Saturday, April 17, 2010

LSU caves

LSU, our flagship university, has caved on student complaints of academic rigorousness and removed a teacher from a teaching slot. I think they were wrong.
Dominique G. Homberger won't apologize for setting high expectations for her students. The biology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge gives brief quizzes at the beginning of every class, to assure attendance and to make sure students are doing the reading. On her tests, she doesn't use a curve, as she believes that students must achieve mastery of the subject matter, not just achieve more mastery than the worst students in the course. For multiple choice questions, she gives 10 possible answers, not the expected 4, as she doesn't want students to get very far with guessing.
Sounds like a wuss, to me. I had a tough professor. When I signed up for Accounting 101 at LSU, the prof gave us a sheet that told us what books to buy, read the first four chapters, complete the workbook assignments, and be prepared for a test during the first class period. That's academic rigor.
"I believe in these students. They are capable," she said. And given that LSU boasts of being the state flagship, she said, she should hold students to high standards. Many of these students are in their first year, and are taking their first college-level science course, so there is an adjustment for them to make, Homberger said. But that doesn't mean professors should lower standards.
She was teaching microbiology for non-science majors. She expected great things from her students.

Some college classes are crucibles. Every discipline has those classes. They're designed to weed-out those students who might be unsuited for a particular field of study. My professors, indeed, my deans, thought that student academic complaints were amusing. A student either did the work or passed away into that long list of students who didn't make the grade.

If the students in Ms. Homberger's class have learned anything, it's that complaints count for more than academic rigor. That's precisely the wrong lesson to glean from a college university.


J said...

This quote from the article you linked tells it best: "The class in question is an entry-level biology class for non-science majors, and, at mid-term, more than 90% of the students in Dr. Homberger's class were failing or had dropped the class. . . ."

In other words, she treated the non-science majors like they had a strong biology background. LSU got it right, IMHO.

Pawpaw said...

Lotsa times, J, microbiology for non-science majors is filled with folks who need micro, but aren't pure science students. Like nurses. My Lady still talks about her micro class from her nursing days. She says that she passed it by the skin of her teeth, but knowing the stuff she had to learn made the rest of the curriculum easier.

LSU got it wrong, IMHO

J said...

Pawpaw, you're essentially saying that almost all non-science students can't get a 4.0 average if they just happen to have to take a science major class. That puts non-science students at a severe disadvantage come grad school admission time.

Pawpaw said...

Oh, hell, J. No body takes micro unless they need micro. There are lots of physical science classes out there to meet undergrad requirements. Of course, there is a reason why universities require non-science majors to take science classes. It's called a "well-rounded education." The same reason that I, a business major, had to take all manner of crap that had nothing to do with business.

Jake said...

I got a D in Shakespeare. Dang humanities requirement. Somehow made it to grad school anyway.

wv: IROGRE. Hmm, before I went to college, I didn't even know how to spell "engineer". Now I are one. (Are not an ogre, though... not yet, anyway.)

Anonymous said...

The way it looks to me is the professor considered her students to be actual college material, able to read and comprehend her instructions given in plain English, then demonstrate the maturity and discipline to do the work and learn the material. 90% were not. She has it right.

Gerry N.

J said...

So, Gerry, she speaks plain English?

Dominique G. Homberger
Ph.D., University of Zurich (Switzerland), 1976

Termite said...

There are lots of Europeans, particularly the Swiss, who speak better English than many Louisianians. They may have something of a Swiss/Germanic accent, but usually not one that prevents being understood.

Something else: I'm 46, and I've noticed a significant drop in the reading and writing skills of HS students who are supposed to be in the upper 25%, and who plan to attend college. Their spelling and grammer are egregious.

Termite said...

Oops.....That would be "grammar".....

Red Tornado said...

While the students leave something to be desired, it sounds like she's one of the professors who delight in making their class as hard as possible. I see this occasionally at the college where I work. I serves no real purpose, except to make the professor self-righteous and require several students to take the class again...with a different instructor. She shouldn't have been fired, but the administration should have had a "come to Jesus" talk with her. YMMV