Wanted: Bad-Ass Professors

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I'm a professional student. I currently attend the University of Denver, but I've been going to college on and off for 20 years. I'll go for awhile, then take a break for several years, then find another school and go for awhile, repeat.

One thing that doesn't change, regardless of where I go, is my desire to have professors who challenge me and give me the best learning experience available. I'm really not attending classes to get a degree, per se - I attend because I love to learn, and I thoroughly enjoy the college experience. Nothing pisses me off more than paying my tuition, then having a professor who simply "goes through the motions," not expending the energy required to demand my best work and provide a quality learning experience. This laziness manifests itself in a number of ways, including inflated grades, unresponsiveness, etc.

I'm an on-line student, so much of my learning experience is conducted on the eCollege Bulletin Board. I'm comfortable with this medium, and usually find the experience rewarding and interactive. Unless, of course, I'm stuck with a lazy professor.

The problem with a lazy professor in an on-line learning experience is that if they fail to moderate the board, then the freeze-dried whack-a-loons come out of the wood-work and take over the discussion. A case in point was a class I took entitled "ethical decision making." The material in this class was fabulous, addressing ethics on a scholarly level, and providing logical, defensible processes that could be used anywhere. However, one of my class-mates, whom I'll call "The Bible-Thumping Whack-Job," decided that this was the perfect opportunity to proselytize on his belief system. On almost every topic, The Bible-Thumping Whack-Job made comments on the board about how ethical decision making should be "guided by God," and that he wouldn't presume to question "the Almighty's word" on how things "really are." (Do you smell a Young Earth Creationist? I did.)

Well. As we all know, my issues with specific people of faith are very specific, and usually involve their inability to grasp the concept of tolerance. In this case, The Bible-Thumping Whack-Job not only had no concept of tolerance, but also completely missed the idea that there's a time and a place for everything, and the virtual classroom of a secular university was an inappropriate place to indulge in logic-defying arguments surrounding faith. If I'd wanted that, I would of attended Liberty University, not the most prestigious private university in Colorado.

You would think that the professor would of put the kibosh on The Bible-Thumping Whack-Job, but she didn't. Responding to this freak became my job, mostly because I couldn't let his craziness stand without comment. So I broke out my logical fallacies text, and proceeded to rip him to shreds. My other classmates would send me private notes of encouragement when this would happen, but (of course), The Bible-Thumping Whack-Job never did get the point.

While spanking this idiot provided its own pleasures, it pissed me off that the Professor would let him take him over the discussion in that way. Of course, it's possible that she did try to rein him in, and was unsuccessful. He was an extremely obtuse individual, so it wouldn't surprise me if that was true.

Which brings me to Professor Steve Dutch. Professor Dutch teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the department of Natural and Applied Sciences. While I have never taken a class from him, I was directed to his Top Ten No Sympathy Lines, and I've decided that I really, really want to take his class. Any professor who would give their students this dose of reality, with no apologies, is a professor who would demand my best work, and insist that I learn the material to the best of my ability. And I'll also bet that he would of spanked The Bible-Thumping Whack-Job thoroughly. Not because of his beliefs (I know nothing about Professor Dutch's personal beliefs, nor do I want to), but because his logic and arguments were atrocious, and learning at the college level should also be about learning to think.

20 comments:

Jim Wright said...

Hah! Funny you should post this, I was going through my bookmarks and reviewing sites I've found interesting - and I remembered this excellent response to common student complaints.

This does not apply to your post, actually it sounds more like something you would say. Anyway thought you'd get a kick out of it.

Oh, and what you said.

Janiece Murphy said...

Actually, Jim, your link is the same as the one I provided.

I emailed Professor Dutch to ask his permission to blog about it, which he kindly gave. He's a hoot.

Jeri said...

Janiece, what a great find!

My oldest son graduates HS next month, and will be starting college spring semester. I am going to require him to read that page - and maybe even write me a response to it. :)

It certainly is a brisk blast of common sense in an entitlement-oriented world. I'd enjoy taking a class from him, too.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, you are so right. The whole "entitlement" thing just burns my butt.

Jim Wright said...

Oh, now it's on! I'm deeply offended, offended, that you would accuse me of not following the link, or paying attention, or, you know, being a dumbass.

oooooooh! I'm just too offended to go on. I'm going over to the 'e' and get Sarge to help me out here.

:P

(you're not buying any of this, are you? Damn)

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I'm really not. Kindly take some lessons in being a prickly poo-poo head from the Sarge or taustin before you show up here trying to be all affronted. Cause you really suck at it.

Tania said...

I worked at UAF for 13 years, and have 2 degrees from that fine institution. All I want to add is:

If all you care about is how much money you pay for a piece of paper, there are a number of fine diploma mills out there that will take your money.

