Monday, May 01, 2006

Making The Grade

When I was a lowly undergraduate a mere decade ago, the idea that paying tuition entitled me to top marks wasn't even a consideration. I thought that I had to work for them.

And when I went to law school after a few years out in the working world, it also did not occur to me that paying thousands of dollars a year in tuition equally entitled me to the marks that would get me to the top-dollar big Bay Street firms.

But look what a generation of students raised on excessive self-esteem, grade inflation and education focussed only on job credentials has produced:

Even before he started marking final exams this week, Memorial University professor Sudhir Saha received a brazen e-mail from one of his undergraduate students.

"I'm an A student, and I hope to receive an A in this course," the e-mail read.

Prof. Saha leaned back in his chair, dumbfounded. Never in his 38 years of teaching have students been as proactive about their assessment expectations as they are today. He laughs at the notion of sending such a blunt message to teachers during his own university days.


With students shelling out thousands of dollars for a university education, many feel they are entitled to nothing less than an A grade in return -- and they are increasingly unafraid to confront their educators about it. As final exams wrap up across the country, professors are bracing for teary phone calls, nasty e-mails and even angry students at their office doors.

"In some cases, students are more emboldened because they are paying higher and higher fees," said David Robinson, associate executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

The pressure on professors to hand out top marks is so intense in the United States that American University's Center for Teaching Excellence held a lunchtime session two years ago titled "When students challenge their grades."


Kim Blank, an English professor at the University of Victoria, said it's a rare week that goes by when students don't stop by his office to challenge their grades. He's heard all the excuses -- but he has rarely relented to the demands from his students.

"There is at least one student a week who comes in and says, 'I have to get at least an A minus in this course because . . .' And then they tell you the reasons, ranging from 'because of my scholarship' to 'because I got an A in high school' to 'because my mum says so,' " Prof. Blank said.

Sure, students are anxious to earn top marks so they can compete for a spot in graduate school, Prof. Blank acknowledges. Some need to stay in good academic standing to keep their scholarships. But Prof. Blank has noticed that many students who challenge a grade believe that working hard, completing all assignments and attending class -- even if they don't necessarily produce great work -- should be enough to receive an A.

A university education is not a straight economic exchange of marks for money, no matter how much you're paying, nor should it be.

A genuine interest in one's course of study, a love of learning, the willingness to work hard to grasp new and challenging concepts--and above all, the aptitude and intelligence to undertake and profit from such study--can't be measured in money, but they are the real currency of higher education.

If students don't have those, it doesn't matter how much money they've paid.

And these spoiled brats who have been raised by pushy and overindulgent parents and coddled by an undemanding public school system, neither of whom will stand up to them, had better learn that lesson now.

When they get out working, their attitudes will get them fired. Fast.

Source: Globe and Mail

1 comment:

PGP said...

Well to be sure the expectations of some people have been falsely inflated by the nurse nanny society.

Unfortunately and maybe ironically a lot of profs and instructors have bought into the culture of entitlement as well.
Many have also been instrumental in conveying this attitude to the students. Perhaps more than a few are delivering courses that are less than "A" quality as well! I wonder how they like the results and the feedback they get.