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April 16, 2010
Professor removed for tough grading
Grade inflation appears to have become policy at Louisiana State University, where Professor Dominique G. Homberger was removed from teaching an introductory biology course for giving tough grades. USA Today reports that the professor
... gives brief quizzes at the beginning of every class, to assure attendance and to make sure students are doing the reading. On her tests, she doesn't use a curve, as she believes that students must achieve mastery of the subject matter, not just achieve more mastery than the worst students in the course. For multiple choice questions, she gives 10 possible answers, not the expected 4, as she doesn't want students to get very far with guessing.
Kevin Carman, dean of the College of Basic Sciences, issued a statement, including:
"The class in question is an entry-level biology class for non-science majors, and, at mid-term, more than 90% of the students in Dr. Homberger's class were failing or had dropped the class. The extreme nature of the grading raised a concern, and we felt it was important to take some action to ensure that our students receive a rigorous, but fair, education. Professor Homberger is not being penalized in any way; her salary has not been decreased nor has any aspect of her appointment been changed."
Professor Homberger was using an ancient and honorable technique, shocking students into realizing how little they know, and how hard they will have to work if they want to become knowledgeable in a particular field. I am still grateful to my high school Latin teacher, Miss Williams, who taught me that grades had to be earned with hard work and endless memorization of verb conjugations. She was known as a holy terror, who whipped youngsters into shape. Whatever academic success I found later in life had something to do with Miss Williams giving me low grades on my first two Latin tests.
Professor Homberger understands this process far better than her dean:
"I believe in these students. They are capable," she said. And given that LSU boasts of being the state flagship, she said, she should hold students to high standards. Many of these students are in their first year, and are taking their first college-level science course, so there is an adjustment for them to make, Homberger said. But that doesn't mean professors should lower standards.Homberger said she was told that some students had complained about her grades on the first test. "We are listening to the students who make excuses, and this is unfair to the other students," she said. "I think it's unfair to the students" to send a message that the way to deal with a difficult learning situation is "to complain" rather than to study harder.
Has LSU ever removed a professor for giving too many high grades? As a recovering academic myself, I know that the easiest path is to give high grades. Nobody ever complains. But you cheat the students who could be doing much better.
Hat tip: Susan L.