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  • Addressing problems with professors

    I just wrote about eight pages of letters to my Professor and Department chair describing, as completely as possible, my problems with one of the classes I'm taking. Basically it boils down to that it was supposed to be an Anthropology class, but the teacher is teaching Psychology instead.

    Normally when the professor is incomprehensible, unprepared, or otherwise disappointing I just sit and take it, but after years of this, including one case where a professor was unable to maintain a coherent train of thought for more than a few minutes. In another case a mainland Chinese communications major was hired to teach a Japanese history course when she had no knowledge or understanding of Japanese history beyond the textbook provided. It seems that, having fired the lifelong expert of East Asian studies that had previously been hired to teach the class, the administration grabbed the nearest Asian person they could find.

    This has been going on for years. Everyone's whose sat through more than a few college classes has had useless professors. But by this time I've just had enough. I'm tired of paying money to sit for three hours a week with my brain turned off because the guy at the front of the class hasn't updated his theories in thirty or forty years.

    I don't know what's going to happen with this. I've never actually complained about a professor before. I'm not going to let this drop, though. I'm fully prepared to drag this mess to the President of the University if that's what it takes to get to some satisfactory resolution. I don't know what that would be, though. I doubt they'll give me my money back, and they've got my time already. I'd settle for a contract stipulating that they will require all current and future professors to take educational courses at least equivalent to those required to be certified as a highschool instructor, but I doubt that would happen in this lifetime.

    : (

    I'm really starting to dislike college. It seems like a very expensive way to teach your to teach yourself.

    You guys got any good "I had this awful professor once" stories? I could use a pick me up.

  • #2
    Re: Addressing problems with professors

    This very semester I have come across a teacher that has filled me with such rage due to her incompetence. After we took the midterm, only to have everyone fail it did I decide its time to drop the class and take it with another professor.

    Even though I did dropped the class, I still dropped a letter of complaint signed by myself and several other students at the deans office. Almost everyone that signed also dropped the class (about 12 students) so hopefully that will also send a message. BUT the dean for the aviation department quit so looks like she might get off scott free. Another thing we have been doing is telling everyone and I mean everyone not to take her class.

    The hungry, ignorant man immediately grasps that he is handed a fish, but is bewildered when handed a net. The man who shivers in the cold thinks happily of the man who invites him to sit by his fire, and somewhat poorly of the man who loans him an axe, flint and steel.

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    • #3
      Re: Addressing problems with professors

      A common misconception is that professors are hired to teach students. In most major universities, teaching is secondary to research, no matter how much the school advertises the education it provides. Full-time professorships are filled by looking at how good the applicant's published work is, not at their previous student evaluations. It's a culture of publish or die. There are exceptions of course. Small liberal arts schools do seek to hire professors who are primarily good teachers. For the most part though, professors are competent teachers.

      You have to realize that at the college level, you don't want standardized education. You don't want to impose structure on the way every professor has to teach their subject. There are two reasons for this. First you want to protect the ability of professors to do their research without political bias. Second, the idea of a liberal arts education is one that develops a student's intellectual capabilities. The idea is not merely to impart knowledge to the students or make them practice some basic skills (that's the educational aspect of primary and secondary school). The experience of learning in college is very different than that of high school. Good college professors don't just feed you information. They make you learn it on your own, and in doing so you gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the subject. They are there as experts in the subject to help guide you. But it's up to you to do the learning. The difference between a good and bad professor is in how well they guide you along the way.

      I had a freshman student come to me for office hours today in a state of confusion. She didn't understand how to complete her assignment--to write an argumentative essay--and was surprised to learn that she had to do some thinking on her own, come up with some thesis about what was discussed in class, and provide some justification or reasoning for it. She asked me why I couldn't just tell her what to think and write! She was outraged to learn that she had to think in a philosophy class. She had been used to her HS teachers just telling her what to think and believe that she just wasn't used to being forced to learn on her own in this sense.

      A related problem to poor teaching performance is that school are just lacking in funding. Often schools have to replace retiring professors with adjuncts or graduate student TAs, who get paid $2k-3k for the semester (which is what likely happened in your Japanese history class). I know I've been offered to teach in the woman's studies department (they needed someone to teach a feminist philosophy course). Adjuncts are overloaded with work and underpaid. I have a friend who adjuncts 7 courses a semester at 3 different colleges. He's actually a very good teacher (he hasn't published a lot and that's really hurt him on the job market). But he works at least 70 hours a week (including teaching, prepping, office hours and grading) and makes, what, a measly $14k a semester without any benefits, while trying to get his own research and publishing done so that he can secure a full-time position. He puts a lot of effort into being a good teacher, but the amount of attention he can give his students definitely suffers.

