Thursday, April 3, 2008

4-3-08: Professor Walks Out

I read a very interesting piece on a website called yesterday about a professor at Syracuse who has a policy of walking out on a class if he catches a student text-messaging or reading a newspaper during class. He made it into the news because he did so recently.

There are a couple parts of the article that I won't address, primarily the issue of the guy bringing race into the issue. He doesn't come across as a racist, more of just a guy who is a bit too open to bringing race into any discussion. Some people are just like that, and it's their right. What this professor did is he mentioned in an e-mail to the class that the student who was caught text-messaging is Cuban. I also won't bring up his race into this. The fact that this was done by a black, Jewish man is irrelevant.

What I find interesting are two topics: whether or not it is the right approach to walk out on a class because of the actions of one student, and what role a professor really takes in a student's education.

The first issue of group discipline is more complex than it would appear. If you have a group of 400 students in a lecture hall, as this professor did, and you catch one student, in the front row, sending a text-message, is it fair to the other students to just walk out? I think, in this case, it is not. If it were, say, a military academy, that's a different story. The difference is that in a normal business environment, or just normal life in general, the actions of an individual are not really the responsibility of the group. Individuals go to jail. Individuals get promoted. Individuals get fired. Sure, there are plenty of consequences for the organization in general if the actions of an individual are detrimental to the company, but the individual is still responsible. In a military setting, it's not the case, especially in a foreign country. My girlfriend is stationed abroad, and if one U.S. service member screws up, it looks bad for every one, and every one suffers. It is important to recognize the consequences of an individual's actions, but in the setting of a classroom, each individual is learning on an individual basis. There isn't a group test at the end. A similar analogy can be made to a sports team, but that's another deal.

The other issue is the role an instructor or professor takes in a student's education. One student criticized the professor in this case by saying that students are the consumers and the professor gets paid to lecture. They should tough it out and do their job. That's an interesting point. It's true, the students are paying large sums of money to have the professor stand in front of them and teach them. But does that give them the right to disrespect a professor's policies? This professor apparently set his policies up front, and the culprits were sitting in the front row. That's blatantly disrespectful on their part.

I'm no angel when it comes to paying attention at class, but I understand where the guy is coming from. He takes his job seriously, and expects his students to do the same. I think that's part of his teaching, which is fine with me. I don't think walking out is the right approach, though, because it's not the fault of the entire class that there is one bad egg (well, one that was caught). It is difficult to single out a student, but if they violate the policy, kick their ass out of the room. It's more realistic than just walking out. You don't see CEOs walking away from things once some one does something they don't agree with, right? Nope, they fire people. That's how the world works. You can still teach respect, and be respectful to the rest of the class. Since he is a tenured professor, he's probably safe from a lawsuit if he follows his own policies.

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