Friday, December 05, 2008

Question 21a: Did the professor bring pizza, donuts, dancing girls and Thai stick to class?

Until last Thursday, I taught my first class on Monday and Thursday mornings at 9.55 a.m and my second and last class at 11.20 a.m. I generally don't get to my first class until about 9.54: 59 and, because the students in my first class are just filled with questions such as, "Professor Ivers, do think the Constitution is the work of existential deists who believed in the power of pride?" and "Uh, Dr. Ivers, can you, like, explain to me what, like, or whatever, we just talked about or something (sniff, sniff, wipe snotting lose on cuff of jacket or shirt) because, like, I'm, like, sort of, like, sort of, like, confused about, like, whether the 1st Amendment and the First Amendment are the same thing because, like, sometimes you spell them differently on your Power Point slides," and "Are you really going to lower our grades if we don't come to class, like you said you would in your syllabus?" You know what I want to ask them back? This: "Are you really going to reproduce the accounts of a major league baseball game without the express written of the commissioner?" I generally arrive at my next class about 11.19: 59.

Okay, no one asked me a question like that this semester, although I did have a student ask me on the first day of classes if it was "really true that I really made people do all the work and come to class."  While she was sneering or having allergic reaction of some sort that made one of her cheeks slide up under the right side of her Big Sunglasses, I told her that I did.
"I'm going to drop!" she announced, taking one final smack of her gum before twirling around and flip-flopping her way out the door.
"Thank you!" I said.

* * * * * * * * * *

Last Thursday, my timing was off. I noticed my students standing outside the door of my first class waiting for the professor to end the class before mine, which runs from 8.30-9.45 a.m. By the time I usually get to class, my students are well-settled and finishing the breakfasts I don't let them eat once class begins (although some do, thinking that a muffin or raises don't qualify as food, something that irritates the living hell out of me).  Raisins or muffins don't bug me; it's the eating that does.  I poked my head in and saw the professor finishing up the course evaluations with a couple of his students, who have to witness and sign the folder containing the bubble-sheets that will determine a professor's fate.  The class was running behind not so much because the evaluations were taking too long -- the professor was in the classroom and, by university regulation, s/he can't be when the evaluation is administered.  No, no, no.  The professor and the students were gathering up the plates and boxes and cups that were still scattered about the room by their spoiled classmates, who were or are obviously used to being picked up after.  Bites of donuts, bagels, pastries  . . . two "to-go" boxes of fresh coffee from the Einstein Bagels on the other side of campus . . . even some fresh fruit . . . on the same day as the teaching evaluations.
So hard to believe. Or is it?
After I gathered up my papers, made fun of my adorable assistant's sweatpants and Uggs, and nodded when my some of my students reminded me what our schedule is next week, I started out the door when I was greeted by a "Did you call the pizza man?" from a guy wearing a Papa John's hat, a guy I had never seen before.  But, as I've learned from the signs on Metro educating us about terrorism, he wasn't sweating or wearing a coat warmer than necessary for the day, that he wasn't here to blow anyone up. And the professor who teaches after me, who was busy setting up as I was shutting down, was taking out the course evaluations she was about to administer to her class.
Then there was the soda, brownies and other goodies worthy of an end-of-the-season party for a 4th grade soccer team to compliment Papa John's.  All in the name of class spirit and camaraderie.  
Or is it?
If you would have walked through the halls of the Ward Building at American University last week, you would have thought that the next three months worth of contestants on "The Biggest Loser" were getting in their last pre-game meal. Boxes and boxes of Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and Whole Foods Bags are stuffed into hall trashcans, with little or no thought to throwing them into the recycling bins.  Either all these professors attempting to buy their students approval with free food and drink are Republicans and could care less about recycling anything, something I highly doubt, or could care less about ethics and social responsibility when it comes to keeping their jobs.
But guess what? I understand exactly where they're coming from. As I've written before, professors are the only employees at American University who are not subject to peer review. We are judged based on the results of the standardized teaching evaluations given out in every class at the end of the semester.  Assistant professors without tenure and people who really care about getting latte-a-week raise rather than a cup-of-coffee raise know that the people with the greatest power in this process -- the worst students in the class -- will determine whether they were "effective" teachers for the semester. You'd have to be a complete idiot to believe that students who don't do well in your classes are going to take a step back and say, "You know, I didn't really do jack in this class and deserve what's coming to me.  Man, I wish I could apologize to Professor Ivers for being so out-of-it all semester."  Of course they're not. These students have been seething in anticipation of this day.  You bet your ass they're going to reem you.  After all, who's fault is it that the exquisitely prepared meal that you ordered in a restaurant, served to you with grace and manners, is one you turned out not to like because you "forgot you were allergic to shrimp?"  The chef's, of course.
Higher education is not without its problems.  But really, should it come down to this for professors who want to keep their jobs and get their tiny little raises?  Can pizza, donuts and three kinds of Coke (that's "soda" or "pop" to those of you not from the South) really buy a student's love?  If so, what kind of system are we running, and just who the hell is benefiting from it?


Kevin said...

I think this is brilliant and innovative, nonprofit CEOs would benefit from having an online forum to learn, as well as exchange ideas. Definitely a step in the right direction.

However, right now all I read is mostly CCSNYS news, as well as industry news. Both are great, but that should just be 10% of this.

Where are the provocative questions to lead discussion and foster an idea exchange? Where is the commentary around those pieces of news? The anecdotes from staff, as well as contributors from the CEO community (e.g. board members and others that are interested)? How about an index of articles listed by categories - topics your audience might be interested (public policy, professional development, management, succession planning, financial management, entrepreneurial ship, etc., etc.). This shouldn't just be a newswire.

I applaud your taking the first step and realize this is still in its infancy, but I hope you'll consider ways to really enhance the purpose of this blog - helping its audience exchange ideas, learn, and think.

Kevin said...

Well curse Blogger/Google for replacing what can only be described as a brilliant and witty comment for your post with one I wrote for (and deleted from)another blog. I'll try again...

It is a shame that those evaluations do have such an impact over a professors career - thank goodness you had tenure by the time that I came through. But I kid, I was (I think) one of the students who took pause to reflect on the fact that despite how I was doing to recognize it wasn't *entirely* your fault.

But really, there is a committee that reviews these tests in the context of other factors, right? How critical is publishing to earning tenure - more or less than you evaluations?

As an aside, didn't you bring dancing girls to class once or twice? Or maybe they were just in a landmark case we had been reviewing...

To any non-tenured professors seeing what reflections Dr. Ivers has to share about AU: a resounding YES - donuts, coffee, soda, pizza, beer, hookers are all great ways to boost your evals when you're looking to boost your reviews. It's really either that, or no attendance requirements, easy tests, low standards, a loose late assignment policy, and an overall shoddy learning environment will do the trick.

Enjoy the rest of your time before the next round of sneering, snotty-nosed students starts.

Sorry about the completely out of context comment that was left here over the weekend, please feel free to delete it if possible. If you were wondering, the original, failed comment was far superior to what's above, but, such is life..