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Jack Weinstein

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I just received last semester’s student evaluations and, as usual, the most common complaint is that my introductory class has too much work for the 100-level. This is the same criticism I have been hearing for twenty years, but it is particularly galling coming from University of North Dakota students since Princeton Review ranks it as the university where students study the least. I think that my students’ unrealistic expectations may haunt them when they join the workforce and I hope to better prepare them for their futures.

My concerns have been intensified after watching this recruitment video just release by Apple; it’s basic message is “this is a great place to work, but in order to be here, you not only have to be really good, you also have to work very very very hard.” So, given the fact that most non-professors seem to think that a university education is for job preparation, I would like to propose that teachers be given the ability to fire students.

Here is what I mean. Students can now drop classes that they aren’t doing well in. Teachers can also fail students at the end of the semester, although this doesn’t happen very often because most students who do poorly drop the course before they get the failing grade. As a result, there are few if any consequences for slacking students. Firing students, in contrast, would mean not only that a teacher gets to kick the student out of class at any (reasonable) point during the semester, but also that the student receives a failing grade for the course. They have no chance to “catch-up” or “make-up” work, they’d be done, just as if they were fired form their job.

There are several virtues of this system. The first is that the students who are fired no longer wasting the resources that more successful students need; poor students take much more of the professor’s time than good students do. The second is that the courses would be a much more accurate representation of work life. Most bosses don’t care if the new employee is trying as hard as they can, nor do they let you make up work. Each Employer has a basic level of expectation and people who don’t meet it, even in their probationary period, get fired, plain and simple.

I won’t suggest here what the standards for firing a student should be, that would be a very complicated discussion. I also recognize there are downsides to this system: it prevents slower learners from figuring out the material and doesn’t give anyone enrolled in the class the opportunity to experiment and try new things. But as professors, we are told time and time again that the purpose of a college education is not to help people lead full, educated lives, nor is it to assist people in becoming well-rounded. We have also been told to abandon the notion that education makes people good citizens. In fact, just recently, the Texas Republican Committee announced that schools should not teach critical thinking or get students to challenge their own world views. It appears then that the purpose of a college education is to prepare people for the workforce and our instruction should be limited to this role. I submit then, that the best way to do so is to make sure there are real consequences for slacking in class. I therefore, once again, propose that teachers should get to fire students.

Edit: Some additional comments:

In reading this entry, some people may suggest that the proper response to my evaluations is simply to lessen the workload of my courses. My response is as follows:

1. 100-level classes do not designate a light workload. They indicate that the course material requires no prior knowledge in the subject. So the complaint that an introductory class has too much work doesn’t make sense. All courses should be time consuming and require, at least, three-hours of work outside of class for each hour spent in class.

2. Students are not necessarily qualified to determine how much work is appropriate. While they have taken some 100-level courses, they have not designed or taught any. They also don’t know how the 100-level courses fit into the later courses. Arguing that a student is qualified to measure appropriate workload is equivalent to arguing that a private in the Army is qualified to direct overall strategy for a war.

6 comments on “Should teachers be allowed to fire students?

  1. Evan Nelson says:

    You totally would've fired me, and I totally would've deserved it.

    That said, would you imagine that a fired student would have recourse, as employees who get fired very often do? If we're extending the metaphor, let's really extend it.

  2. I don't see this as a problem. There are a whole host of ways to challenge grades now. It would be easy to extend the process. The more interesting point your bring up, though, is your deserving to be fired. Do you think firing you would have been doing you a disservice or impaired your ability to succeed in the future?

  3. Evan Nelson says:

    In the class I took from you when I was a poor undergraduate, I think I actually got a C. I don't remember. And it doesn't really matter, because I took away from the class what I put into it, and I went back to the topics of the class and the books of the class many times after it was completed. I learned a lot in that class. But I didn't do half the work you required, so I deserved the bad grade I got. Now. If you would've fired me, I wouldn't have had access to the conversations of the class, and to writing the final paper. You might have shut me out. In fact, it may have been counterproductive, and overly punitive.

    If, however, my unwillingness to hand in weekly assignments hurt the learning of other students, or if I was disruptive in class, that would merit firing.

    In other words, sometimes with students, you've got let them hurt themselves with bad grades and lack of effort. When they throw your course off track by lack of work, that's something else entirely.

    So … are you firing student to be punitive, or are you downsizing students to better allocate your resources?

  4. Jaynicks says:

    Draconian. How about, “If you register for a course, the prof. automatically gets one unremovable post on each of your FarceBook and Gargel Plus pages at the end of semester (quarter, or post merit badge awardence).”

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