Friday, January 18, 2013

My Parents Didn’t Go to College

I’ve dealt with students this week whose primary excuse for bad behavior or poor performance seems to be that they are the first generation in their family to go to college. Their argument: they don’t know any better.

My brother and I were also the first generation in our family to go to college. While I got a few tips from my older brother, the age difference (seven years) was such that he was out beginning his career by the time I started college, so we really didn’t talk much about it. That really doesn’t matter.

My parents didn’t need a college degree to teach me that I’m expected to do my own work.

They didn’t need a college degree to teach me that my education was my responsibility.

The fact that they didn’t have college degrees never stopped me from going to the library in those pre-Internet days to seek additional sources of information on a topic with which I was struggling.

My parents never had the opportunity to ask a college professor a question when they were growing up, but that didn’t prevent me from determining that office hours are a good time to get clarification on issues that are confusing.

My parents never completed a term paper, but that didn’t keep them from teaching me that putting off work until the last minute is not a good idea.

My parents never had a college course where different components of the course were weighed differently, but I learned how to compute my grade so that I could always know where I stood in a course.

We certainly should recognize that being the first in a family to go to college may mean that a student has a unique experience. We may need to help that student get off to a good start by making our expectations clear and providing accessible resources. In the long run, however, we do not help the student who turns this opportunity into an excuse for bad behavior or poor performance.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Opening Week of the Semester

As the first week of the semester draws to a close I thought it would be good to review what I’ve dealt with. The first week (and also the last week) is not typical of other weeks in the semester. The first week has its own character. Yet, it has been a typical “first week.”

Although I was involved in meetings related to fundraising, building a new building, updating our graduate online classes, and the expectations we have for our doctoral students when they teach or conduct research, this first week really revolves around getting close to 6000 students into classes.

There have been miscellaneous questions about classroom scheduling, syllabus requirements, course cancellations, and the availability of teaching assistantships.

Of course, we had a number of students who absolutely had to get a particular class at a particular time. In most of these cases, the student’s procrastination is to blame. In other cases, resource constraints (e.g., room availability or reduced faculty and staff) have created situations where we cannot offer enough classes to meet demand.

I saw several students who were dismissed last semester and whose request for readmission was denied. Even in a college as large as ours, we actually look at each and every one of these cases. In most of these cases, the student’s grade point average is too far below the required minimum to reasonably expect that the student will be able to raise it enough to stay in good standing. In some cases, it is mathematically impossible. I hear promises and guarantees that the student will make all A’s and all will be well. It comes as quite a shock to some of them that I base my decision on past performance. I hope this is the wake-up call they need to begin managing their education, and their lives, better.

We dealt with some tragic situations, too. I had three students who had to cope with either a parent’s unexpected death or catastrophic illness this week. Suddenly, these students have emotional and financial pressure that we would not wish on any young adult. In most of these cases, the students show uncommon grace and I am proud of the way members of our faculty step up to accommodate the needs of these students.

As the semester begins, I look forward to working with the President’s Council – our student group of student organization presidents. I hope all of our classes go well. I hope our students show up prepared for class. I hope the students push the professors to be better teachers and the professors push the students to be better learners. I hope our professors draw on the research they do to add more value to our classes. And when life gets in the way, I hope the students and the faculty make good decisions.

If these things happen, it should be a good spring.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oh, the stories I hear!

Happy New Year!

Last year was very hectic for me and my blogging suffered as a consequence. One of my new year’s resolutions is to get back into the swing of things here. Generally speaking, I’ve tried to create posts that would provoke some thoughts. That will continue, but I’ve also decided to broaden the topics I cover. In other words, I’m going to also give you a glimpse into the issues that find their way to my office. To get things started, I thought it would be insightful to post a few of my very memorable student / parent interactions from the past two-and-a-half years.

There was the young lady whose mother called to inform her professors that the student would miss classes for a week while recovering from a minor, yet significant, surgical procedure. After some checking, I determined that the young lady was not a student at Florida State. That wasn’t what mom and dad had been led to believe for the past year or two.

There were twins who stopped by to ask if it was possible to get an “F+” instead of just an “F.” They thought mom would be less upset about an “F+.”

There was the young man who emailed that he probably would have done better in his classes if he had been as focused on them as he was on gambling this semester. Could he have another chance?

There was the young lady who told me (in December) that she wanted to turn in all of her work at the end of the prior summer semester, but her professor had refused to take it. Now, she wanted to drop the class (six months later) to remove the “F” on her transcript. I told her to email the work to me and I would consider the request. Based on her reaction, I am not surprised that I have not yet received the work.

There was the young lady who told her parents that we changed the rules on her in the middle of the year. Now she had to take another course in the spring and would not be able to graduate in the fall. Her parents complained, to the president’s office no less, and the matter was referred to me. After some checking, we found out that the real reason the young lady would take classes in the spring was because of the failing grades she had earned in the fall.

One student stopped by to determine whether he could get an “incomplete” grade in his courses. I asked about his circumstances. Well, he had missed some child support payments and “that usually leads to spending two or three weeks in jail.”

Of course, they aren’t all knuckleheads. There’s the young man who was in an accident that left him 100% deaf. He has worked extra hard to recover and keep up in his classes. Now fitted with Cochlear implants, we expect him to graduate and be successful.

There’s another young man whose grades were suffering because he was overly-involved in mentoring and volunteer activities. We talked about how he would be better able to do these things if he took care of his own needs first. He’s learned to manage his time and is doing great.

There’s the young lady who had no idea what major to choose and ended up in one that was just a bad fit for her. She presented herself in a professional manner, made a case for why we should consider her for admission to the business school, and followed up with more information when we had questions. We gave her a chance and she has shined. She will do well.

And finally, there is the President’s Council. This council is composed of the Presidents of the various student organizations. These students are focused, mature, and destined to do well in whatever career paths they choose.