Jim Huggins (jkhuggins) wrote,
Jim Huggins

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an open letter to my students

As an educator, I feel an obligation to comment the events of the last forty-eight hours.  I don't want to comment, but I have to comment.  My intention is for this to be the final chapter on this incident.

First of all, I apologize to those of you who weren't directly involved in this incident.  You don't deserve to be subjected to what I'm about to say.

Half the class cheated on the last assignment.  That's never happened to me before.  You can understand why I'm pissed.

A number of you have apologized for your behavior, and I appreciate that.  You've offered explanations of your behavior, and I can see why you made that bad decision.  Now we need to figure out how to help you not to make that bad decision in the future.

I could make a big long speech about honesty and academic integrity.  But you've heard all of that before, and there's not much point in saying it again ... especially since it didn't seem to stop you this time.

So here's what I want to say.

I take cheating as a personal insult.

By submitting work that is not your own, you are lying to me.  You are saying "This is my work", when it isn't.  You are also saying that you think I'm so oblivious that I can't tell the difference between your work and someone else's work.

You don't have the courage to come forward and say "I don't understand, please help me."  Even though I hold office hours that no-one visits, attend lab that only half of you attend, and read my email at all hours of the day.  You'd rather lie to me by submitting someone else's work and claiming it as your own.

Many of you in your apologies stated that you cheated because you just didn't understand how to do the problem.  The thing that makes me the saddest about this is that *NO-ONE* asked me a single question about the problem ... not in person, not in email, not in office hours, not in lab.  You'd rather go to the web than talk to me.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with useful assignments that allow me to assess what you know?  If I pick simple, straightforward assignments, I create the possibility that you'll go out onto the web and find the answers without doing the work yourself.  If I take the time to create something original and inventive, so that you can't easily cheat, not only does it take longer for me, but there's always the possibility that my brand new assignment ends up being impossible.

Are you here to get a grade, or an education?

If you're here to get an education, then the grade shouldn't matter.  You should be fighting to learn the material.  And if you don't understand it, you need to be pestering me until you do understand it.  And then we can work together.

But if you're here to get a grade, then that changes our relationship entirely.  I'm the giver of grades, and it's your job to do anything you can to convince me to give you the grade you want.  So we can drop any pretense of having a working relationship or a friendship.

I hear you in the hallways complaining about professors who are assholes --- the ones who treat students like an annoyance, like the enemy, who create awful assignments and exams without any sort of recognition of their difficulty.  For the first time in my life, I'm tempted to become one of them.

I could easily quit going the extra mile.  I could stop writing up solution sets ... I could grade homework whenever I felt like it (or not at all) ... basically, I could stop caring about my job.  Frankly, I haven't gotten a raise for four years, so it's not like doing a lousy job of teaching would affect my salary.

But I'm not going to do that.  First of all, half of you don't deserve it, and I owe it to you to be the instructor you deserve.  But more importantly, I don't want to be turned into one of those assholes.

So we're going to move on now.  I don't know how, but we're going to move on.  Because that's what professionals do. 

Having said all of that ... I'm feeling much better now.

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