      Still, there are bad teaching professors just as there are poor research professors and bad primary and secondary school teachers. Take any group of people by career and you'll get some who are incompetent at their job. What's so especially outrageous about bad professors? Letters of complaint probably will mean very little to administration, unless you're at a liberal arts school--especially if the professor is tenured. Just take a class with a different professor. Or, better yet, make the best of the situation by treating it as a challenge for you to learn the materials on your own. It's somewhat telling that you say you turn your brain off for 3 hours a week during lecture. You sound like some of my students who complain that they don't understand what's going on. These are the same students who I see napping, texting, or just day dreaming. They don't even bother to try to understand, and so they don't get anything out of the class.

      P.S. Psychology is definitely related to some major fields in anthropology. Are you sure your professor is teaching straightforward psychology or is he teaching stuff about socio-cultural anthropology (which is anthropology but is highly interdisciplinary with psychology)?
      Last edited by sordavie; 03-27-2009, 04:25 AM.

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      • #4
        Re: Addressing problems with professors

        I have a degree in History and Politics, but in 1st year I chose American studies as my minor....had to leave after the first year and change to politics, I could not sit through her Bush Bashing rants anymore, hell, she wasn't even American! Crazy crazy woman. Just teach the damn course!

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        • #5
          Re: Addressing problems with professors

          I should qualify, I 'turn my brain off' because at this point I don't trust myself to keep a civil tongue. I understand that the status quo is 'Publish or Perish'. However, Given the enormous cost of college education I feel that, in order to get good value for my money, I must hold the school, and it's employees, to a very high standard.

          Essentially, I no longer consider myself a student. Rather, I am a customer, the University is a service provider, and I feel that, in this case, they are failing to deliver the product advertised, having already taken payment.

          In order to justify the amount of money I have been charged to take this class, I feel the University is required to provide something more than a reading list. That is, I feel that th professor is required to add something to the discourse.

          In this case the Professor is teaching the course from an exclusively Freudian and Jungian perspective. My concern comes from several points, first that the course is being taught from only one perspective, second, that this perspective is at best controversial and at worst discredited, thirdly, that the course as advertised gave no indication that it would be taught from this perspective, fourth, that I am expected to accept whatever product I am given without any option of redress or complaint should that product prove to be faulty, fifth, that professors are considered by the university researchers first and educators a distant second, sixth, that the status quo is such that many people feel that, rather than being outraged and demanding redress, a student with an incompetent, unprofessional, or unorganized professor is expected to accept the situation without complaint. seventh, that in this case the Professor seems to me to be appealing to unproven, essentially untestable theories to make intellectually dishonest generalizations about human psychological processes and anatomy, and eighth, that the professor seems unable to address criticisms of the limitations of Freudian and Jungian theories except with arguments ad hominem, that is, after admitting their limitations as science, rather than asserting the existence of confirming studies or evidence the professor reminds me that Freud and Jung are well thought of. I assure you that while the men I find infuriating, their theories I find to be empty appeals to magical thinking.

          : (

          I suppose a simpler way to state it is that, for 20,000 dollars a year, I could rent a much nicer apartment, purchase reading materials and subscriptions to excellent private libraries, and educate myself. Instead, I have chosen to spend 20,000 dollars a year in the expectation of receiving increased value for my money. To date, The delivery of the product I expect to receive, based on the universities advertising, has been extremely inconsistent, to such a degree that were this any other company I would long since have ceased to do business with them. Essentially, perhaps a quarter of my professors over the years have not positively contributed to the course. For instance, the adjunct I mentioned who has no professional or personal qualification to teach Japanese history is the most heinous example. Other professors have been so disorganized as to be unable to contribute to class. Others have consistently put materials on tests which were neither covered in class, nor would any reasonably prudent individual assume that they would be on the test.

          Another professor I have this semester is fairly heinous. His idea of 'teaching' is to offer rambling, disordered speculations that rely on highly technical or specialist knowledge not readily available to the students. When asked to clarify or define his terms, he will either evade the question or refuse to answer it. The consensus of the students, so far as I am aware, is that the man is not contributing to the class. That is, were you to remove the lecture component of the class, leaving only the reading list and discussion between the students, it seems likely that more productive learning would occur. In this case one begs to question why the student should pay the university the considerable fees demanded.

