Not so lazy academics.

14 12 2010

I really should stop reading the Freakonomics blog as it only tends to make me angry. Hopefully, Dan Hamermesh had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he wrote this:

It’s final exam time, and my office is packed with a few of the 520 students in my bigger class….

In their sociology, government and some other introductory courses, the instructor either gives no final exam or gives an hour exam the last day of class. Apparently this is fairly common in some departments, but I am outraged — what a pathetically lazy bunch of faculty! Worse still, their malfeasance imposes a negative externality on me. Because mine is the last (only) final exam for some of my students, even though my exam is early in exam week I’ve gotten numerous requests for an early exam from students who want to go home early. I say no, but why should I have to be the “bad guy” because other faculty are shirking?

My immediate response to this was, “Do you know how much work it takes to grade papers?” Seriously, when you require multiple drafts like I do and don’t have TAs (like he must) I’m certain I’ve got Hamermesh beat hands down in total grading time per student.

However, the smackdown in the comments is much worse than anything I thought up. First, there’s the system of employment argument:

Some adjunct professors (who teach 60% of all classes) in the City University of New York system are not compensated for final exam week (i.e. are not paid.) I don’t blame some for not administering a final exam during final exam week, since, of course, they are not paid. Add up the countless hours spent reading, commenting on, and grading final papers (15 pages per student in a class of 30, teaching 4 classes just to make ends meet.. you do the math), grading final exams, calculating grades for the semester, and dealing with scores of last-minute emails, grade grubbing, and students attempting to hand in missing assignments.. well, it’s no wonder.

Then there’s the theoretical argument:

Memorizing and regurgitating for exams or writing essays under the artificial time constraints of an exam does not mimic the way we use information.

Lastly, I think I’ll call this the Historiann argument:

I feel your pain Dan, but I think you are missing the bigger issue. You have 520 students in your class! Large lecture courses are incredibly ineffective ways to teach students, and are only created to maximize the student FTE in departments to lower the average teaching load.

I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t immediately think of that last one myself!

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2 responses

14 12 2010
Historiann

Thanks for the link, Jonathan. I’m in sympathy with Dan, who’s actually following university policy and giving exams during exam week. I’ve had that same vibe from students who are outraged that I’ve dared to make them wait until exam week to administer exams. (I also see a bunch of students stressed out during the last week of classes, because faculty are actually administering final exams then against policy.)

As always: where’s the education in a class of 520? However, the quotation you pull out at the end suggest that it’s faculty who design classes this way for our convenience, I’d suggest that it’s unis (run by administrators called Presidents, Provosts, and Deans) looking to maximize their FTEs for a minimum investment in labor.

14 12 2010
Jonathan Rees

Historiann:

My apologies, as it was the beginning of the quote rather than the end that led me to name that argument after you. Nevertheless, I think that anybody who accepts an assignment teaching a 520 person course is complicit in that system. Are there any adjuncts out there anywhere who get classes that big (other than online)?

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