Saturday Night Live in Athens
Larry Thornberry
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Savvy TAS readers don’t need to be informed that academe in America is often beyond parody. New examples of campus craziness pop up every day. It’s impossible to satirize the contemporary university, as no matter how dopey a picture one paints with tongue in cheek, reality is even dopier. It’s Saturday Night Live every day on campus.

While reading the latest news out of “higher” education, one can’t help but continually ask, “Can this possibly be true?” You’re making this up, right? Such was my reaction to an item this week reported by Media Research Center — a news watchdog outfit on the conservative side — and several other outlets.

Apparently, in some precincts of the University of Georgia, and for all we know other places as well, grade inflation has graduated to grade total irrelevance. MRS reports that UG Business Professor Rick Watson decided to give his data management students whatever grade they, not he, think they deserve. He told his students that if they feel “unduly stressed by a grade”, they have received from him they should email him and he will change the grade to whatever the student feels he or she deserves. No questions asked.

Professor Watson calls this A+-if-you-say-so approach his “stress reduction policy.” Those of us who attended university in pre-grade inflation days might call it something else. This lax to the max pedagogue also allowed his students to opt out of any group assignments they may not fancy “in order to avoid any emotional reactions to stressful situations.” Certainly, this au courant Mr. Chips is well aware that there will be no stressful situations in the working world after his students leave the cotton bubble of his classroom. So why prepare his delicate flowers (can’t call them snowflakes — they would melt in Georgia) to deal with situations that just won’t arise?

Certainly eliminating stressful situations is a laudable goal, and perhaps MRC will do further research on this oh-so-modern approach to workplace preparation. The current story does not touch on how stressful it will be later for employers relying on data in their businesses managed by Professor Watson’s students. Or how about the stress on the part of parents paying major bucks — earned in stressful occupations — for their young scholars to attend the University of Georgia?

Well, that was Monday. Then came Tuesday. When word of this professor’s squishy standards got a fair amount of media attention — it was even worked over on Fox’s news chat show Outnumbered yesterday — and got the horse laugh it deserves, the dean of the business school at Georgia quashed this ever so modern approach to grading by request. This everybody-gets-a-trophy approach to grading does “not conform with the university’s rigorous expectations and policy regarding academic standards for grading,” said Ben Ayers, UG’s business college dean. (Shouldn’t that be “conform to”?) He said “this ill-advised proposal will not be implemented” in any of the business college’s classrooms.

I don’t know how many Georgia employers of tuition-paying parents will be reassured by the dean’s sensible dismissal of a nonsense policy. Let’s hope it reduces a little stress among the non-student population of the Peach State. Anyone in the private sector who came up with such a daft approach in his area of responsibility would be fired and escorted off the premises. But as this is academe, Professor Watson is likely free to dream up his next ground-breaking policy for the future business leaders of Georgia.

Perhaps Watson might consider teaching his students to expect that their employers will grant them whatever salary they say they are worth. If there are many other professors at the University of Georgia, and elsewhere, as committed to academic rigor as Watson is, and there is some reason to believe there are, I shudder to think what their finished products are indeed worth.

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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