Leaving Doobie safely in the hands of his own pets, othewise known as Fyodor and Elle, I returned to the safety of my own home, the Gargoyle's Nest.
If you will recall, the night before I left for the Little Berks, a visitor appeared at the door of the Gargoyle's Nest and did not identify him -- or her -- self, which resulted in me calling the police. The police had told me that several other people in my building had reported similar incidents.
Yesterday, I returned home to find one of the little memos that management likes to stick under our doors. This one reported instances of intruders entering unlocked apartments, often while the residents were at home. Although they gave no reports or advice on strangers at your locked door, they did advise use to lock our doors and beware. This, after I had to park on the far side of the property due to lack of above ground parking spaces. Why do we have a lack of parking? Management points to high occupancy rates. Residents point out that the parking problem presented itself the month that management doubled the rates for garage parking, so people willing to pay $35/month but not $75/month decided to take advantage of the free parking above ground.
I digress. This was the bitch of the day, not the drama of the day.
The drama of the day involved my irate student from the summer. The one who started yelling at me in my office? The one who caused me to call security? The one who still had an incomplete with me to finish? Yeah, him. He showed up again, albeit via e-mail, and I am violating my newfound ethics of talking about students because this case is one of calling out his bad behavior and discovering that I've gone way past my limit on sympathy.
A few weeks ago, I noticed the impending deadline for the incomplete that the student took in one of my classes. Part of me wanted to be an asshole and ignore it, passively allowing the I become an F. "Nah, you better not do that," I told myself. "You will not only be an asshole, but you could be held culpable for his failure because you did not remind him of the deadline."
The policy for incompletes is that the students have until four weeks into the following semester to finish the course before the I becomes a failing grade. That means that students receiving Incompletes for the spring have until four weeks into the fall to finish. That actually means that the students have the three months of the summer in addition to the four weeks into the fall. In other words, he has had plenty of time. Still, you want to be fair and to cover every eventuality.
So, I sent him an e-mail reminding him to take the final and turn in the paper by the due date. "He'll get that C (the highest grade possible for him at that point) and he will be out of your hair for good," I thought. All lessons learned.
Two weeks later, on the last day possible, he responded. He would go right in and take the final that very afternoon, and send me the paper by 6 pm that day.
To his credit, he did. My plan was to grade his work fairly, have my chair look it over to ensure that I was being fair, and end this sordid chapter.
Of course it didn't work out that way. How could it?
Blame the full moon.
The student plagairized part of his paper.
"Goddammit!" I said, out loud. "Don't do this to me!" But, he did; and I knew this was going to end in a big mess.
Sure, I could have overlooked the plaigairism. It was only a few sentences. I was already pretending that I didn't see that much of the rest of the paper was simply the same online article, but with enough of the words switched about that he could make a case that he had not actually copied the article. I could have just pretended that I didn't see the passages that were, in fact, directly copied, given him a passable (if not good) grade, and moved on.
Except that I had busted other students in the class for plaigairism. Should this student get off simply because he behaved so badly that I didn't want to deal with him anymore?
No. Of course not.
So, I turned to my department chair. "Look," I said, presenting him with the paper and the unattributed source.
"Ooooh, send him to me!" said my chair. "I'm ready to read the riot act to someone! I have my plaigairism spiel all ready!"
"This is the guy from the summer," I warned.
"Oh, him. Absolutely send him to me," said the chair. "You don't need to deal with him any more. Maybe I can talk some sense into him."
"Have at it," I said. I gave him the paper, the three different webpages where I found the exact same language, and my plaigiarism policy. Then, I wrote to the student that I had detected some copied sentences in his paper, that this is a serious matter; but that I was not notifying the dean of students, my dean or anyone else because I did not think that he had intentionally meant to do anything wrong. Instead, he could speak with my chair and, after speaking with the chair, he could redo the paper.
"Essentially, I'm sending him to the principal's office," I told my chair. "And you are the principal."
"Oh god, I am, aren't I?" he said. "How did I come to this wicked end?"
Within a day, the chair received the response; and what a response it was!
First, the student did not refer to me by name or title. I became "the facilitator."
That sounds sort of like the Terminator, only nicer. The Faciliator: She'll mediate your classrooms and meetings! Hasta la vista, baby!
