Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Bachelor's Degree is the new High School Diploma

Today is the second day of my fourth semester at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and I have to say that I'm very excited about my classes this semester. The schedule of classes consists of:

PSYC 211 - Research Methods & Statistics
PSYC 310 - Cognitive Psychology
PSYC 331 - Abnormal Psychology
CCJ 310 - Intro to Criminal Law
POLS 340 - Intro to Public Administration

I have been through the introductory class of all of my courses now, and one common thread exists: There is some level of disingenuous nanny-ism on the part of my professors towards their students. For the most part, my professors have been extremely specific in their expectations. After all, the syllabus is sort of a "contract" between the student and the professor. "This is what I expect of you, and this is what you should expect of me," is the general message.

A very common thread, however, is that professors are becoming disillusioned by the lack of maturity of undergraduate students. This semester seems to be the worst, by my observation, for professors spelling out the rules that should be common sense. Cell phones must be completely off and cannot be out during class. Assignments must be turned in on time. Excuses that will be accepted for missed exams and assignments are very narrow. Extra credit is no longer being offered because of past abuses by previous classes.

I make no bones about my perception of lacking maturity in my colleagues. Any frequent reader to my blog will attest to my clear repugnance for those who talk on their cell phones during class, or carry on a conversation with their neighbor during a lecture. To subject me to this "hand-holding" when I am 31 years old, however, is an insult to my intelligence.

One of my professors has taken the disillusionment one step too far in my humble opinion. I feel as though this professor's syllabus was a slap in my face, as someone who cares about his college career and has a 3.94 GPA.
  • The very first page is inspired by Ben Stein's book How to Ruin Your Life and goes into great detail of "How to Ruin Your Grade." I thought this was a very ingenious idea, but felt that it did not belong on the very first page of a class syllabus.
  • "Etiquette of Communication" was spelled out in eight detailed points, including ensuring a courteous greeting and closing exists, asking that E-Mails are spell checked, not sending angry E-Mails, and to show appreciation by using "please" and "thank you."
  • Rather than summarizing each point, why don't I let you see it for yourself? I've redacted all parts of the syllabus that would identify the professor or the class. Download the syllabus here and see for yourself.
I approached this professor after class concluded. I asked him how long he had been teaching, to which he replied four years, including while in graduate school. I told him that I felt he was extremely disillusioned after only four years. I explained how this was the start of my fourth semester at this University, and how I, too, get upset with my colleagues' disrespect, however, it should be addressed on the spot, and not in a hand-holding syllabus review session. (After all, I have no problem if he put it in the syllabus, but said something during this class that indicated we were big boys and girls and could read for ourselves.) This professor was truly shocked and surprised by my words (Thank you, Dr. Paul Ekman!) and stated that he and the TA are both "down to earth people." I said that I didn't doubt this, and I reiterated my position as a 31-year old mature student. I explained that I felt that I was being "talked down to" but understood the trials and tribulations that he must have gone through to get to that point.

Which brings me to the crux of the problem: I've heard it over, and over, and over, and over again... Undergrad is the new high school. A bachelor's degree is the new High School diploma. The overall maturity level of a majority of students must speak to how professors in general, and this particular professor specifically, are responding. So, where does that leave those of us who give a damn about our grades and college career? After all, since I embarked on this college experience, I've taken the attitude that this is my job. Quite ironically, this professor indicated in his syllabus (see the 'Responsibility' section) how students should treat the course like a job. Why not treat the entire college experience like a job, as I do?

I've taken two classes at a community college, and got A's in both of them.
I've taken 15 classes at SIUC, and got A's in all but one of them. (I got a B in that one class.)
Most classes were challenging, each in their own ways. But, with each class, I did what I needed to do to get the best grade I could.

Is it possible that the shitty students are forcing professors to "lower the bar" and I've somehow done better than I would have if that bar hadn't been lowered? That's certainly a question that I'm now asking myself as a result of these thoughts. What's going to happen when I take my diploma to a future employer? Will it be worth less than a diploma from any other school? It's bad enough that I'll probably hear, "Isn't that the school that couldn't hold onto a Chancellor?"

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Hey, I' m 29 and am very much looking into going to get my BS...i only have my AS from some corny Tech college and Online school they partnered with..had a good job and lost it and am having a tough time getting a new one without a BS..just found your blog and will be reading more of it now! Thanks!