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Jim Huggins
September 4th, 2008
09:35 am
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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.

Current Mood: relievedrelieved

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

Date:September 4th, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC)
That's a powerful statement Dr. Huggins. I think your words will help students see academic integrity in a different and more meaningful way.
Date:September 4th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)

The Best

Jim--As a student of yours, I respected you highly. As a former student of yours, I respect you even more. You were, by far, the best professor I had while attending Kettering. By you going the extra mile, I was able to learn and retain way more than any other class I had. I appreciate all the effort you put in to help me in my education. Thank-you for continuing to put the same effort into these students (in spite of their best efforts not to learn) that you put into me and my fellow students when I attended Kettering. Thank-you for doing a great job.
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Date:September 4th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
I know that you will find a solution ...

A solution has been enacted ... which, for obvious reasons, I can't discuss publicly. I'm not sure that my teaching ability has much to do with finding a solution, though. One has to find a way to balance justice and mercy, administering both in the proper proportions. Hopefully, I've gotten close.
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Date:September 4th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
As a former student, I can also say you were the most approachable out of all the professors I had.
Date:September 5th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
I was never a student of yours (and now that I read your blog, I regret that).

Anyway degree programs aside, if students don't talk to their professors, they will never learn how to become better learners. They will never learn how to formulate a question. I wish I spent more time in professors offices. I would have learned a ton more than I did (and I learned a lot at school). Considering that my job is to formulate questions for the functional groups to answer, I would have benefited from actually learning how to ask a question.

I digress. Cheating is irreprehensible. It is (from what I understand) an offense that can get you kicked out of University, as well it should. Getting caught is good for these students. They (hopefully) will learn that cheating isn't a good idea. The only thing you cheat when you do cheat is yourself.

I have no problem with going to google for an answer; it at least shows that you can do some preliminary research in something before asking a question. But if you go there to get the "answer" then you risk taking something that's not yours.

Anyway, elebrin had it correct; some professors will give you an RTFM answer and show you their door. I doubt you are, however.

Now, I will shut up before I run out of room in a comment.

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Date:September 5th, 2008 06:38 am (UTC)
Great letter. It takes a different angle than the usual "integrity and honesty" spiel students you usually give; you state so yourself. I would recommend that you anonymize it (so that neither you nor your students could be easily identified) and submit it to the Technician. They always need content, and stuff like this gets the students aflutter.

As a previous, repetitive student of yours, I can say without a doubt that you are the best professor I ever had. I've had a few great ones, and a lot of bad ones, but I've not seen any other professor take as much of a personal interest in their students, both academically or otherwise, and try to make their classes as engaging as you have. By far, not the easiest of professors, but everything was doable if the student took interest.

As to your question:
Are you here to get a grade, or an education?
In all honesty, it's probably the grade. In some of my classes I was interested and engaged, and in many others (usually required) I just wanted a grade that wasn't an F so I could move on. If this is one of the earlier classes (what with the EEs and all), that's more likely. If it's a later classes, you could find more students with interest in learning than the grade (though they do want the grade as well, make no mistake).

That said, wow. Half the class? I really hope they didn't turn in the same copy. That would make them not only cheaters, but idiots as well. I also hope this wasn't a higher level course, because that would mean real trouble. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if these were mostly freshmen and this was from a dwindling public school system. Expectations and funds lower every year, and too many kids just sail through high school without actually earning their diploma. Yeah, I know you can't confirm anything, I'm just positing.
Date:September 7th, 2008 06:23 am (UTC)

posting anonymously for obvious reasons

As one of your current students, who got to sit through this, even as a non-plagiarizer (is that even a word), I must say that was an exceptionally brilliant speech/letter/piece of writing. I agree with the person who said to anonymize it and submit it to the technician. It's quite possibly one of the best statements I've heard from any professor, here or elsewhere.

You are one of the best professors at Kettering. Thank you for staying who you are, instead of giving into the temptation to become an asshole professor. Thank you for not treating us like the enemy. Thank you for writing up solution sets. Thank you for grading papers promptly. Thank you for being a great teacher. It is greatly appreciated.
Date:September 9th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)


Please continue to persevere against the relentless norm. So many students merely want to achieve their marks.

Once we all go out and work in organizations with individuals who shirk responsibilities and maintain the bare minimum, without even breaching the subject of corporate honesty. We will look back on our time at university and regret not taking the time to fully grasp the subject, instead of pushing out a passing assignment at the last minute.

It was the hope that going to Kettering I would be exposed to these life lessons early enough to impact my performance as a student.
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