LSU Removes Tough Professor

Props to my brother for highlighting this blogworthy “LSU Removes Tough Professor” article.

Mid-article I was thinking of this assessment axiom—the quality of your students’ work is a direct reflection of your teaching effectiveness. Therefore, if 90% of your students are failing, something is seriously wrong with your teaching. However, in the second half of the article, Tough Professor explains that she factors in improvement, most everyone was improving, and most people would eventually pass the course just not with the A’s and B’s they’re probably accustomed to.

I’m trying to figure out why LSU administrators caved simply because students complained. A worrisome precedent. A key point is LSU is supposed to be the state’s flagship institution; therefore, shouldn’t administrators error on the side of academic rigor? Why didn’t the administrators say something to the effect of, “If you’re not willing to work harder, maybe you should have picked a different state school.”

The administrators probably succumbed to enrollment pressures and said in effect, “We can’t afford to lose students.” But are short-term enrollment numbers worth the crippling of faculty morale and the chipping away of the institution’s academic reputation in the medium and long-term?

A statistic and a story come to mind. We know nothing about the gender of the students that complained, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a disproportionate number were males. The statistic. In 1960 there were 1.6 males for every female graduating from a U.S. four-year college. In 2003, there were 1.35 females for every male who graduated from a four-year college. I’ve written about this in the past, but from my limited vantage point, female students are leaving their male counterparts in the dust. The story. A couple of years ago I’m driving daughter and daughter’s Yale-bound friend somewhere. Me, “I’m curious, why Yale?” Her, without missing a beat, “Because I want my nose to the grindstone for four straight years.”

Our challenge is increasing the relative percentage of “nose to the grindstoners”.


Imagine writing eighteen single-spaced pages about your job performance? I’ve spent the better part of the last three weeks writing a 10,732 word self-assessment for promotion to Professor.

The very lucky 17% of higher education faculty in tenured track positions typically begin as Assistants, become Associates at tenure, and then eventually when their hair is mostly gray and their vision is shot, become Professors. Most faculty spend about seven years at each level. Unless you’re the rare all-star that gets recruited by another institution, promotion is the only way to improve your salary.

“Like a lawyer” I had to “make an argument” for myself in light of the University’s criteria for promotion. I embedded the criteria in the first two sentences.

“Through this self-assessment, the letters of colleagues and former students, and the accompanying artifacts, I aim to demonstrate that I am deserving of promotion to Professor. This is due to my record and reputation as an excellent teacher, continual growth in scholarship, and distinct academic influence and leadership.”

I’ll spare you the remaining 10,700 words. I should note though that after reading all 10,732 words my wonderful mother said if she could she’d award me promotion in a “New York Minute”.

Reminds of a classic moment in modern American film. Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, “So we finish the eighteenth and the Dalai Lama’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

So I got that goin’ for me, my mom in my corner, which is real, real nice.

Since no one is perfect, I would have preferred writing about what I’ve done well and what I haven’t done as well. But that’s not what the Rank & Tenure Committee expects.

So after three weeks of writing almost exclusively about what I do well, it’s time to restore some balance in my life and the cosmos by coming clean about my myriad shortcomings to a proxy for the Rank & Tenure Community. . . you.

1. I can be an impatient listener.

2. On more than one occasion, I’ve been wearing a towel when my daughter’s friends come to the house. My “man skirt” or “utility kilt” embarrasses her unnecessarily.

3. I sometimes mistake the family dinner table for a lockerroom.

4. I am indescribably inept at Christmas lights, home repair, laundry, and pruning.

5. I sometimes don’t act immediately on emails, necessitating multiple readings.

6. I regularly cut through the Denny’s parking lot on Pacific and Hwy 512.

7. When it comes to food and drink, I can be too disciplined. My own beloved mother recently said to me, “Sometimes you have to live a little.”

8. My frugality can take completely irrational forms.

9. I received cable for free for a long time and didn’t report myself.

10. When in “writing at home” mode, I can wear the same pair of pants and t-shirt for a long time (purposely vague).

That’s a Lettermanesque start. I feel better. Thanks for listening.

Please don’t forward this link to anyone on the Rank & Tenure Committee.