          I have bought into the concept of 'Higher Learning' for years. I now feel that this concept is a lie, or a fraud. The university system, at the undergraduate level, is a business. One pays money to the university in order to be certified as a competent adult. In exchange for ones money, one expects that the university will apply a fair and consistent method of evaluation to that certification. However, as soon as a student demands any consistency, or indeed any respect as a student and as a customer, the university immediately retreats behind the myth of 'Higher Education', a myth in which the University is a monolithic bastion of knowledge and the undergraduate student should be grateful to the right to forage for scraps at the feet of their professors. This is, simply, bull****, and I would rather have accountability and oversight.
          Last edited by FrankManik; 03-27-2009, 11:58 AM.

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          • #6
            Re: Addressing problems with professors

            I've never had that many bad professors over the years compared to what you're describing. It's good that you've written to your department head. If you don't speak up, the department can't improve their courses. I'm surprised that it's not standard that students get the opportunity to evaluate courses each semester.

            My university has a standard evaluation for every course a student takes. It's done in class near the end of the course while the professor is outside of the room. On top of that, my department's society has a student functioning as a liason in case there are some serious issues during the semester. Perhaps this is something you can start with your department. But maybe this is different with my school because I'm in engineering and the courses are accredited. So the courses must obtain a standard of quality.

            - It's who you game with.

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            • #7
              Re: Addressing problems with professors

              I had a physics teacher my first year that, for the entire class, every day, would put up overhead projector slides of homework problems, and simply read them from top to bottom. "...the initial velocity equals 50 meters divided by sixty seconds equals zero point eight three three repeating meters per second..." He also had an annoying French-Canadian accent and wobbly hair.

              The highlight of the semester was when he instructed the class to come pick up a "piece of sheet" from his desk.

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              • #8
                Re: Addressing problems with professors

                Originally posted by Satertek View Post

                The highlight of the semester was when he instructed the class to come pick up a "piece of sheet" from his desk.
                hahaha i really lol at that one..
                yeah that kind of teacher is boring.. i will sleeping on that class if i was there...
                If you show your head then your dead....

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                • #9
                  Re: Addressing problems with professors

                  Originally posted by sordavie View Post
                  I had a freshman student come to me for office hours today in a state of confusion. She didn't understand how to complete her assignment--to write an argumentative essay--and was surprised to learn that she had to do some thinking on her own, come up with some thesis about what was discussed in class, and provide some justification or reasoning for it. She asked me why I couldn't just tell her what to think and write! She was outraged to learn that she had to think in a philosophy class. She had been used to her HS teachers just telling her what to think and believe that she just wasn't used to being forced to learn on her own in this sense.
                  I was one of those kids in HS who was so open-minded that my brain fell out. :p

                  I really had no clue how to do an essay assignment. Even after a couple of very useful writing courses at MIT (one on basic writing based on Strunk & White, the 2nd on technical writing), it was quite some time before I could begin to string sentences together.

                  (Also recall that this was PCs and word processors were first available to the masses, and papers in those days were typed on manual typewriters or penned onto lined paper. Nowadays I can strew my thoughts onto the page and then go back and easily rearrange them like clay on a turning table. In those days, it was like doing every sculpture in expensive marble.)
                  Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                  snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                  Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

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                  • #10
                    Re: Addressing problems with professors

                    I have had one really bad professor. It was a math course and he just stood and read from the book. He did not add anything other then what was in the book. I ended up failing the first class I had with him so when I found out that I was going to have him again I sat down and read the book myself and did my own assignments and got a B (I think that is what my grade translates into in the american grade system). I have the stance/approach that the university is not there to teach me but to make sure that I know what I need to know to take up whatever position/job my final degree qualifies me for.

                    Like Sarc at my university we evaluate our teachers at the end of every course. The only problem is that it is very rare that every student agrees that it was a bad teacher because people expect different things out of going to lectures or classes. So you and your friends might not have thought it was a bad teacher but there is likely to be someone that thinks he was a good teacher and then who is the university going to listen to the ones that want change or the ones that don't?
                    If people are becoming so bored when playing that they have to resort to this immature behaviour I will give them something to do, call it a project. The project is "appeal a ban". - Wicks



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                    • #11
                      Re: Addressing problems with professors

                      I'm thinking about going to college and I hope I can avoid most of this stuff. I'm not getting any financial aid as far as I can tell, I've applied for several scholarships but I got a letter back from one saying I didn't get it, and I'm really not sure of which degree I want to take. I'll be the first person in my family going to a four year school and it's really expensive.