"What's that about," I asked the chair. "The 'facilitator'?"
"I have no idea," he said, "but it really bothers me."
The e-mail went on. The student insisted that I was persecuting him due to some unknown prejudice that I held against him (possibly for his openly hostile comments against homosexuals in our class) and that he would absolutely not redo a paper or accept a 0 for the assignment simply because he did not include punctuation marks.
Sadly, he honestly thinks this is an issue of grammar, of simply failing to include quotation marks. He does not realize that his failure to use those quotations marks in addition to his failure to cite any source turns this into a matter much larger than one of forgetting to hit the proper keys on the keyboard.
This student has had issues with citation before. In another class, he refused to accept that a research paper requires some sort of apparatus -- like a bibliography, list of works cited, footnotes, endnotes, and so forth -- to indicate the sources of the research. He insisted that, because there was no way that he could have made up what was in the paper, that of course he had done research. Therefore, he should not have to indicate that he had, in fact, done research. In other words, the fact of the research should be self-evident, and therefore not require citation.
No amount of explaining would convince him otherwise. No appeals to his desire to produce scholarly work. No displays of examples of the work of authors that he respects. No requests that he demonstrate respect for those authors by giving them credit for their words and ideas. He did not beleive that citations were necessary, therefore any requirement of citation could be ignored as ridiculous. In fact, he seemed to understand citation as some sort of punishment directed at him and intended to obscure his own ideas and intelligence.
This student has been in four of my classes, and I've discovered that this is his biggest problem: He doesn't know what he doesn't know -- cannot conceive that there is something out there, other than raw data, that he does not know. Knowledge, to him, seems to be the accumulation of more facts. Theory, ideas, critique, and all of the higher level thinking skills do not figure into this model of education. Therefore, when confronted by a theory, an idea, or a critique that contradicts what he already feels that he knows to be true -- and he knows that what he knows is true because what he knows are all facts -- he grows belligerent. Even when he encounters new facts that makes him uncomfortable, he rejects those facts and attacks the person who presented them.
I always say, half in jest, that teaching is sometimes like leading a horse to water; and that my job is to lead, drag, cajole, push, and do everything possible to get that horse to the water, but at some point the horse has to do the drinking. Usually, the problem is simply structural. That is, the student just doesn't show up to class or doesn't do the assignments or doesn't study, regardless of consequences. Those are the usual ills, and some bad grades, bad jobs, and maturity tend to cure them.
But this! How do you combat this? How do you deal with it? How do you get past that wall of arrogance and belligerence to show the student how to become a better scholar? How do you explain to the student that he or she is not suceeding because they have not met certain criteria when that student refuses to accept that criteria in the first place?
Normally, the student just moves on, grumpy, dissatisfied, and posting a slam about you on Rate My Professor. This one, however, has told my chair that he is filing a discrimination complaint against me.
According to him, my call to security about his behavior in my office over the summer directly led to the removal of his financial aid and his ability to register for classes*, that he has subsequently been treated as guilty until proven innocent, that my "pettiness" and "prejudice" have interfered with his ability to get an education, and that this is all a violation of his rights as a student.
A discrimination complain. That's serious business.
Normally, I would begin to dissect my own behavior in this. I would examine every move that I made, try to find my responsibility in the matter, try to understand the situation more objectively; but, you know what? Been there.
This student came into my office, demanded a higher grade, yelled at me, interrupted me, talked over me, accused me of racism, mocked me, and generally behaved in an uncivil manner. I may be the professor, the one with the institutional power, but he is behaving badly. So, since I AM the professor, the one with the greater institutional power, it is my job to be the grown up and not let him behave like a brat. It is my job to hold him accountable for his behavior in my classroom, on his assignments, and toward me.
It is also my job, as the professor who knows the field of history and the required skills for his level of engagement in the field of history, to determine his mastery of that field and those skills. He has not recognized the some of these skills exist, much less mastered them. He has not even recognized that I am in an earned position to make these judgements. Therefore, it is my job, as the professor, to give him a failing grade, whether he accepts the reason or not.
He may just be popping off, as he did over the summer when he was threatening lawsuits; but if he is serious, my ducks are all in their necessary rows.
*Which is patently untrue, because, at the time, he told me that his registration and financial aid issues resulted from his poor grades in my classes. Why can't I just use my power for good!