**crossing fingers that I have figured out how to make it around the darn firewall**

Janiece Murphy said...

Yay, Tania's back!

Tania, I agree. My concern is the quality of my learning experience. No matter how much I pay in tuition, if the experience sucks, I'm unhappy.

And boy, are you right about those Diploma Mills. *cough, cough...University of Phoenix....*cough, cough*

Nathan said...

Well, looking back on my vaunted college career (not), I've got to say there's something to the idea that some people should maybe go out in the real world before trying college.
I didn't want to be there and only stayed because my father forced me.
By the time I started my Junior year, I had a full time job a a company that rented out lighting and grip equipment and figured out a way to scam the system into giving me half the credits I'd need to graduate. It was an internship. Then it was a directed study. I forget how many different things I called my job so I could keep getting credit and only have to take half a course load.

College was pretty much wasted on me, I'm sorry to say.

4 years and I didn't learn a thing about Poo Poo headedness.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I'm sure you learned all you needed to know about being a poo-poo head "on the job." Hehe.

You're correct, though. College isn't for everyone. I didn't start going until I'd been in the military for a couple years, and could appreciate the experience.

John the Scientist said...

Have you been to this part of his site?

"If your religion says something that conflicts with objective evidence, your religion is wrong. That's the case whether you're an Indian who wants to dispose of Kennewick Man because you believe your tribe has always lived there, or a Christian who believes in a young earth, or a Mormon who believes the Indians descended from the Israelites, or a Muslim who rejects evolution. Those doctrines are fair game here. But my own private beliefs, or yours, except insofar as they can be analyzed with logic and data (and that is a lot more than some people believe and a lot less than others believe), are not. And if your religion refuses to admit the possibility of correction, it's not just wrong on some specific point, it's wrong - period."

And here is a post I wrote a while back about being a TA, to give you an idea of what goes through our heads on the other side of the podium.

Anne C. said...

I'd agree wholeheartedly on the whole sense of entitlement issue. (I love the phrase "burns my butt.") There is a whole planet of people out there who would give thier left arm for an education. The kids who go to a university expecting a pass for doing nothing would be well served by a Peace Corps draft.

Janiece Murphy said...

John, I had not, although we've been trading email. Thanks for the link. I just like this guy better and better the more I learn.

I've also just learned he's a retired Army guy. I don't know if he was a Master Sergeant or a First Sergeant, but that goes a long way in explaining why he's impatient with the whiners.

And John? Your hypothetical letter to your students gave me a nice case of the teehee's.

Anne, I think some sort of public service (military, peace corps, whatever) would do everyone some good. Might reduce the self-centered clutter. Maybe.

MWT said...

The part that speaks most to me is the memorization part. I read an article a while back about how people don't need to memorize anything anymore, because they can always just look everything up on the Web. I'd been trying to think of a good way to articulate why that's wrong, but it looks like Dr. Dutch nailed it.

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, Professor Dutch has nailed more than just that. If you haven't followed John the Scientist's link to the Professor's "Science, Pseudoscience and Irrationalism," I'd recommend you do so. Good stuff!

Steve Buchheit said...

Yep, the professors I remember the most are the ones that pushed me. My all time favorite was a prof that would come into class and for warm up, ask general knowledge questions (sometimes on topic, mostly not). I still think of him and wonder where he's at these days. Wish I would have gotten my act together before I had him in class (I was still in my, "hell, this is easy" phase of school). My best advice for college, you're paying money to have access to the people who have the knowledge. If all you do is take notes in class and pass the exams, you've gotten exactly 10% of what you paid for. 40% is the interaction with other students, and another 50% is what you're supposed to wrestle from the instructors and find out on your own to satisfy your own curiosity and skill needs.

Janiece Murphy said...

You got it, Steve. I think college is wasted on the young.

Michelle K said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person who like to take classes just because I like to learn stuff. It took me six years to get my undergraduate degree--most with 19 and 21 hour semesters--because none of the credits I had actually counted towards a degree. I just took 'em because I thought they were interesting.

Which means I now know more random stuff than anyone else I've met.

Learning is fun!

Though I have to say I'm one of those people who hates memorization. I can tell you the implications of an historical event, but I'd be lucky if I got it in the correct century.

Janiece Murphy said...

Ah, so the "Random Michelle" moniker becomes clear. Hehe.

Michelle K said...

There was a reason my nickname was "non-sequitur woman" at my last job. Because for almost any topic I would say, "that reminds me..." bring up a weird and obscure fact, and then tie it back into whatever we were talking about.

The best part was always the look of shock when I'd manage to bring it back around to the original subject.

But yeah, there's a very good reason my weblog is called "Random (but not really)