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Oct 11, 2021

Wearing your failure as a badge of honor?

In education, it takes two to tango. Hence, it is not always easy to tell who fails. In any normal year, some students struggle with their coursework. They may not have enough skills, or are slacking, or life happens to them. Almost every college course will show a single digit percentage of DFW rates. While instructors may or may not provide sufficient support, some students will quit or fail a course. These rates randomly fluctuate a bit and may be affected by the sudden forced change of modality or of the grading options universities applied to adjust for the pandemic.

However, if a particular instructor consistently, every semester fails one out of five or more students, it is a clear signal of the instructor’s own professional failure. Such a teacher fails to teach and support students; it is just as simple as that. If one out of four or five students fails to learn, it is no longer their own problem. It is the instructors’ failure, and no one else’s.

Some people say, oh, my course is just too hard for many students to pass. Well, the stewardship of curriculum is faculty members’ collective responsibility. If a course is too hard to pass, it is designed inappropriately, and should either have prerequisites, or pa placement test, or be split in two courses.

I still sometimes hear that this is a screening course, designed to fail many in order to select those who can continue in a certain major. But this is such an expensive and cruel way of screening. Why not be honest, declare your major to be impacted, and offer some other, less devastating ways of selecting the best students? Making students waste tuition money and several months of their lives on failure is just not an ethical option.

What is truly shameful when a professor wears his or her own utter professional incompetence as a badge of honor. Such people imply that everyone else is not rigorous enough and giving students free passes. And they are the one true knight of the academic rigor in shiny armor, standing alone against the rising tide of mediocrity. This kind of attitude inevitably betrays a deep-seated anxiety about one’s own professional incompetence. I wrote earlier about “the harsh professor’s syndrome,” on the psychology of the phenomenon. But I am wondering why is ours the only profession where people can get away with wearing their own failures as a badge of honor? When do we collectively stand up to it? When will the academic freedom cease to be an excuse for poor teaching and stagnant curriculum?

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