Monday, May 08, 2006

Stanley Fish - Students have no rights

Stanley Fish has a great blog post about the academic bill of rights. Apparently, the princeton student senate passed a version of it last week.

Here is my favorite excerpt from his essay:

One last point. Resolution 177, the Academic Bill of Rights, the Student Bill of Rights and the Princeton Student Bill of Rights all speak of the importance of promoting and protecting the academic freedom of students. What could this possibly mean? The only freedom students rightly have is the freedom to vote with their feet if they don’t like the syllabus in a particular course. They are not free to demand on the basis of “intellectual diversity” or “balance” or “pluralism” or some other specious abstraction that the syllabus be changed to suit their personal or ideological inclinations. Nor are students free to introduce into a classroom issues or perspectives that are judged by an instructor to be beside the point he or she wishes to explore. Instructors are free to say to a student, “That may be an interesting question, but it is not one we shall be asking here.”

The rhetoric of academic freedom for students is a subset of the rhetoric of student rights. But students have no rights, except the right to competent and responsible instruction. They certainly do not have any right to be instructed by a conservative teacher or a liberal teacher or a religious teacher or a white teacher or a black teacher or a teacher of any color. The idea that students have rights often accompanies the idea that students are customers and teachers, providers. Students are not customers and if we survey their preferences and alter our “product” accordingly, we will not only have betrayed our professional responsibility; we will have betrayed them.

Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to the NY Times to see the rest of the article:

Stanley Fish - Think Again - Politics by Any Other Name - New York Times Blog


lammers said...

The entire "student-as-customer" viewpoint ignores the fact that if students were smart enough to know what they NEED, they wouldn't need an education. All they really know is that they are not yet well educated. They have turned to us Trained Professionals to remedy that problem. Students micromanaging instructors works about as well as the average homeowner telling the plumber or auto mechanic how to do his job. Eventually, the craftsman will ask, "If you're so damn smart, why did you call ME?"

It doesn't matter what students WANT. It is our obligation to give them what they NEED, and our hope that someday they will realize the value of it.

The fact remains that some of our colleagues are real jerks to students, treating them distrespectfully in front of their peers, then dressing up in sanctimonious cloak of Challenging Them. I challenge my students plenty, but I think I am able to do it in a way that respects their dignity.

If all instructors treated opposing views respectfully, this would be a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

In response to what Lammers has said, it is my observation (as a student) that it is not always the norm to have a professor, or trained professional, actually know how to teach.
It seems to be forgotten that simply having an advanced degree does not make one a good teacher. Trust me, I have had my fair share of poor instructors.
Also, I think it is quite arrogant to assume that we, the students, are the only ones who have something to gain from the classroom setting.
I am sure I am not the norm when it comes to students, even reading such a blog would set me apart from the average, but, I can also say that I know that I NEED a good education, and that also happens to be what I WANT; so, yes, Lammers, it DOES MATTER what I want. And simply knowing what one needs does not imply that one is well-educated.
I think, perhaps, we all need to reevaluate the education system...because maybe it is letting us all down and we dont even realize it?!?

Bill Wresch said...

To Anonymous -

Huh? I can read in your rant disrespect ("Lammers", rather than "Professor Lammers"), plus a list of vague complaints. But much of what you say confuses me. Let me see how much of your post I can understand.

Let's see...

An advanced degree doesn't guarantee good teaching, and you have had some poor instructors.

OK, since you don't define "poor instruction" we can only guess what you mean, but we hear you. You have had bad classes -- or at least instructors you didn't like.

Next, you have some comment about arrogance and how students aren't the only ones gaining something in the classroom.

Sorry, you lose me totally with that one.

Then, you are different because you read blogs and because you want a good education.

Hmmm, there are those who want a bad education?

Finally, we need to re-evaluate the educational system.

Do you want to start? What would a new system look like?

Lake Winneblogo said...

Many times, I disagree with Stanley Fish, but I found his comments this time to be especially insightful.

Students and society have the wrong idea about higher education. The paper has become the only essential of college for many, many people.

When you hear even our administration blather on about the need for more bachelor degrees in the state, without any discussion of what that degree should look like (i.e. dumb down the quality for Applied Studies), it makes you wonder what their priorities are.

Is it any surprise that students also expect their degree to be handed to them, without either academic or ideological challenge?

Anonymous said...

