Assessing Film Course Offerings
"Trust, Shenanigans, and Brain Surgery—
Shallow and Deep Teaching...."
The result is that instructors who pitch camp in the most familiar intellectual territory, who require the fewest hours of class attendance at the most popular course times, who make the least demands on students in terms of work, and who, in the end, award the most absurdly inflated grades to students are rewarded financially at the end of the year (rather than being fired as they should be). Instructors in my own department compete for high enrollments and glowing student evaluations by attempting to secure the most popular class meeting times for their courses (8 or 9AM or late Friday afternoon and early Friday evening classes are definitely out if you want students to enroll and say good things about you and your course—and conversely are the times to give a faculty member you want to eliminate from being enrollment "competition" with you—yes, sad to say, it really gets that personal and that vindictive in my college for faculty "enemies" who are viewed as possibly cutting into your own course enrollments if too many students decide take their courses rather than yours—and if you don't believe it, ask me about my own class schedule sometime... and how many years it has continued despite my requests for a change). Some faculty members use “contract-grading” (where students are told in the first class that they are guaranteed an A or B if they simply show up to class and turn in their work) to assure even undeserving students that they will automatically get high grades—and in order to persuade them to enroll in their courses, and not those of some other faculty member. And still other faculty members (or the same ones) cut back the number of hours, or days, a course meets to the bone (more about this below) to scrape the bottom of the enrollment barrel and secure the largest possible number of fannies in seats—by offering courses where students get credit for doing almost nothing beyond sitting in the dark watching a movie every week. [See the earlier blog page "Part 1—Academic Horror Stories," for student stories about instructors who hardly bother showing up for their own classes.]
Needless to say, faculty can't get away with these and other pedagogical shenanigans without the knowledge and implicit approval of administrators over them. The Dean of my college and my department Chair have to allow these kinds of devious pedagogical practices. The Dean and department Chair have to collaborate in this pedagogical race to the bottom. And they are glad to do it—which only adds to the degree of institutional responsibility for the wholesale betrayal of students' trust.
The pressure on instructors to get unanimously favorable student evaluations is also why faculty members in my department routinely cheat on their student course evaluations to inflate their numerical ratings. The cynical—but completely understandable—conclusion on the part of faculty members seems to be that if teaching is reduced to being nothing more than an intellectual beauty contest, with the best teacher being defined, a la American Idol methodology, as whoever gets the most favorable votes in any way possible, what’s wrong with working the system for all its worth? What kind of fool wouldn't rig the voting process when his or her pay raises depend on it—as they clearly do?