Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Higher Education Conundrum

Now that the NCAA men's basketball season is over and most (hopefully) of the money-driven issues have been solved, it's time to address the fear that is on many minds concerning higher education: and, no, it's not how many freshmen are going to jump to the NBA or how many underclassmen are going to claim that their coach treated them badly so they are transferring! This is a problem that affects every bastion of higher education on some level: the problem of having a professor who cannot use the English language correctly or has an accent so confusing that students founder.
This was again brought to my attention by an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today which reported that a chemistry professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering had a judgment against him upheld in court. The professor was initially fired because the students complained that they could not understand him. Upon appeal, the courts upheld the firing...which leads to a series of pertinent questions:

1. Why was he working in this country when his language skills were so poor? As anyone with understanding can tell you, university professors are hired and retained based on their ability to bring research money to an institution or based on their contributions to the field in terms of scholarly writings/reputation. Neither of those qualifications requires spoken English proficiency, and academic brilliance is not relegated to English speakers!

2. What, if any, were the students' responsibilities? This is tricky because the professor in question might have been the only professor for that course, meaning everyone HAD to matriculate through his class. But, you and I know the truth is more likely that the time schedule favored the students' other classes or activities. You cannot tell me that in a school as small as MSOE students didn't know beforehand that the teacher was hard to understand. The students were probably also given a textbook written in perfect English. Of course, if the book were the only source of information, students would not need ANY teacher. I would also suspect that there was tutoring help available in the subject matter though I agree that the professor should be the first line of defense with regard to questions about the material.

3. How do American universities solve this problem? The obvious answer here is that we should prepare more native speakers for a career in teaching...encouraging our grade and high schoolers that teaching is a respected, rewarding profession...instead of luring them with dreams of March Madness that few will ever attain. By emphasizing a love of learning and the need to pass it on to future generations, we can assure ourselves that our great-grandchildren will be able to understand their professors AND the person on the other end of tech support.


At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a professor in the accounting program really push for me to go on. He really felt I'd make a great professor, but here are two problems I saw:

1) From a business standpoint, I was going to make more money as a professional MBA than I would have as a PhD in a university. And it would involve more school.

2) Being a good professor at even small universities requires publishing and research. The people teaching are great minds in their field - that doesn't mean they are great educators. Some of the best teachers I had we're TEACHERS first. Some of the worst - academics.

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I meant were not we're. Autocorrect.


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