Saturday, April 16, 2011

Students and Narcissism 1 - A Challenge to Providing Academic Customer Servive

Does this list of personality characteristics sound like any group of people you know?
  1. Feels grandiose and self- important (e.g., demands to be recognized as superior or at least equal without commensurate achieve-ments; my opinion is as good your “opinion”)
  2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited future success, fame, value  power or importance
  3. Convinced that he or she is unique and, being special and you should recognize and reward that specialness
  4. Requires excessive admiration, attention and affirmation
  5. Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment.
  6. Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
Perhaps many of the students in your college or university? 

If so, these are descriptors of a narcissistic personality which explains some of the reason why many students can be difficult to deal with. Simply put many if not most of today’s students bring a narcissistic personality with them onto campus and into the classroom. And the availability of technology just increases the feelings of self-importance since they can control numerous aspects of their world making them all feel as if they are kings and queens of the universes they create and control.

This is a generation of students bound not by age but by their use of technology and the focus on the self. This is a generation brought up in the Free to Be You and Me world in which anyone could be anything he or wants to be and I am just as important as you. It is the Me Generation. This is a generation of students that has been raised to believe there are no limits on their ability to achieve greatness and success. They believe they are equal to anyone else and maybe even a little better so their opinion is as good as anyone else’s even if the other person is the teacher. They are a somewhat coddled generation whose self-esteem has been nurtured to be even more important than actual achievement. They feel self-important to the point that they believe that their tweets of what they are doing are important and valuable to others. This has resulted in an overly high assessment of their abilities and worth. As a result they expect grades that may not reflect actual ability or attainment. They do not want high grades; they expect them and believe they deserve them.

It is a cadre of students that exists within” …two interlocking changes: the fall of social rules and the rise of the individual” (Twenge p.20) Twenge states in her book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable then Ever Before (2006)
 …the responses of 15,234 American college students who completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1987 and 2006. The trend was extremely clear: younger generations were significantly more narcissistic . The average college student in 2006 scored higher in narcissism than 65% of students just nineteen year before in 1987. In other words, the number of students high in narcissism rose two-thirds in the space of twenty-one years.  (P.69)

Without the social rules that determined academic decorum and structure, students do not believe they are less important than anyone else on campus and do not have to necessarily follow rules that they believe no longer exist or never knew. 

This of course sets up a potentially dangerous dynamic since the college still believes there are structures, rules, codes, traditions and decorum to govern the way students are to interact with members of the academic community. The community still believes in the rules; students don’t so boundaries are often crossed leading to aggravation and even anger in the community toward the students. It is after all very difficult to place oneself and follow a society’s rules, its norms of behavior when one does not see that there really are any but the ones they wish to adhere to or have carried with them from high school.  A very anometic situation is created when narcissism bumps against traditionalism and its own narcissistic tendencies in some faculty, staff and administrators.

Anomie is a feature of deviant behavior which is what we do find on campuses regularly as the students’ inflated sense of self and rejection of norms  bumps up against the residual academic social expectations of the campus society. Anomie  is created according to Emile Durkheim  who first devised the concept when a society is characterized by a state of normlessness created by an absence or diminution of standards or values. This occurs he believed when a society is going through upheaval such as an economic crisis but in this case the anomie was created by a longer period that created a generation marked by a lack of norms and personal limits of the current Me Generation. This cadre is coming onto campuses that evolved into societies of more individual freedom and openness from the boomer generation that currently dominates academia.

Anomie generates aggravation, frustration, anger and deviant behavior. It is created when there is a variance in the behavior of individuals in reference to the socialized goals such as success and the means to obtain those goals such as studying and acceptance the professor and campus community as superior to oneself.  The professor, staff and admini9strators have the same goals as the students but adhere to a more institutionalized system of means such as when there is a problem with going through the system to solve it rather than demanding correction or starting at the top to get resolution.  Me Generation students believe they are the equal of others on campus and thus can go to the Dean or even the president to get their problem solved thereby bypassing the institutionalized system and means to solve an issue.   For example, if a student feels he should have had a higher grade on an exam or essay, he will often skip going to the faculty member and go right to the department chair or dean to gain the goal of a higher grade. This creates an anometic situation for the student and the faculty member. The dean cannot change a grade so the student is frustrated and often angry. The faculty member is upset because the student did not go through the system and follow the means that she believes exist. And the dean is frustrated and upset because she is blamed by the student for not taking action. She is further exasperated because she has no way of solving the problem even if she wants to. She is also frustrated because the student did not follow the process and put her in an untenable situation. Everyone loses.

If this article had merit for you, you'll want to get a copy of the best-selling book on customer service in colleges The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education by Dr. Neal Raisman, the article's author. 

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