Irwin Horwitz had enough, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. Turley wrote that he became an instant legend in academia because he announced that he was failing the entire class in his strategic management course at Texas A & M Galveston. He explained via email:
Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to ‘chill out,’ ‘get out of my space,’ ‘go back and teach,’ [been] called a ‘f****** moron’ to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students….
None of you, in my opinion, given the behavior in this class, deserve to pass, or graduate to become an Aggie, as you do not in any way embody the honor that the university holds graduates should have within their personal character.
It is thus for these reasons why I am officially walking away from this course. I am frankly and completely disgusted.
You all lack the honor and maturity to live up to the standards that Texas A&M holds, and the competence and/or desire to do the quality work necessary to pass the course just on a grade level…. I will no longer be teaching the course, and all are being awarded a failing grade.
As the email reflects, there are three things commingled in Horwitz’s decision, inadequate academic performance, improper behavior and, unfortunately, what appears to be a heavy dose of grey beard butthurt on the part of Horwitz. That last piece muddies the motives for the flunk, as does this additional problem:
Asked if the decision to fail every one of the 30-plus enrollees was fair to every student, Horwitz said that “a few” students had not engaged in misbehavior, and he said that those students were also the best academic performers. Horwitz said he offered to the university that he would continue to teach just those students, but was told that wasn’t possible, so he felt he had no choice but to fail everyone and leave the course.
This adds the notion of group punishment, including those students who tried to learn and behave but had the misfortune of being in a class with other students who didn’t, which smells of unfairness. But what’s a prof to do when the inmates have taken over the asylum? Horwitz basically walked and said to the school, they’re your problem now. You deal with them.
Texas A & M has announced that Howitz’s approach won’t stand, and that he can’t flunk the entire class.
[T]he spokesman said that the across-the-board F grades, which were based on Horwitz’s views of students’ academic performance and behavior, will all be re-evaluated. “No student who passes the class academically will be failed. That is the only right thing to do,” he said.
Is that true? If the class was out of control behaviorally, what’s a prof to do? What’s the impact on students who want to study and learn? Like the least dangerous branch, a professor can order students to leave his class, but if they refuse to do, there is little to back up the implicit “or else” threat.
The students, of course, have a narrower view of the problem.
Students have complained that they need this class to graduate, and Horwitz said that based on the academic and behavioral issues in class, they do not deserve to graduate with degrees in business fields (the majors for which the course is designed and required).
Under ordinary circumstances, one would expect that graduation follows some display of minimal competency in the subject matter.
He stressed that the students’ failings were academic as well as behavioral. Most, he said, couldn’t do a “break-even analysis” in which students were asked to consider a product and its production costs per unit, and determine the production levels needed to reach a profit.
Among the assumptions applied to college students is that they’re adults, capable of behaving in an appropriately mature fashion, and sufficiently interested in their lives and education to have a desire to learn so that they can go on to have happy lives and successful careers. Whether these assumptions still apply, or apply in all cases, is in doubt.
The flip side of the question is whether Horwitz, as professor, fulfilled his responsibility adequately to teach these students, engage them in the subject matter and gain their respect as their teacher. Granted, Horwitz had 20 years experience teaching at the college level, but perhaps he was past his prime.
Even if Horwitz wasn’t in the running for professor of the year, and bore some degree of responsibility for losing control, and the respect, of his class, there remains a question of whether the social compact of higher education has broken down.
Hate your prof? Drop the course. Speak to him like a grown-up. If that fails, speak to his superior or another prof with whom you have a better relationship. But there is no circumstance where a student is justified in calling his prof a “fucking moron.” That a student would do so is enormously disturbing, and crosses a line that cannot be crossed while maintaining a higher education system.
But then, the school’s reaction, to stroke the angry birds and tell them they have a second chance is problematic as well. While connecting a passing grade to academic performance, and thus ignoring behavioral impropriety, there is a strong likelihood that it will be watered down to the absolute minimum. After all, if the class was such a disaster, how much could they learn anyway? How much could they know to prove minimal academic competence?
This could all be easily eliminated by watering down the curriculum, the expectations and demands, and turning every Tuesday class into tummy rub day so that students feel safe, but nothing about that approach results in competently educated students.
In the clash of concerns that comprises higher education today, maybe education is the piece that has to give? But if so, then they all fail anyway. They just do so with a diploma in hand.