Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Dismantling the grading smokescreen

Continuing on the grading issue which I have in part addressed in two recent posts.

More needs to be said about grading since grading is held by student-professors romantic ban advocates to be sacrosanct. Sacrosanct in that it is held at such a sacred level that it trumps other values that are held in high regard by almost all persons who take the following values seriously-freedom of association, privacy, and the autonomy of the individual in regards to decision making, such as choice of romantic partners, choice of husband/wife etc.  What I mean by trumps is that if a student is enrolled in professor Y’s class and dates professor Y while in class, such dating must be immediately stopped since non-prejudicial grading is held to be impaired. And it must be stopped at all costs, at the cost of the privacy of the student and the right of the student to remain in class.

Caroline Forell, a University of Oregon law professor, who played a major role in creating the University ofOregon Law School policy on this issue, puts it in the following stark terms-“If such a relationship occurs, the faculty member must disclose it to a supervisor and relinquish authority over the student.
Violating the policy could result in sanctions, ranging from a written reprimand to reassignment or dismissal.
Universities need such clear-cut policies to prevent abusive relationships.”

For Forell, abusive relationships include consensual relationships which she holds cannot really occur since the student is incapacitated by the power differential.  So for Forell, a professor informing on a student about a student’s personal and private relationship without the student’s consent is not only good but is mandated by the university and if the professor does not inform, he or she may be sanctioned, may be terminated.  Of course, it should be apparent to any fair minded person that it is the student who is being abused by persons such as Professor Forell and administrators who implement such policies  However, and here we get to the nub of the matter, Professor Forell is not opposed to all student-professor relationships, only relationships in which the relationship and the class are occurring at the same time.  It is the supreme value of grading that the good professor professes to be protecting; without such protection prejudicial grading will occur and the student in her terms becomes at risk of abuse.

Of course, I am opposed to prejudicial grading; students should be graded on the merits of their work, nothing else matters in terms of fairness.  I was a university teacher/professor for some thirty plus years and I always adhered to this principle. However, I also wish to make it clear that I did not regard my grading component as the supreme component in my professorial role; the supreme component was that of being a teacher.  And clearly, because one is a good teacher one is not necessarily a good grader, a good exam writer, etc.   In terms of being a grader, I never met a colleague who entered the professoriate because of the desire to write exams and grade students and held education to simply be a byproduct of exams and grading. And now we get to the core of my argument which is that throughout academia professors almost always do not psychologically invest themselves in exams and grading, and spend little or no time dealing with matters relating to prejudicial grading. In fact, many of the best teachers delegate much of the grading responsibilities to their teaching assistants.  Student assistants are held to be competent and fair-minded graders; persons with the least professional educational experience are assigned to do this sacred work.  Of course, if it was sacred, if it was of supreme value, professors would never delegate this responsibility to others. Such delegation would represent a lack of concern about prejudicial grading.  And such is my argument that professors on the whole give lip service to the importance of non-prejudicial grading except when it becomes a part of political cant, except when in today’s academic world it becomes a part of a political or sexual correctness.

What I find to be ironic is that it has been feminist professors, particularly women’s studies professors, who have been atthe forefront of the movement to ban student-professor intimate relationships.  This movement came into being in full force in the 1990s.  What is ironic is that in the prior decade of the 1980s the feminist academic cant was that women faculty should bond with their students, such was particularly strongly advocated by women’s studies faculty. However, few persons (one notable exception being Daphne Patai)  within or outside of women’s studies raised questions as to how such bonding may impact on impartial grading, how such bonding may impact on impartial grading of those students who did not bond with their professors, and how such bonding which was always put in a female to female framework could impact on the impartial grading of male students.  The risk of prejudicial grading simply was considered to be irrelevant.  And do note that in the situation under discussion such bonding became central in the educational experience, became a central dynamic in the classroom while those such as myself who speak out against banning student-prof relationships hold that student-prof relationships should never impact on the classroom dynamic, they should never be of any relevance to what is happening in the classroom.  Of course, women’s studies faculty in the context of the bonding process engage in joint student professor political activism, literally marching to the same tune, the same flag, the same slogan.  It may be that the people who march together are more likely to stay together, become one with each other.  And, of course, one may ask the question, what has non-prejudicial grading have to do with it?  Absolutely nothing.  To invoke any kind of academic intervention strategy to deal with the effects of classroom bonding would be an abuse, would be in violation of the rights of students and professors.  Except, of course, when the intervention is seen to be in support or defense of a feminist cause.

I hope that I have been able to effectively communicate my point that impartial grading in academia is very low in the academic value totem pole. It is all too often used as a smokescreen to attack student/professor relationships; it is used as smoke screen to excommunicate professors and students who have violated academic sexual taboos.  Of course, now the purview of grading has widened to include students grading professors.  And many professors arguing that such evaluations are all too often based on how the professors have graded their students and how such leads to grade inflation.  Such is the nature of contemporary academic degradation.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

© Copyright 2007

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October 3, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, grading, higher education, recusal, sexual politics, student professor dating

1 Comment »

  1. [...] The prejudicial grader is not THE Outsider threatening the natural order of things. In fact, as  the dankprofessor has previously argued, academics as a whole put little or no value on grading.  What grading does in the present context [...]

    Pingback by The professor as THE sexual outsider « Dankprofessor’s Weblog | November 6, 2007 | Reply


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