Friday, April 27, 2007

On How to Overcome Student Entitlement

I just got back from reading Dean Dad's post on the ever-present threat of a parent or student to sue a professor, administrator, or the institution. His post is inspired by Profgrrrl's post. I found Dean Dad's explanation of the importance of process, i.e. posting clear criteria for how decisions are made (i.e. when you are determining a grade or how to lay off employees) to be really helpful in clarifying why must threats to sue are just a bunch of hot air.

No one (knock on wood) has threatened yet to sue me. I imagine that it is only a matter of time before I bump up against this phenomenon, and reading Dean Dad puts me at ease. I have, however, had all sorts of odd conversations with students about what they think they are entitled to gradewise, regardless of my clear polcies and criteria. I was just thinking about this yesterday, as a student asked me during class discussion if I had ever personally felt challenged by students because I was female.

The example that popped into my mind, but I forgot to share with the class occurred in my second year of teaching here. The student challenging me was not a man (I don't think that male students are more likely to challenge female professors than female students are); she was a very mediocre, but clearly quite socially popular and powerful woman. She was enrolled in my Phil of Lit course.

About a week before the course was over, she walked into my office to discuss her grade. I was still pretty nervous about these kinds of conversations at this point in my career (I think it takes awhile for young faculty to develop confidence about their grading practices and standing by their grades). I asked her what in particular she wanted to discuss, i.e. the grade on her last assignment? "No," she responded. "Well, what's up?," I asked. "Well, I figure that I am getting a C- in this course, and well, frankly, that's not what I want," she said. Naively, I tried to make sense of her comment. "You mean you want to really prepare for the final," I responded. "No. You see, I am just not a C- student; I want a B."

I think it took me the rest of the afternoon to actually understand what she was saying. It had never occurred to me that a student would feel so entitled to tell me what she should get. Moreover, she had no compunction about this request. What I am proud about is that in this exchange, probably because I was so throw aback, I simply said, "look, there is nothing that I can do to give you that B outside of you earning it. If you want to talk about how to do well on your final exam, well, there's a conversation, but this . . . .?" She strutted out of my office, flipping her hair, and slamming the door behind her.

But, thank god for this experience, since it really got me over my fear of holding the line on my grading.