WebCT programs! This information can be used against you! (I sure as hell won’t be using the system at Baa Ram U. for that purpose again. Too bad for you, kiddies!)
There’s all kinds of crazzy in this story–just go read it for yourself. Even if Homberger had unreasonable expectations (and I’m not convinced that she did–she sure had high expectations for herself too, with all of those quizzes to write for every class!), the administrators at LSU look like they’ve behaved totally inappropriately. But more disturbingly, they’ve the message that grades are negotiable (and subject to improvement!) if students complain about faculty standards. Homberger gave her students a bonus question on the second test in which she asked what their biggest “A-ha” moment in the class was so far:
Many of the reactions were about various issues in biology — with evolution as a major topic. But a number dealt with grades and work habits. One was critical: “When I found out my test grade, I almost had a heart attack.”
But many other comments about the course standards were positive, with several students specifically praising Homberger’s advice that they form study groups. One student wrote: “My biggest AHA‐reaction in this course is that I need to study for this course every night to make a good grade. I must also attend class, take good notes, and have study sessions with others. Usually a little studying can get me by but not with this class which is why it is my AHA‐reaction.”
Well, we certainly wouldn’t want students to think they have to show up to class and study for their degrees now, would we? What do you think, friends–go read the whole thing, and tell me. Have you ever been called on the carpet because you’re assigning grades that are too low? Do you live in fear of this? Do the inmates now run the asylum?