Thursday, July 05, 2007

Me, in college: a real bastard!

While we were digging through the boxes in our basement, I found some of my old college papers which I had totally forgotten about. My senior seminar was taught by a professor I didn't much care for, but her class was required for graduation. Some professors do what they do because they truly love their subject. I had a history professor who loved the fact that he essentially was getting paid to research and talk about his favorite subject in the world. My senior seminar professor wasn't this type of professor; her chief interest was in the politics and prestige of being a professor, and she looked upon interaction with students as a necessary but faintly unpleasant part of the job. Shortly before the semester began, she was nominated to the board of the Indiana Humanities Council. And as part of our required pre-graduation cousework, she required all the senior English majors to do a huge volunteer project for -- guess who? -- the Indiana Humanities Council. This struck me as a blatant conflict of interest, but I couldn't get out of the project or do a project for someone not the Humanities Council. I challenged the assignment as a conflict of interests, all the way to the president of the university, where my protests fell on deaf ears. On the way out, his secretary informed me that the president and the professor were old friends, and were having lunch together just a few minutes after my appointment. Needless to say, challenging the assignment didn't endear me to the professor. So I fulfilled all of the requirements of the project and more, but made the project something which would be of utterly no practical benefit to the IHC, ever. I believe it was a complete digital catalog of a bunch of already-useless information which the IHC had archived, formatted for minimum ease of use.

We also had to write a twelve-page definition of "English Studies" as part of our senior seminar. I found mine in a box in the basement. It included this:
One of the chief goals of an English Studies program must be to produce students who can write effectively. Students must learn that good writing is clear, precise, and concise.... conciseness is apparently taught via contraposition, through projects such as twelve-page definitions of English Studies.
And, later on, in the section wherein I discuss all of the things that students learn, that teachers don't necessarily realize they're teaching:
Another core, though usually unspoken, component of an English Studies program is the idea that quality is equivalent to verbosity. Every writing assignment's first criterion is its length, defined by a minimum number of words or pages. Assignments usually have no maximum length, only a minimum to which students must sharply adhere; grade penalties for falling short of the required length are often as harsh, or harsher than, the penalties for poor thinking. Thus students are taught that the quality of a thought is of equal or lesser value to the number of words used to express it. To succeed, students must quickly learn the art of expanding six pages of good thought into twelve-page definitions of their major.
I did extremely good work in this class and surpassed all of the requirements for all of the assignments. I expected the teacher to give me a low grade anyway, but I managed an A. It might have something to do with the topic of one of my research papers for the class: "An Appraisal of the University's Policies for Challenging Unfair Grading Practices". It's a messy procedure which I'm sure most professors wouldn't want to hassle through. I might give Professor C the benefit of the doubt and assume she gave me the grade I earned because punitive grading wasn't in her nature, but I suspect it had a lot to do with the research paper.

I should stress that I was only this antagonistic towards this one teacher in my entire college career. I got along very well with every other professor I had in the six years (and five majors) I spent getting my degree; I'm inclined to think the problem was on her end, not mine. I just checked the IUPUI faculty directory; she's still there, sitting on a pile of committees and delving into the depths of the bureaucracy. I hope she's no longer the senior seminar teacher....

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