Benedict College Fires Professors For Bucking “Effort” Grading
Benedict fires two professors bucking effort-based grading (Greenville News -AP)
Benedict College has fired two professors who refused to go along with a policy that says freshmen are awarded 60 percent of their grades based on effort and the rest on their work’s academic quality.
Benedict President David Swinton says the Success Equals Effort policy gives struggling freshmen a chance to adapt to college academics. He expects students to improve – the formula drops to 50-50 in the sophomore year and isn’t used in the junior or senior year. But he says he’s “interested in where they are at when they graduate, not where they are when they get here.” Students “have to get an A in effort to guarantee that if they fail the subject matter, they can get the minimum passing grade,” Swinton said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Science professors Milwood Motley and Larry Williams defied that policy and Swinton dismissed them. Neither had tenure, which could have protected them from firing. Motley, a veteran five years at Benedict, said he didn’t like concept from the beginning but went along with it grudgingly. Then he faced an academic dilemma of passing a student he thought had not learned course material. In his case, giving a C to a student with a high exam score of 40 percent was too much. “There comes a time when you have to say this is wrong,” he said. Motley said he started in the Spring awarding grades strictly on academic performance. But the historically black college “told us to go back and recalculate the grades, and I just refused to do it,” he said. A letter in June, informed Motley and Williams they were fired. Williams would not comment to The State newspaper for its story on the situation.
A faculty grievance committee voted 4-3 vote to reinstate Motley, but Swinton overruled that, dismissing Motley’s claim that his academic freedom had been violated.
Well, clearly, this isn’t an academic freedom issue; this isn’t a debate over contending theories in science. It is, however, a manisfestly idiotic policy. Indeed, aside from a student’s performance on exams and other graded events, it is not clear to me how it is that a professor would assess “effort.” Further, effort is an entirely meaningless concept if it doesn’t translate into performance.
If the goal is to encourage experimentation and remove penalties for failure early in a student’s academic career–reasonable goals, I think–a more honest approach would be to remove grading altogether. I know that years ago MIT had graded freshman classes on a Pass/Fail basis. The would be a much more honest solution than this one.
(Hat tip: Jeff Quinton)
UPDATE (8/24 1232): Dr. Rusty Shackleford takes exception to my narrow definition of “academic freedom.”
Academic freedom is normally construed to mean more than the freedom to say what you want in class (and out–especially in your role as an academic researcher) but also the freedom to do what you want in class.
Yeah, I define academic freedom narrowly. Some professors seem to think it’s a license to do whatever they want, which it was never intended to be. The basis of academic freedom is to protect professors who have unpopular ideas from censure by the Powers that Be.
If a professor decided that he wanted to call his black students “niggers,” for example, he would not ordinarily be covered by academic freedom (although I can think of narrow pedagogical exceptions). If he wanted to argue that affirmative action is a policy harmful to blacks, it would. Even then, the topic should be appropriate for the course content and the professor’s expertise.
The AAUP agrees:
1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
Quite right. “Academic freedom” is not just another word for “nothing left to lose but tenure.”