From the You Can’t Make this S..t Up Department

Few things get people more riled up than the state of our schools; and few people have recently riled up a school more than Texas A&M Instructional Associate Professor Irwin Horwitz. An Instructional Associate Professor means he’s one of the good guys in college: he actually teaches classes and has for more than 20 years.

The prof made the news by flunking his entire class in Strategic Management. Every last one of them.

Even better, he did it by email, calling his students “a disgrace to the school” and said he had reached a “breaking point.” Mr. Horwitz says the students weren’t slacking off academically and were disruptive, rude, and dishonest in class.

“Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to ‘chill out,’ ‘get out of my space,’ ‘go back and teach,’ [been] called a ‘fucking moron’ to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students…
“None of you … deserve to pass, or graduate to become an Aggie, as you do not in any way embody the honor that the university holds graduates should have within their personal character.


And all he wanted was for students to be respectful, do the classwork, and pass tests.

• The university views class attendance as an individual student responsibility. Students are expected to attend class and to complete all assignments.
• … Exams, laboratory assignments, field student work, projects, papers, homework, class attendance and participation and other graded activities [are used] in the calculation of the course grade.

Mr. Horwitz said that the failing students simply hadn’t done any academic work. Most, he said, couldn’t even do a break-even analysis (that tells you how much you need to sell in order to cover your fixed and variable costs of producing a widget).

Back in the touchy-feely 90s, some Vermont colleges decided tests were bad and grades worse.

Back in the 90s, I spent a few years as the lowest of the low, academically, as an itinerant instructor for Vermont Colleges. I taught mostly computer courses as well as a couple of units of manufacturing engineering.

My students liked me, perhaps for a few reasons. Since I subscribe to Boppa’s First Principle of Teaching, I usually knew what I was talking about and because I made sure my students did, too. That and the fact that I called my classes youse guys.

I gave tests, something few educators did (I was a teacher, not an educator). And I gave actual grades.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing a student can delude him- or herself over more than how well they are doing in a class. Tests and grades are positive feedback. They showed me where we all needed to do more work; they showed my students where they individually needed to do more work.

Things are different in academia today. Now the pressure has switched from coddling to inflation. Where we once couldn’t “hurt our students’ self-esteem” by showing them their actual performance, now we can’t “hurt our students’ prospects” by showing them their actual performance. We have to inflate those grades.

Back to the Aggies. Stunned students were seriously shell shocked. One senior called the allegations “ridiculous”; he was worried that failing the class would “mess up the job he has lined up for after graduation.”

Oddly, the Aggies won’t be backing up their professor’s actions.

The vice president of Academic affairs, Dr. Patrick Louchouarn, said they respect Professor Horwitz, but his grades would not stand.

We can’t “hurt our students’ prospect” by showing them their actual performance. We have to inflate those grades.

Tomorrow is the last day of Spring semester classes at A&M so the newly assigned instructor, the Department Head tasked to pass all the students, doesn’t have much time to whip the class into shape.

And Professor Horwitz will likely lose his job.

Boppa’s First Principle of Teaching
My grandfather, whom I called Boppa and whom most everyone else knew as “Dr. Dunning,” was a Professor of Chemistry at Temple University for most of his working career. He was one of the good guys in college, too: he taught classes for more than 40 years.
“You don’t have to know everything. You just have to stay a chapter ahead of your class.”


3 thoughts on “From the You Can’t Make this S..t Up Department

  1. Feedback is important. We use tests and homework when in school to measure where we are in terms of acquiring the information needed. Sometimes that gets forgotten in this age where test scores are used to measure teachers and schools more than as a way to reveal problem areas that need to be worked on.

    Schools have become little more than factories — push the widget along on the assembly line. Do the bare minimum to check that the widget will “pass” and move on to the next widget. Too many teachers are stuck with having to end up like Lucy in that infamous scene where she works at a candy factory. You know the one.

    As a team lead, I try to get my peeps to understand the importance of feedback, and how to take it well. I encourage them to look for where they fall short on their own, and bring to my attention the reasons they can’t get their tasks done OR the reasons they can’t get to the next level of employee development so that I can try to help them, get them access to what they need. Negative feedback isn’t intended to punish or make someone feel bad. Its primary goal is to get someone to take a hard look at what can be done to fix a problem that needs fixing.

    Geeez, I’m starting to sound like wozname. The old guy in Texas that sometimes posts stuff here.

  2. Boppa ALSO ran the Pilot Plant at The Barrett Company (forerunner to Allied Chemical) in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia, prior to his teaching career. So that gave him another “one up” on many in today’s academia: he had actually PRACTICED what he preached. Really helps you make sure you “know what your are talking about.” Even helps you explain to your flock WHY they need to learn this apparently obscure stuff you are demanding they study. I had professors like that in college, and I believe they were pretty universally WAY better than their counterparts who had never left academia.

  3. I would LOVE to see this backfire on TA&M. If I were a company who regularly hired new Aggie grads, I would seriously consider stopping campus interviews unless I could convince myself that the Aggies I had hired recently were CLEARLY BETTER than grads from other colleges.

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