Well, its me again (the student). I am writing this time in response to Bill Wresch (pardon my lack of a proper title, for I mean no disrespect). First off, I think Winneblogo hit the nail on the head when it comes to my response of how I suggest we change the education system. For, it is a two-way street you see.
I am here not for the degree, but for the education...and dispite what some may claim, there is a very big difference. But it has been an observation of mine that it is not just the students that have turned this system into somewhat an assembly line. You know, you apply, register, buy the books, do the little amount of work required, get your degree and get a job; but society, including the professors, have also allowed for this. I will refer back to my comment that a degree is different than an education...students, administrators and professors have all allowed for these terms to be interchanged.
For example, I am not receiving an education from a professor that stands in front of the class reading from the powerpoint slides that came with the book (thanks, but I can read it on my own), but (and let me place blame on all) an eduaction comes with engagement. I can learn things without ever being educated...but it is all of our duties to engage students.
In reference to Bill Wresch's comment "since you don't define "poor instruction" we can only guess what you mean, but we hear you. You have had bad classes -- or at least instructors you didn't like." Um NO! I am offended that anyone would think I am so petty...What I meant was bad instructors. I can like you and still think you are a bad teacher. There are very nice men and women that have stood in front of the class rambling on about nothingness, never engaging the class etc etc. That is poor teaching-but I still liked them. Also, I will take the blame on behalf of the students, you may not want to engage us because it is implied that we do not want to be engaged. But when will this cycle end? Some one has to take the initiative somewhere. As a student, I tried, but it is hard when some classes do not allow for it (all lecture-no discussion) and please do not tell me that some subjects wont allow for disscussion. I have had classes in almost all the subjects-including chemistry, and it is possible.
Also, back to Bill Wresch-no, there are not students who want a bad education, but there are students that want a degree, but part of me wants to think there is a very fine line between them.
Also, as for the respect issue. Having a PhD does not guarantee you my respect (sorry Dr. Lammers-but you earned my respect when I had you for a class). Just like everyone else, even professors must earn one's respect. And referring to one with use of a proper title does not mean I do/do not respect them. There are professors, I will admit, that I do not respect, but as teachers-not as people. And let me harp on the use of the word instructor for a minute. This is one of the many things I think is wrong with the system. Professors and students alike are okay with instruction. This is not an education-to educate and to instruct are 2 very different things. No one, not the students, not administration, and not the faculty, should be ok with being part of an institution that allows for instruction.
As for the system as a whole, I agree with Winneblogo, is it a surprise we students expect our degree handed to us? No, not enough students expect to be engaged, but not enough professors are attempting to engage their students. I have been blessed with having had some very great professors. One of which raises the bar for engaging his students. Over the last few weeks his class has been reading a book that has caused quite a stir, I, someone who is not even in the class have taken part in some of the debate started b/c of this book. That is how you engage students, wake us up, it is hard for us to want to be engaged when we are so used to being 'instructed'. I hope to be a professor some day, and I will know I have done my job when my students are leaving my class and still talking about the material. This is an education.
I mean no harm, but I too am sick of my peers expecting not to have to work, but also of my professors allowing for us to think this is possible. Let us all raise the bar a little higher, this is a viscious cycle, therefore, we are all to blame.

lammers said...

Anonymous student said: >>In response to what Lammers has said, it is my observation (as a student) that it is not always the norm to have a professor, or trained professional, actually know how to teach.
It seems to be forgotten that simply having an advanced degree does not make one a good teacher.<<

I cannot argue with that. However, in some ways, I think the issue of "instructional quality" falls under the heading of "more than one way to skin a cat." I have provided peer evaluations for many colleagues, in my department and in others. I have seen many different teaching styles, diverse techniques and approaches. Never have I reviewed a colleague that I felt was unqualified to teach or derelict in his/her duty. However, I have found myself thinking, "SOME students will not respond well to that" or "He's really getting through to SOME of these students but not to others."

I'm reminded of the story of the man and his little son on a long journey. They had but one horse, so the father let the little boy ride as he walked along. They passed a farmhouse and the owner said, "You lazy little boy! Why don't you let your poor old father ride!" So the two traded places. At the next house, its owner chastised the father: "You selfish man! Why don't you let your poor little boy ride?" And so it went, all the way to their destination.

College students are an enormously heterogeneous assemblage with little in common. It is extremely difficult to craft a teaching style that will reach everyone. The evaluations on are testimonial to this. A given prof will be lauded by one student and condemned by the next. It is very difficult to please everyone, particularly when (like the folks in the story) they do not see the whole picture, do not have all the info.

I see my obligation as doing the best I can for the students who come to me. They have to trust me that I am doing what I think is best for them. It is all I can do.

>>I can also say that I know that I NEED a good education, and that also happens to be what I WANT; so, yes, Lammers, it DOES MATTER what I want.<<

Well, yes, because you WANT what you NEED. For too many folks, those are NOT the same thing. They WANT a good cushy life, but do not want to do what is required to achieve it. That you understand this and accept it bodes well for you.