Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Meet the Deanling

I have a student who's missed class since about the second week of classes. Stu hasn't turned in much in the way of required work for the class (a couple quizzes from the first week, that sort of thing).

Stu, as you might have guessed, has a serious medical problem. We've been in touch by email, and I helped him get in touch with the proper campus folks early in the semester.

Yesterday, I got an email from a deanling in that office basically asking us (the collective instructors of this student's classes) to do what we could to help him catch up. So this morning, I emailed back for clarification, giving the deanling the numbers about work completed and work not completed, and suggesting that withdrawing was the best idea for this student.

This afternoon, I was coming out of a meeting in the big shots' building and saw the deanling. He waved me over and asked for a minute to clarify the email. Sounds good.

The deanling, let's call him "F the deanling," said that it wasn't a good idea for Stu to withdraw because he'd lose eligibility for [sport]. I clarified, asking if [sport] was happening this semester. Yes, F the deanling assured me, it is, and Stu has been doing well and is getting a lot of support from the coach.

Then F the deanling suggested that maybe Stu could catch up on the five weeks he's missed, if I could give him more help. I'm sorry, I said, but I just don't have the time to teach an extra five hours a week. F the deanling then suggested that Stu could work with the tutoring center, or the professor involved in directing the tutoring center, to catch up. I asked if F the deanling thought that teaching a class might require more than a tutor, and suggested that the professor directing the center might not have an extra five hours a week, either.

F the deanling then suggested that Stu could take an incomplete, and I could help him make it up over the summer. And here, having tenure, I told F the deanling that I wasn't working unpaid over the summer, and that it was unreasonable to ask. And to F the deanling's credit, he agreed that he shouldn't actually ask that.

Then F the deanling wondered if Stu couldn't just do the work left to do for the class and make up what he could in order to pass. Like pretty much every college class I can think of, this one builds skills so that students need to have practiced and learned the skills in the early assignments in order to succeed at the later assignments. Imagine saying, well, the student missed the first half of German 1, but hey, they'll just finish the rest of the class and that will be fine. So I said I didn't really think that would work. F the deanling frowned.

So I asked how he expected Stu to catch up in all his other classes. If a student has missed five weeks of a full class load, it's pretty nigh impossible to catch up over the rest of the semester. There just aren't that many hours in a week. That's when F the deanling told me that Stu had been going to the other classes, more or less, along with [sport]. (But then, Stu apparently told F the deanling that he had done a fair bit of work for my class, too.)

So, Stu is well enough to play [sport] and attend some classes, but not mine? Yeah, I'm afraid I'm less than fully sympathetic.

F the deanling emphasized how important it is to maintain Stu's eligibility to play the sport; it's one of those cases when being in the sport is all that is keeping Stu focused on college. (Stu must be really good at this sport, to be playing already as a first year, eh?)

I know I'm a bitch, but really if a student is well enough to play [sport], s/he is well enough to fail a class.

I'm really pissed at F the deanling, seriously irritated. It's not that the student was BSing with me; this was a deanling, someone who should actually be focused on helping students get an education not maintain eligibility.


  1. Wow, that is annoying! I would expect that if Stu Dent is doing well in the other courses, dropping your course, alone, shouldn't be that much of a problem. But, of course!, it's probably not the case that Stu Dent is doing okay in the other courses and only in a crisis for your class.

    I have to admit that I've helped out over the summer more times than I should, once under a very strong demand from my chair and another time because it was sold as avoiding a catastrophe in enrollment conflicts for our department in the next fall. Sucker, eh? I won't be so easily duped the next time, you can believe!

  2. That just strikes me as so ridiculous. I swear...sometimes it seems like admin people have no sense of how to read students' BS.

  3. A guy I went to school with had the best response to this attitude. He would say, "X is a game, like hopscotch and monopoly. This is a university. Do you see the difference?"

  4. Anonymous6:51 PM

    "I know I'm a bitch, but really if a student is well enough to play [sport], s/he is well enough to fail a class."

    NOT bitchy! You're completely right.

  5. You are entirely right, and that you are being pressured in this way is ridiculous. The bottom line is that the student's sports eligibility isn't your responsibility - it's the student's responsibility. I imagine that your syllabus has clear policies about missing class, missing assignments, etc. I imagine the student wasn't unaware of these policies. When I've had a student with a legitimate medical issue, I've always received medical documentation, early in the process, and I've always been able to work out a solution with the student early in the process - not playing catch up after the semester was half over. Helping students to succeed when they are invested in success is one thing: making sure a student passes just so a student will retain sports eligibility is entirely another.

