Friday, February 01, 2008

Jerks in Academia


Dr. F is a full professor in an elite engineering institution in the South. He offers a course that B.Tech. students take in their final year. Their complaints about this course point to a huge range of badness: just plain bad teaching, not disclosing books he teaches from, poorly worded exams, lack of any discernible relationship between the course content and some exam questions, ... I can go on, but I'm sure you get the point.

I guess it is possible to dispute the content in some of these complaints -- after all, students are not exactly unbiased observers here. But what is not at all in dispute is the phenomenal number of 'F' grades dished out by Dr. F in recent years. If it was over 25 percent in one year, it was well over 60 percent in another! Needless to say, the ones who escaped getting an 'F' grade didn't do all that well; quite a few of them got just a 'pass' grade.

Understandably, students dread having to take Dr. F's course. Imagine top students -- even those with a grade point average of 9 points out of 10 -- quaking at the thought of having to sign up for this man's course!

Naturally, this raises some questions. Here's the first: is Dr. F just a jerk, or is he a certified asshole (to use Bob Sutton's colourful terminology)?

Second, why does the institution tolerate this sort of behavior from one of its senior professors? Why does it allow this academic terrorist to get away with mass murder -- again and again?

That's for the institution to ponder. But, it's worth thinking about how to tame this monster. I can understand if current students may not want to take any action when Dr. F still has some power over them. But surely the graduates can do something? Like creating a site like Rate My Professors to expose Dr. F's shady practices? Like posting his inane, hare-brained questions he likes to give in his exams? Like filing a Right to Information request to access their answer scripts, and using them to confront their institution? Like, simply, complaining to the powers that be?

* * *

One final note: On Dr. F's web page, he proudly states that he has been "recognized ... for excellence in teaching"! Either Dr. F was once a decent teacher before turning into a monster, or there's something truly warped in that institution's award mechanism.

13 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...

    In the elite engineering institution of the South, professors make the final decision for grades and cannot be overruled by anybody or any committee.

    One does not need RTI to see answer scripts. The regulations of the institute itself give the student the right to see his/her answer script.However the mechanism for the grading is uncontestable.

    Just like any other place , people have an informal Rate my professors, its oral transmission like the good ol days.

    I have been playing around with the idea of starting an underground guide. Thanks for the impetus.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I am guessing you refer to professor P. I am one of the unfortunate students in his class.I am glad to inform you that he will not be taking the course anymore.

  3. Anonymous said...

    oh and btw the course is not optional.

  4. jimmy said...

    why does the institution tolerate this sort of behavior from one of its senior professors?

    The answer lies in the question itself. He is a senior professor and the teacher autonomy is a very valuable concept in elite institutions.

    Why does it allow this academic terrorist to get away with mass murder -- again and again?

    I assure you, this will not happen again because of the heroics of a certain fussy, rebellious (as felt by some people atleast) batch. After all, revolts are solutions to gross injustice :P (Not to be taken in a serious sense. I fancy making such analogies.)

    And just to add about Prof.F, he is the one who preaches the art of living in class, he is the one who is immune to all student detest always making plans to pain them, he is the one who says 'no' when a student goes near his room and says 'May I come in , sir?', he is the one who sets examination questions like NH3 when reacts with --- and ---- at 1000-1200 C gives -----(btw ...we were expected to recognise the only one ceramic taught to us in the course which reacts with NH3 at 1000-1200 to give one more ceramic.)

    I sincerely feel, there is some serious psychic problem with him. This man presents with a beautiful case for Ph.D thesis in Psychology.

  5. wanderlust said...

    hmm.. did a bit of searching and found the good professor.
    ashamed to find we share the same alma mater.

  6. barathi said...

    In some elite univs like Anna(Chennai) you cannot see the paper or the marks... Whatever the grade given by the staff(full as well as quarter profs, doesn't matter) are final.(you may apply re-evaluation for one time. But you`ll get same 'F' unless you speak to the staff and he says that you can apply.)

    And a ridiculus thing that we ppl don't understand is after re-eval a student gets grade 'E' while his internals are 45(/50). You should get 'C' even if you got just pass in externals. (external is for another 50 and 45% in external is considered pass) External and internal are added to get marks for 100 and then the grading is done.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Academic freedom was misused in this case. Any freedom is subject to not infringing upon others rights. Here, the students have a right to fair evaluation and dignified demeanor. From the discussion, it appears the person has been identified. Wonder what stops the students from opening the issue in front of the Chairman, Senate who has the right to take strong decisions including termination of services.

  8. wanderlust said...

    >>Wonder what stops the students from opening the issue in front of the Chairman, Senate who has the right to take strong decisions including termination of services.
    Now what if the senate takes a decision in favor of the prof? or is even the least bit lenient to him?
    the students will have it doubly bad now. and it's not a chance most are willing to take.

  9. Anonymous said...

    hehe... I remember; Prof you-know-who once taught us about 4-point bend test, and ended up showing max shear stress right at the freely supported ends. Btw, there was a question in exams about this; no points for guessing what sort of answers got the full marks :D

    Not content with that he set a question of fabricating ceramic rotors, and later on after exams, said that rotors meant "helicopter rotors"; not that it was mentioned in the question paper. Even funnier, when one student talked of rotors in electrical motors, he was told that only helicopters have rotors.

  10. Abi said...

    Wow! This thread has come alive with so many anons with personal experience with Dr. F!

    Jimmy: Academic freedom is for the content of his course; it cannot be an excuse for sloppy grading and grossly unfair treatment of students.

    Barathi: As long as students feel that the exam and grading system has been fairly implemented, access to the answwer scripts is not really a serious issue. The problem with Dr. F is precisely in this domain: his exams are bad and his grading, unfair; but students are unable to get justice.

    Having said that, I'm sure all our universities will have to move towards a system where the student gets his/her answer scripts back after grading.

    Anon: The Chairman or the Senate cannot do anything as drastic as terminating a bad professor's services. But they certainly can censure the professor. My point is that in the absence of a censure from his peers, his ex-students should take up the initiative of placing all the facts online.

    Wanderlust: I agree with you. Current students should not be doing anything when this man still has some power over them.

  11. Anonymous said...

    okay, im not related to the college or the course, but it wasn't very tough to find who this professor is.
    do you guys who take his course call him pissing? (pun on his name).

  12. slow IITM alumnus said...

    I assume the prof. under discussion is at IITM? Can somebody help me out here with some clues? I can't find any ceramics profs whose name begins with F.

  13. wanderlust said...

    dude... the F is a reference to the grade he normally gives.
    w.r.t anon above, pissing... p-sing(h).. cmon, can't be that hard. meta... now there's a clue... and "recognized * for excellence in teaching" ... google is your friend... go figure.