I'm at least as confused as Rick.
I think this whole discussion has been rich, disturbing and unsettling
-- another reason I'm so happy and frustrated to be part of this
I've found myself nodding as I read -- to what Doug and Patrick and
just about everybody else has said about his vexed issue -- and even
more to Rick's note. Especially this part:
> On the other hand, my father said I would be disowned if I became a
> stoolpigeon (or a scab or a pimp).
Only in my case it was my mother who taught me that -- and never,
ever to cross a picket line.
We do two different things, and they're opposed, and we can't avoid
either. We help students learn to be the sort of people who can do
things. But we _also_ certify them as being able to do them -- and
we have a responsibility not only to them but to the larger society.
It's not so clear that certifying someone as "a Ph. D." when they're
not ready or competent has quite the immediate consequences of
certifying them as a brain surgeon or civil engineer when they can't
do it, but it does have consequences, and we do it all the time.
I was particularly struck by Rick's account of his role as external
examinar for a dissertation.
> One of the hardest--most "schizophrenogenic--things I ever did was,
> as a external reader on a thesis committee to refuse to pass the
> thesis (without radical revision and a new defense). I did it
> because I looked past the poor graduate student (who, in my view,
> had been failed by those who were responsible for teaching him) to
> all the students he would teach, if we certified him. I decided my
> obligation to protect them from being taught by him--and least
> until he learned what he did not yet understand--was my primary
I've been in that position a couple of times, and both times, in my
own view, failed. I _didn't_, when it came to the crunch, blow the
whistle. Maybe I couldn't look past the poor graduate student (in
both cases I thought the internal committee or the director had
failed to serve the student well, rather than the other way around);
maybe, like Rick, I thought, "who am I to make such judgments?
I don't feel wise enough." But we make them all the time, eh? And I
often think, when I give out the subjective and unreliable and
unfair grades at the end of the term or the year, "well, if this is
wrong let's make it wrong in favor of the student, and if she really
isn't able to do what these grades certify her as able to do it'll
catch up when she asks for letters of reference or has to assemble a
portfolio . . . "
And because we have the same feelings when we write our letters of
reference, as Rick says, "after all, virtually all reference letters
these days are 'good'." Are we, when we write the "not quite good
enough for law school" letter, finding a way to have it both ways?
> But unless I quit my job, I can't avoid certifying. And not
> everybody should be certified equally--unless we do away with
> certification altogether.
And I don't see how we can do that -- we do need ways other than
trial and error to make intelligent guesses as to whether an
engineer can design a bridge or a judge decide a gay rights case
fairly, or a reporter produce a coherent story. Or maybe even an
whether a new instructor is likely to be able to inspire learners in
a first year course.
I'm sure this is no help at all to Marcy, though.
Russell A. Hunt __|~_)_ __)_|~_ HOMEPAGE: www.StThomasU
Department of English )_ __)_|_)__ __) .ca/faculty/hunt.htm
St. Thomas University | )____) | EMAIL: [log in to unmask]
Fredericton, New Brunswick___|____|____|____/ FAX: (506) 450-9615
E3B 5G3 CANADA \ / PHONE: (506) 363-3891