    I'm mad at the deanling on your behalf. If this were me, I'd talk to my chair and get support there for fighting this pressure.

  6. You handled it well. I'm impressed. :)

    Students don't get athletic scholarships at your Uni, right? So it's not like your class will be the sole reason he ends up dropping out of school and turning to a life of crime. :) (Yes, I do kinda feel guilty when my class is one of the reason a football player tells me he's losing his scholarship and dropping out, although I stand firm on my grades. But Stu and the Deanling can't hold that guilt trip over your head, luckily.)

  7. I'm with TD: I am wowed by your composure. My fave part of this post: "let's call him "F the deanling"." I laughed hard.

  8. Wow... Yeah, I am totally with you. I can't believe the deanling pressured you like that. Unbelievable.

    I have a student who TEXTED ME while we were in class saying he couldn't make it to class and to please not fail him because he was going to have to miss the presentation that he was supposed to give tonight. This guy missed the first day of class and the third, and now the sixth. It's a night class that meets once a week for a quarter -- seven weeks -- so by missing three classes, he's missed half the class. I waited until after class and then emailed him and told him to withdraw from the class. At this point, there is no possible way to pass, even if he'd turned everything in on time, which he hasn't. My attitude? One less paper to grade. :)

  9. Anonymous6:56 AM

    Hooray Bardic! You're my hero. Me, I would have caved at some point -- done some ridulous extra work -- and posted many blog posts complaining about it. I am very impressed by how you held your ground.

    And, yes, eff the Dean indeed.

  10. *face-palm*

    I keep hearing stories like this and keep thinking that the world must be friggin' crazy, but apparently not.

    Why, Academia? Why must you torture us so?

  11. on a related note: http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/youre-still-getting-an-f-kant-would-have-seen-this/#more-8328

  12. Anonymous5:11 PM

    So classic... some things never change. Of course you did everything right.

    The thing that's baffling is that they (Stu and Deanling) don't see these issues coming before they ever start. Your class, I assume, is a requirement, and it's important, and the issues of attendance and completing assignments are very basic. Stu, with Deanling's help, has to have a manageable (aka easy) load, and as soon as he misses a class or assignment, a flag should go up. He needs to be held out of practice and made aware that his academic non-performance is jeopardizing his chance to play. Then he might get it. Take away the thing that he cares about, that's important to him; don't try to work it from the other way around. The threat needs to come from the sport, not from you.

    The only thing you can do is make clear up front what the expectations and requirements are for the course. Which of course you did.

    It's really annoying just thinking about it. They cast you as the bad guy, and you're the one now who has to complain about it. The fact is that the kid was in over his head and he and the deanling moved too slowly to address the situation. Oops--it's a world where there are actual consequences. Who knew?

  13. Maybe if we called ourselves coaches we would have more power? And it doesn't strike me that Stu is focused on classes at all, whatever importance sport has for him.

    Would the coach play Stu because you said it would help his performance in English class?

    I think F the Deanling is lucky to be alive!

  14. I find this sickening. I'm finding it even worse than the commentors above.

    I think I'd seriously take this issue over the Deanling's head. This kind of behavior is unconscionable, and the Deanling needs to be smacked down. And, while I'm no expert on sports regulations, it seems like the kind of interference and favoritism that gets sanctions at least for NCAA division I schools.

    He's asking you to waive attendance policies, to accept work months late to the detriment of students who turned in their work on time, and to substitute other standards and teaching for the course offered by the professor whose credentials meet accreditation standards. He's also bullying, wheedling, and exerting unfair pressure as someone (presumably) above you in the hierarchy. His ass should be fried.

  15. peter, what if F the deanling is carrying out the dirty work of semi-secret policies from above? it isn't exactly a secret that many schools bend over backwards to support their athletic programs, to the detriment of ordinary students. maybe he is a rogue deanling, but it seems reasonably likely he is trying to resolve this problem because there is some pressure from upstairs. the pro-athlete policies are not formal; athletes have to maintain grades and progress or else they can't play.

    on the other hand, you are correct.

    dog knows, my liberal arts college was not a big-deal athletic school. we're still bragging about an alum who got a medal in the olympics in the 1930's, i think. and the big football win against USC about 100 years ago. but, the pressure was there to attract and retain athletes. one coach actually did get fired for bad behavior; his tour of the campus for prospective jocks included a stop by my dorm room, because my roommate had been a cheerleader and beauty queen in high school.

  16. I'm amazed -- but, then again I ought not be... It's pretty odd that the Dean doesn't have the critical thinking skills necssary to see the contradiction between "Stu has been participating in [sport]" and "Stu is seriously ill, thus can't go to Bardiac's class".