                      "Certainly, being bombarded with 105 millimeter shells is bad. But the knowledge that you've armed your enemy thus, with your sloth and your ineptitude, unfolds in the heart like a poison." Tycho from Penny Arcade in reference to the nuke in MW2

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                      • #12
                        Re: Addressing problems with professors

                        In my experience, I have had more professors or grad students that cared about teaching, and did a good job of it, rather than bad professors or grad students. However, the bad classes really do stick out, and somewhat jade my memory. Freshman year; 50-something-year-old, male, Iranian, teaching calculus. Yes, he was very good at math. Could he teach? No. Did he assume you should know how to do every single problem he gave us? Yes. He also told us that he "likes problems that make you sweat." He was genuinely annoyed that students had problems learning the material, but to his credit, he did try to help some of them. However, I already said that he cannot effectively get the information across. He just couldn't teach, and I had a Physics professor that same quarter that had no idea what she was doing. It was pointless to go to Physics class. So, after two quarters of mostly terrible teaching in Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics, I decided to switch majors (I was probably around a C average for these classes, which wasn't too good.) to social science. First quarter I took Psych 101, and Soc 101. The teachers seemed to know exactly how to get the information across to the students, and it was 100 million times more interesting. Anyway, so from there on out, I only encountered a few more teachers that were awful. One of them (Grad student) taught straight out of a book (Theories of Personality). I stopped going to class, because I already knew that half of the theories were very controversial and discredited. I wanted to hear research and studies to back the theories, not an overview of theories like Freud, Jung, Skinner, Bandura, etc. She added nothing to the class. Another professor, about to retire, just did not care. He was teaching Social Psychology of Justice, and was basically a guy that said "I'm right, you're wrong." He really believed his teaching style to be the greatest ever, yet the class average was a C-. Regardless of what institution of higher learning you are attending, there will always be some professors and grad students that cannot teach as well as another. Tenured professors are practically immune as well, so don't count on your complaints to have an effect, unless you are able to get a very large amount of signatures or complaints.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Addressing problems with professors

                          Originally posted by Katanama View Post
                          I have the stance/approach that the university is not there to teach me but to make sure that I know what I need to know to take up whatever position/job my final degree qualifies me for.
                          For a vocational university (and I include MIT in that), that makes some sense. But what about a liberal arts degree? I see a lot of university as not being aimed at making an income, but instead at "pure" education. And for that aspect, teaching you to learn on your own is more valuable than rote learning from a book.

                          This is why I don't give much credence to paper when evaluating potential hires. They at best show the candidate can follow directions. Not that he's good at independent thinking. In my line of work, initiative is important, and believing the documentation is a liability.
                          Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                          snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                          Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Addressing problems with professors

                            What is your line of work scratch, if you don't mind me asking.

                            I really don't know that much about the American university system. In Denmark University is free so as long as you have good enough grades you can get in. You will have to pay for your books but that is all the expenses you have towards your education. therefore I can justify my point of view since I am not really investing anything but time in my education.

                            Based on a quick lookup of the two kinds of university I am guessing that a vocational university is a normal university while the other is more of a spread out education where you are taught a wider curriculum. If this is the case then we only have the first in Denmark and therefore I have not made that distinction.

                            And of course looking at someones degrees are not the only thing that should happen at a job interview, it should be a very minor portion of the interview. but if the university just threw the knowledge at its students without checking that they are capable of using it then that degree is worthless. I go to the university to get a piece of paper that say this person knows this and this and specialize in this. I think I would be able to teach myself most of the stuff that I have been taught until now. But in most cases it is easier to understand it when in class then having to learn it on your own.
                            If people are becoming so bored when playing that they have to resort to this immature behaviour I will give them something to do, call it a project. The project is "appeal a ban". - Wicks



                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Addressing problems with professors

                              My current Macroeconomics professor at University makes me go hulk angry. I should have known there would be trouble when he said at the start of the semester, that he has been teaching this course for 20 years. This guy loses focus so fast, it is incredible. He moves at a snail's pace of less than 10 powerpoint slides per lecture (when the topic has 50+ slides altogether). 10 minutes into the class, he would start rambling about these nonsensical stories about how how class concepts get used in real life. Only they are more joke stories rather than serious and thoughtful ones.

                              I tried asking him questions, but he just keeps giving these 1 liners that just get me even more confused. I tried talking to him in private but apparently he is too busy for that. He is the only professor so far that made me rage quit class (I just got up and left).

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