Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wronged, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day asks us to "...describe an incident where you or someone was wronged, in what would normally be considered outside of the social norms, and how you reacted, how you wish you reacted and what is possibly the best way to inform these idiots that they screwed up if that is even possible."

I certainly have several that immediately come to mind, but I will write about one of the most egregious because it still bothers me. For the record, I cannot prove I am right about this situation, but I have reasonable confidence that what I am writing about here is the truth.

When I was in graduate school, I took a course in Human Resources as part of a sequence of courses required to get a specialization in risk management. Of all the business courses I recall taking, I felt this ranked among the most worthless to me. The professor was terrible, and she never really attempted to teach, but instead had guest lecturers who worked in certain areas of benefits to discuss their line of work. The final project of the class was to create a benefits package for an employee pool with a given quantity of dollars and certain parameters to meet. The project was worth at least 40% of our grade. My team for this assignment included me (who has never had a job in corporate America with benefits), a Navy Officer (who never had any benefits before his time in the service), and an Indian (who came to America to get his education and had no familiarity with benefits here). Despite our lack of familiarity, we were able to create a package that met all the basic requirements of the assignment - within budget, certain minimum coverages, and certain options available - and certainly did not demonstrate we had not made a strong effort to accomplish the assigned task.

We got a 40. For those who have never attended graduate school, most professors do not give grades below C's because an overall grade below a C does not count towards graduation and can sometimes lead to dismissal from the program. To give a 40 on such an assignment suggested we had turned in something made of paper mache and crayon, not a multi-page report complete with charts, budgets, and writing explaining the package. We were all literally shocked. It could have kept the Navy Officer from having his tuition paid that term. It was not a small matter to receive such a grade. We were given the opportunity to review the grade in her office, and there was almost no writing on the report itself. Just a big 40 on the grade page with a few notes. We appealed the grade to the department, and we were denied. The professor who explained it to us told us as delicately as he felt he could not to pursue it further, because no one would overrule this professor. It was the only class she taught, after all, because her primary role was the Dean of Research. She decided who got what funding in the College of Business. No one would overrule her for three graduate students who would be gone in six months regardless. So, we dropped it.

I was talking to another classmate one day about this situation, and he shed some light on why our grade might have been so terrible. One of his jobs was to type up written evaluations given by students just before the end of class. They were typed to protect the anonymity of the student giving the evaluation in the hopes of getting an honest review of the professor's performance and the course's value overall. What this classmate told me, though, was he regularly saw professors come in and demand to see the written evaluation after reading the typed version. The reason, of course, to read the written version was to compare it to hand-writing and decide who wrote it. My evaluation of the course was scathing. I suggested the professor never be allowed near students again, or at least not until she'd had a course or two on proper teaching methods. I also suggested the course be removed from the requirement for the sequence because it had very little to do with the other two courses involved and seemed to have been tacked on primarily for the purposes of giving the Dean of Research a class to teach once a year. I was mostly tactful, but I was not kind in my remarks. Clearly she had read my remarks and chosen to retaliate on my grade.

After learning the true cause of my grade, I decided to do nothing more. I knew no one would care what had happened, and I was not going to risk my reputation and possibly my degree over my evaluation. Instead, I chose to inform every student who called to invite me to give more to my college - which I dearly love - that I would not be giving an extra dime to my school until she retired. I could not, in good conscience, support my school while they kept such an unethical person in such a high ranking position, or on staff at all. I smiled when I read of her retirement this year in the school magazine. I may not give any time soon in large amounts, but at least she is gone from the ranks of teaching, and gone from my school.

How could I have handled it better? I probably should have done what most people do and written a bland review of the class. I would have gotten a B overall instead of a C for the course, and my transcript would have looked better. That certainly was the wiser course of action. The problem is, to answer the last part of the Hump Day Hmm question, is that to take the wiser course would not have helped anyone know how terrible that course was. It did not let anyone know that a person of high rank was obviously doing something highly unethical. If I were a brave soul, I might have gone to the Associate Dean (her immediate boss) or the Dean of the College of Business, or even the University President. But I know the politics of education too well. I know nothing would have come of it. Or if it did, I would more likely be remembered as "that disgruntled MBA student who went to war over a grade" instead of my other legacies. I am glad I took the path I did and just moved past it. I just sometimes wonder who else might have suffered at the hands of such an incompetent professor because I did.

-- Robert


Julie Pippert said...

It troubles me most of all to see people abuse their position and authority. They have TRUST in them, to be in those positions.

I'd rather see a thousand little discourtesies a day (and some days it seems like I do LOL) that see an authority figure abuse her position.

I think, seriously, that I saw the greatest and worst examples of this in education.

Tough story.

From the outside, though, I think in the end it had to be done, your honest review. At some point, they had to do something useful.

Robert said...

I might not have had as much damage to my grade if I'd listened to my third through eighth grade teachers and worked on my penmanship. My handwriting is very distinctive - it looks like I'm in third grade - and makes it easy to identify me. But yes, I agree, I needed to write the review. She was horrible. I doubt it had any effect on her career, but it might've helped her realize she needed to do a better job of teaching. Most likely, it simply annoyed her and gave her a reason to show (if it ever came up) that the student in question was obviously a poor student, not to be acknowledged. If I'd really pressed the matter, I could have showed that was not the case, since I was a student with one of only two top-grade assistantships given in the business school, so I was not just some typical lazy goober.

Melissa said...

I had a similar situation in college. I was accused of cheating, when in fact I had worked on an assignment with a partner, which was allowed. It was a programming class, and instead of printing out two copies of the program, my partner photocopied it and turned it in. It looked bad. So I had to take the hit because the prof had already made up his mind.

Still got a B in the class, but it was needlessly difficult to do so.

Good post. :)

Robert said...

I was taking a statistics class, and a professor who hated athletes accused me of cheating once. A football player sitting next to me had screwed up his paper and asked me for a blank one, since the stack was next to me. I thoughtlessly handed him one and immediately the professor said "You two see me after class." So we waited an hour to hear the verdict, but it took the professor about five seconds to realize his error. The two papers might as well have been written in different languages. Fortunately he did not treat me like a cheat afterward because he realized his error.