How have you handled an instructor that habitually starts a semester with 25 students and ends up with 7?
This question came up after a 11/12/07 Magna video seminar on Boosting Enrollment and Retention through Customer Service. The question also came up during the seminar but time did not permit for a longer response. So here is a more complete consideration of the question. The response and the full seminar can be obtained through Magna if you wish.)
The situation can be a tricky one considering interpretations (usually by weak teachers) that academic freedom can mean that some faculty can be insufferable bastards to students, colleagues and certainly administrators. Moreover, faculty too often will take an approach that they may really dislike a colleague, they must protect his or her right to be miserable. To do otherwise might be taken as not collegial, not academic, not my job. BTW, this is not necessarily different among administrators whose job it is to deal with any and every person who treats students and colleagues poorly. Administrators do not always accept the responsibility. It is everyone’s’ job to demand civility and initial respect toward one and all and especially for our clients, the students.
Customer Service Principle 8 makes it clear that so called “collegiality” which is an excuse for not getting involved is not the correct approach when students are hurt.
We have a responsibility to be a part of the correction no matter if we are faculty, administration or staff. But since the question was posed by an administrator, I will provide the appropriate point of view and action.
Assuming the instructor is tenured and you have a union to contend with
Begin by consulting the instructor’s evaluations from students, current and past. Sure he or she will not have many now or in most class sections because 18 have already quit from most every class. But the remaining seven may have some hints or even outright direction. Keep in mind however that the remaining students might be so intimidated that their written comments could be compromised. Though the studies since John Centra in the 80’s show that if students feel secure in their anonymity, their evaluations can be quite valid.
Look for any comments that might help clarify and if necessary build the case for scaring students off or treating them so poorly that they leave. Compare the evaluations to other faculty teaching the same course or who have taught the course in the past.
Compile the past history of drops for this professor in this and all courses. Compare the drop patterns of this professor to those of others who have taught the same course or courses to make determine if the drop pattern is an anomaly for the professor or in comparison to colleagues. What needs to be established is if there is a significant variance from the norm for this instructor in this section. It may be found that this professor has retention problems in all his or her classes. That’s an even bigger problem. If there is a pattern that helps build your case for change.
I make an assumption here based on my studies and experience that this is a required course such as composition in which the fewer students, the less grading and work. I did have to handle a similar situation when i was Dean of Liberal Arts at a college. The professor was threatening the students with low grades just to lower his workload.
Keep in mind that the instructor will likely use the old dodge of “I happen to have high standards and the students left because they …”
- couldn’t cut it;
- didn’t want to do the work;
- were afraid of low grades
- were imbeciles who did not recognize my greatness
- should not have been in the class in the first place
- not college material and the admission people do a crappy job
- need to weed out those who shouldn’t be here
- I am too good for them and they just could not keep up
- all of the above.
- And , I am really a self-centered ass who never should have gone into teaching but I thought it would be easy which it isn’t and I do not wish to work that hard so maybe I will just become an administrator like you who does nothing but east bob-bons all day, or so I believe and besides, I am active in the union and always act in a disagreeable manner in faculty and other meetings just because I can.”
You should also interview students who dropped from the class and past classes to hear from them why they left. BTW, you must keep an open mind during the inquiry. It may just be a huge coincidence….. All eighteen may just have had their hours changes at work each and every semester or term. (Okay so those sorts of coincidences are like the disappearance of Sweeny Todd customers and the appearance of oddly tasting meat cakes in a time of a meat shortage. Good musical by the way and it may have some solutions to how to rid oneself of teachers who scare off students with poor to horrible customer service.) The students who dropped can help you understand and if called for, build your case.
Work with the
The union will need to defend this professor even if they agree he or she is a disgrace to the faculty and hurts people. That is their job and are required to defend. They also may wish to see the person fall into a deep hole in the ground and be assigned to late registration at Hades U for eternity but it is their legal and ethical responsibility to defend the individual. This is an issue that more people need to understand. Unions can also be reasonable if confronted with evidence so they have some wiggle room but may not feel at all comfortable being public with their agreement. Behind the scenes, another story so do all you can to explain the situation and provide them data. Keep in kind also that the union folks are also colleagues of the professor and may also be rather disgusted by his behavior but cannot indicate that in public. They can support your position and help persuade the professor that it is in his best interests to work with you on a solution though.
To take action with possible union support., as I was able to do when a Dean, you will need to be able to show that students left because the instructor is:
- a mean S.O.B. who should not be in a classroom
- a miserable teacher
- disrespectful of students
- has poor to horrible people skills
- forgets the students are human and clients of the school
- deliberately scaring students to decrease the workload
- embarrassing the faculty
- all of the above.
Consult the contract on the issues of professional training, on unprofessional conduct and progressive discipline. Make certain what the contract allows for in altering professional and pedagogical behavior and /or disciplining the professor. Check your interpretation with the HR person to avoid legal action through a mis-application of contract language.
When the case is built, consult with the union or whatever grievance system you have. Provide them the information you have collected to establish that the instructor needs assistance to change his or her ways. Let them know that changes must be made through progressive discipline (if called for in the contract, past practice or an HR person who wants to keep you and the school from being sued).
Next, after providing progressive discipline, meet with the instructor (and union or grievance) rep and present the situation, the supporting materials and the choices. By the way, always have another administrator with you as a witness to the conversation in case it is needed later. Present the situation, the potential actions and the possible solution. With a little luck, the professor will buy into the solution. If not, and you can make the assignment, assign him or her to the course of action developed and monitor progress.
A course of action should have been developed and put in writing depending on why the numbers dropped so drastically and what contractual remedies are allowed. If it is that he or she has poor teaching skills, then it may be possible to assign the professor to substitute some coursework on pedagogy for some of the teaching load or in addition to the normal teaching load. (Some of it depends on how much you wish to reform and keep the person.) If the instructor is just being an SOB, then it must be made clear that this behavior is not acceptable and perhaps a course in interpersonal communication or counseling is called for. Or perhaps this is the start of progressive discipline that could lead to re-assignment or even dismissal.
Should it be that the teacher does not realize that students are clients and deserve being valued and treated with respect and value, send him or her to one of my training sessions or sign him or her up for personal coaching with me. Okay, maybe I was drumming up business but it is a consideration. I can recommend other coaches who work with me too. At least, have them learn from someone about academic customer service and learn how to practice it.
If the person is not tenured, it makes the above much easier. If you wish to keep the professor, provide a simple choice. Accept the course of action, resign or be let go. If the person is not someone you have reason to want to keep, notify whom you must and do not renew a contract.
Granted, this is a bit general. It does not focus on any particular situation and real situations can often be much stickier and complicated. So, if you or anyone else has any additional questions, clarifications and help on an individual situation, get in touch by clicking here. I’ll do what I can to help. If you wish to add or propose other courses of action, please write in and we will post them
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