Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pseudo-Authority in the Time of Culpability

At last night's (2/13/13) GEDI class included a discussion regarding Authority versus Authoritarianism in the classroom and the role of the instructor of setting a tone to complete class business. This discussion was based, to some extent, on a reading by M. Wimer. In the reading the author makes a case for a democratic pedagogy, with student centered learning enhanced via increased student power, in the classroom and in class business decision making. Many things were said about the piece, that I will not get into here, but news out today renders the discussion slightly moot.

Take a moment to read the following: (it is short)

Think about that case. Here you have a professor, being sued, as a result of their authority. It made me wonder if professors and instructors actually have authority in the classroom. If students have the ability to force professors to pay out of pocket expenses for court cases involving grades, who actually has the power? If anything, wouldn't the student have more power, by default, than the instructor? Adjunct's are historically known for their poverty*, would they become a target? Would they be more inclined to give everyone A's? Would wealthier students simply bring a legal team to campus with them? Are they actually students or are they officially, customers?

As you can see, this cases raises a bunch of questions for me. What are some of your thoughts on the matter and do you think students should be able to find faculty and staff personally liable for grade related damages. 



  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jack. I am a GEDI student with you, but cannot link my WordPress account here to comment so I am using my Google account.

    I read some more at and in my opinion, giving someone a zero for class participation is a bit odd. I would like to know more about other student's class participation grades to see if they are legit. But to sue? Come on. The student didn't seem to, at least according to the article I linked here, pursue the matter with all available resources at the University.

    It seems that this kind-of goes with the "entitlement" attitude sometimes seen with students. The "I'm paying for this, come to class, do my work, now give me a good grade so I can move on."

    There should be protection for profs and instructors to avoid such things, but is that realistic? I mean, it would be a form of malpractice insurance for teachers? Is that what this world is coming to? Teachers will need to get insurance for disputes about "bad" grades?

    1. I was thinking about deleting this post because a ruling came out yesterday to strike the case

      Going with your response though, legal liability insurance would generally be included in the homeowner's insurance policy (assuming the instructor owns their home). Otherwise you are probably talking Lloyds of London.

      One thing I was worried about was potential use of the technique of bankrupting your opponent in court, prior to any judgement. An easy win, but in this type of case, I don't like the idea of being the poor.

    2. Totally agree! Being a broke grad student isn't much fun and I guess we all are here to get away from that. Thanks again for the post. See you soon.

    3. Argh!!

      I'm so mad at myself....I wrote a long and (I think!) eloquent response to your post, but it disappeared when I hit the publish button!

      Here's the short version, though: I can't help but wonder how actively (and early) the instructor engaged with the student on this problem. I mean, for the student to earn a 0 (never mind the incredibly subjective criteria for constituted participation), the instructor had to have seen this [perceived] non-performance coming. Was there any intervention? A plan for addressing the problem? It just seems that a more student-centered approach would have been to engage with the student early and actively-instead of just handing her that 0 when it was too late for anything to be done about it.

      P.S. I was also unable to link using Word Press, so had to create a google blog account. Maybe something in the way you have your comments set up?

    4. But that is just the thing, it wasn't too late for anything to be done about it. The student sued, that is something. Of course, the effectiveness of the student's action is questionable.

      I'm thinking the professionalism of the instructor may have been a factor, but does that matter? Are instructors professionals or are they machines being used by others (HR, management, and lawyers). I think as time goes on, the machine aspect will be what wins.

      Re: P.S.: My suggestion is to delete your Word Press account and only use Google accounts in the future.

  2. There's more! This was not a singular case, suing over bad grades is "becoming a trend" according to CBS