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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whackademia: Nutty Professors 2

The Phantom Professor

     During the 2009-2010 academic year, Venetia Orcutt, an assistant professor in George Washington University's department of Physician Assistant Studies, went AWOL from class in two of her courses. She just didn't show up. Students who signed up for these teacherless courses, however, all received As. This went on for two semesters. After someone finally came forward, the dean of the medical school fired Orcutt and announced that the students who had not attended her classes would still get credit for the teacherless courses.

     In college, grades are a form of currency. Being a professor is a lot like being able to print money. Like money, grades can be used by academic slackers to buy the silence of  students in a conspiracy of fruad against parents, taxpayers, and alumni contributors. Professor Orcutt, had she not reached for the moon, might have gotten away with her scam indefinately. I'm sure many professors have.

Students or Guinea Pigs?

     Oklahoma University placed assistant professor Chad Kerksick on leave of absence following accusations from his Health and Exercise Students that, as a part of his research, he injected them with substances that caused pain and bruising. The university, on September 2, 2011, removed Kerksick from his duties. After the professor challenged the school's right to remove his tenure-track position, the university agreed to pay Kerksick $75,000 and give him one year of unpaid leave during which time he could look for a teaching position elsewhere.

     As a retired criminal justice professor who worked at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for thirty years (and actually showed up for class and didn't taser my students for a paper on nonlethal force), I now realize I was working at the wrong university. I should have been in Oklahoma.

Publish or Perish

     Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein, in a recent paper, argues that professors who teach English Literature spend far too much time writing books, essays, reviews, and dissertations, stuff that nobody reads. According to the Modern Language Association, the number of these scholarly works published every year in the fields of English and foreign languages and literature has climbed from 13,757 in 1959 to 70,000 a  year. This glut of dense, arcane babble is not only killing innocent trees, it's keeping the writers of this unreadable stuff from teaching classes and interacting with students. Unless academic administrators eliminate publication as a prerequisite of academic advancement and tenure, trees will continue to fall and students will be taught by graduate assistants. (And English departments will continue to be called "Anguish" departments.)

No Snacks, No Class

     At California State University at Sacramento, students in professor George Parrott's Psychology 101 lab class, were required to bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory. If the professor didn't get his snacks, a policy he established in the early 1970s, he canceled the class. Over the years, the professor's students went along with the joke without complaint. But a few weeks ago, when students in the professor's morning section of Foundations of Behavorial Research failed to bring muffins, professor Parrott walked out of the lab.

     On November 23, members of the Psychology Department ruled that professor Parrott's decision to walk out of class because his students had violated his homemade snack rule, was unacceptable. So, the dean told professor Parrott, who is retiring at the end of the year, to teach without snacks. (It's hard to image all of this was news to Parrott's teaching colleagues.) Since I didn't major in psychology, I am not equipped to figure out what in the hell was going on with this teacher, or his department.      

3 comments:

  1. I had a professor who made everyone write about sexual fantasies. Granted, it was a health class that included sexual topics but I remember thinking the professor was a bit creepy. After reading about these professor, I'm pretty sure my former professor qualifies under your Whackademia criteria.

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  2. Personally I like nutty professors, but I don’t believe that’s the academic in me talking rather the young bored student looking for something to make the class room more exciting. I guess there’s a fine line professors have to walk when teaching a class. It’s only natural that some would walk a little no much on the wild side.

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  3. Back in the '70's, I found the university's physics, business & law professors took teaching seriously & took pride in their students doing well. Can't say the same for liberal art professors, except in math & logic; however, art school profs were the laziest.

    I agree with Prof. Bauerlein that producing arcane dissertations, papers & reviews of papers as the holy grail of tenure is highly suspect in any institution of higher learning. Major universities are bastions of big egos & political intrigue, where there is no objective measure of success - except that achieved by hard working students.

    However, lest we forget the real 'holy grail' of universities is, of course, their football & basketball programs. How can we tell? By the salaries, retention bonuses & perks given coaches & athletic directors who supposedly bring in big $$.

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