From USA Today:
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.
Students in introductory biology don't need to worry about meeting her standards anymore. LSU removed her from teaching, mid-semester, and raised the grades of students in the class.
Kevin Carman, dean of the College of Basic Sciences, did not respond to requests for a phone interview Wednesday. But he issued a statement through the university's public relations office that said: "LSU takes academic freedom very seriously, but it takes the needs of its students seriously as well. There was an issue with this particular class that we felt needed to be addressed.
"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. The extreme nature of the grading raised a concern, and we felt it was important to take some action to ensure that our students receive a rigorous, but fair, education. Professor Homberger is not being penalized in any way; her salary has not been decreased nor has any aspect of her appointment been changed."
In an interview, Homberger said that there were numerous flaws with Carman's statement. She said that it was true that most students failed the first of four exams in the course. But she also said that she told the students that — despite her tough grading policies — she believes in giving credit to those who improve over the course of the semester.
At the point that she was removed, she said, some students in the course might not have been able to do much better than a D, but every student could have earned a passing grade. Further, she said that her tough policy was already having an impact, and that the grades on her second test were much higher (she was removed from teaching right after she gave that exam), and that quiz scores were up sharply. Students got the message from her first test, and were working harder, she said.
"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.
Homberger said she was told that some students had complained about her grades on the first test. "We are listening to the students who make excuses, and this is unfair to the other students," she said. "I think it's unfair to the students" to send a message that the way to deal with a difficult learning situation is "to complain" rather than to study harder.
When I first read this story, my initial thought was that there must have been a lot of LSU football players in Homberger's class, but now that I've had more of a chance to think about it, I suspect the reality is much more prosaic--and much more depressing.
Call me an old fart, but times have really changed. I had my share of jackass profs who thought they were too good to be teaching undergrads, but when I did get bad grades, my folks sure as hell didn't direct their ire towards the professor or the deans. I think I'm very safe in saying that the guy in the engineering dean's office who dealt with undergraduates would have laughed us out of his office if we'd ever gone to complain about a class being too hard. That guy (I've forgotten his name; the dean proper was the late William Walker) was never shy about telling you you should consider changing to another major if you couldn't cut it.
I was certainly unprepared for college-level math and science when I got to Auburn. I rarely had to study in high school, and it took the shock of my sophomore year before I figured out that I couldn't just slide by on instinct any more. That more than anything else was the most valuable thing I learned in college.
From reading the full story, it looks to me like the kids at LSU had a similar attitude going in, but more importantly they were on their way to learning they had to change to the "John Houseman way" for their own good. Unfortunately, griping to the dean apparently carries a lot more weight today than it did 20 years ago. That's a shame. Those kids would be a lot better off if they'd persevered. Now all they've learned is the value of whining.
For further reading, have a look at Stuart Rojstaczer's fascinating GradeInflation.com site.