by John Hawkins | May 15, 2008 8:04 am
Take a look at this excerpt from a story about Norfolk State University and tell me who has the best interests of these college students at heart: the professor who was fired for flunking too many of them or the administrators who want them to be given passing grades despite the fact that they’re not showing up for class,
A subtext of the discussion is that Norfolk State is a historically black university with a mission that includes educating many students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The university suggests that Aird — who is white — has failed to embrace the mission of educating those who aren’t well prepared. But Aird — who had backing from his department and has some very loyal students as well — maintains that the university is hurting the very students it says it wants to help. Aird believes most of his students could succeed, but have no incentive to work as hard as they need to when the administration makes clear they can pass regardless.
“Show me how lowering the bar has ever helped anyone,” Aird said in an interview. Continuing the metaphor, he said that officials at Norfolk State have the attitude of “a track coach who tells the team ‘I really want to win this season but I really like you guys, so you can decide whether to come to practice and when.’ ” Such a team wouldn’t win, Aird said, and a university based on such a principle would not be helping its students.
…The question raised by Aird and his defenders is whether Norfolk State is succeeding and whether policies about who passes and who fails have an impact. According to U.S. Education Department data, only 12 percent of Norfolk State students graduate in four years, and only 30 percent graduate in six years.
Aird points to a Catch-22 that he said hinders professors’ ability to help students. Because so many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and never received a good high school education, they are already behind, he said, and attendance is essential. Norfolk State would appear to endorse this point of view, and official university policy states that a student who doesn’t attend at least 80 percent of class sessions may be failed.
The problem, Aird said, is that very few Norfolk State students meet even that standard. In the classes for which he was criticized by the dean for his grading — classes in which he awarded D’s or F’s to about 90 percent of students — Aird has attendance records indicating that the average student attended class only 66 percent of the time. Based on such a figure, he said, “the expected mean grade would have been an F,” and yet he was denied tenure for giving such grades.
…Other professors at Norfolk State, generally requesting anonymity, confirmed that following the 80 percent attendance rule would result frequently in failing a substantial share — in many cases a majority — of their students. Professors said attendance rates are considerably lower than at many institutions — although most institutions serve students with better preparation.×
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One reason that this does not happen (outside Aird’s classes) is that many professors at Norfolk State say that there is a clear expectation from administrators — in particular from Dean Sandra J. DeLoatch, the dean whose recommendation turned the tide against Aird’s tenure bid — that 70 percent of students should pass.
Aird said that figure was repeatedly made clear to him and he resisted it. Others back his claim privately. For the record, Joseph C. Hall, a chemistry professor at president of the Faculty Senate, said that DeLoatch “encouraged” professors to pass at least 70 percent of students in each course, regardless of performance. Hall said that there is never a direct order given, but that one isn’t really needed.
“When you are in a meeting and an administrator says our goal is to try to get above 70 percent, then that indirectly says that’s what you are going to try to do,” he said. (Hoggard, the university spokeswoman, said that it was untrue that there was any quota for passing students.)
Let me tell you something: college, at the undergraduate level at least, is a snap compared to the working world. If you can’t even manage to show up for your college courses, which probably last an hour, what happens when you have to show up for a job?
Moreover, what happens when your employer figures out that despite the fact that you have a degree from Norfolk State University, you’re as dumb as a brick because you got passed along in class after class despite the fact that you never showed up?
The really sad thing here is that a lot of students at Norfolk State University were behind when they got to college in the first place. Then, when they get to college, they get a wink and a nod and they’re shuffled through the system until they get into the real world, where the rubber has to meet the road, and lame excuses about having a “disadvantaged background” don’t mean a thing.
That’s when these kids start saying to themselves, “Hey, I went to college, I graduated, and yet I’m not cutting it in the working world. Why is that? It must be racism!” Next thing you know, the race hucksters like Jackson, Sharpton, and Obama have got their hooks in them and most of them will never realize that it was the soft bigotry of low expectations, promoted by people claiming to want to “help” them, that kept them from ever reaching their potential.
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