On WealeGate

I sent the following “talkback” to Island Morning this morning, and it was read just before 8:00 a.m. It was in reaction to a interviews with the University of PEI Dean of Arts and the President of the UPEI Faculty Association about Prof. David Weale’s offer to his students to give them 70% in his course if they didn’t attend.

It seems odd to me that in the discussion of the situation with Prof. David Weale’s class that neither the Dean nor the President of the Faculty Association seemed concerned at the conduct of the *students* in the situation.
The fact that almost 20% of the students in a course opted not to participate when given the chance speaks more about “excellence” at the University of PEI than any other part of the story.
Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why on earth a student would attend university and sign up for a course if they’ve no real interest in *attending* (and presumably *learning*).
I don’t know Prof. Weale’s rationale for making his “get out of jail free” offer to his students, but I suspect it was intended, at least in part, to shine light on whatever it is about university that would corrupt students to such an extent — and make them feel that a course is a “jail” worth escaping from.

Comments

Cyn's picture
Cyn on January 23, 2006 - 14:14

I agree Peter, the issue of the students is being ignored, or so it would seem. As well, I listened to the interview with UPEI’s Dean of Arts, and he claims that it has NEVER happened at UPEI that a student has negotiated their mark with a professor, or that a student hasn’t earned their course grade or mark. I find that perspective a tad naive, to say the least. It actually came off sounding overly defensive.

20% of the students in David’s class took the deal. University administration might want to look into that.

alexander o'neill's picture
alexander o'neill on January 23, 2006 - 14:21

20% of the studentss in a given class probably would do better mars-wise than had they finished the course.

Finding the minimum effort needed to not fail is the goal pursued by most students, anyone just waking up to this now is showing their own ignorance.

Alan's picture
Alan on January 23, 2006 - 18:42

I took my older brother’s advice and went to about 33% of classes through my three degrees. And it was certainly not uncommon so I make no brag — lots of classmates who did very well found their own way to good marks and learning. A prof will give you a sense of where they are going in the first couple of classes and if he is repeater of the words of others it is better to go get that information directly.

Maybe Weale is just admitting the truth that a couple of solid days in a good library beats 25 dreary lectures any day and that he is really more interested in the chatterers in class as opposed to those who want to learn more deeply than he could provide. His only problem is giving them the mark at the outset rather than finding out who could learn what without attending his class. That is his laziness, not the students’.

In any event, one prerequisite for this tiny scandal, taking attendance at university is a bit of an embarrassment to all concerned.

davem's picture
davem on January 23, 2006 - 20:04

the point wasn’t that students have never negotiated with professors about marks, especially in “subjectively” graded exams and essays, it was a student recieving a passing grade by merely paying tution. nor is it a question of attendance. you don’t just pay for a course to receive whatever knowledge an instructor has to share, you pay to be competently tested on the degree of your understanding of it.

i consider myself a fan of david weale generally, and i don’t doubt that he had his reasons for doing what he did, but if upei was serious about its academic integrity they should fire him.

Nils's picture
Nils on January 23, 2006 - 20:51

What intrigues me is UPEI stuffing 100 students into a classroom — to the point where they’re having to balance notebooks on their knees — and then getting all arch about their high frigging standards. What sack THAT little bit of hypocrisy takes.

A UPEI Course costs what, $500? And there were more than 100 registered. So, that’s give or take 50 plus grand, and you KNOW they aren’t paying the instructor that much for the single class …

Nice lil sausage factory they got goin’ there. No wonder they get defensive when somebody draws attention to a little hitch in their system.

High standards my ass. Show me a decent teacher to student ratio and then tell me about high standards.

davem's picture
davem on January 23, 2006 - 21:18

whoawhoawhoa.

hold on nils.

what? you think the university pocketing a tidy little profit? upei, whatever its faults, has one of the lowest student/prof ratios in the country.

Rob MacD's picture
Rob MacD on January 23, 2006 - 22:15

Circular Logic 101: Course is seen as an easy mark. Many enroll to receive easy mark. Easy marks become easier to counter high enrollment. More students enroll to get even easier mark. Repeat until CBC becomes involved.
Quite simply, David Weale’s solution (right or wrong, although I think it is entirely wrong) doesn’t solve the problem (which, as I see it, is an over-populated classroom), it makes it bigger. Next year, even more students will want to enroll.
The simple solution is to cap enrollment at the designated maximum. I do not know why this doesn’t happen.

The problem is that by guaranteeing a course credit to everyone who signs up, he is basically saying that his course credit is worthless. It has no value. To him, I gather, the learning is what is important. That is fine and noble and all that, but he has a responsibility to the university and to the students to ensure that the credit one gets from his class has worth.
I don’t know what his teaching style is. I have no problem with a class that doesn’t rely on marks or even attendance. But there has to be some system in place to ensure that being interested in the class (showing up to class, or learning about the curriculum on your own) gets rewarded more than simply paying for your credit.
Otherwise, why should anyone show up at all?

Nils's picture
Nils on January 24, 2006 - 00:39

Oh, please. God forbid anybody think the University would be so crass as to exploit a popular professor and squeeze every available penny out of him.

Talk to any UPEI student. That history course is one of the most popular courses going — and why? If Nils Ling taught that course, you could hear a cricket chirp in the classroom. But it ain’t Nils Ling, it’s David Weale, and his classes are not only entertaining and enjoyable, but he has long been able to somehow infuse his passion for the topic into his students.

If you’re going to take a History course at UPEI, ANY student will tell you that it’s David Weale’s class you want to take. I just bet that pisses off some of the 9 to 5-ers on the Faculty Association, but whatevah.

So, the University COULD split the Island History group into two classes, and have one taught by David Weale and one by Nils Ling. But they know what would happen — the vast majority of students would fight tooth and nail to get into Weale’s class, anyway. And since David retired last year and has been clear that he only wants to teach one class, what does the University do? Sardine ‘em in. It’s less a “class” now, and more a “profit centre”.

I don’t exactly blame the University, because they can use the $20 — 35 grand in profit the class generates. But I’ll tell ya, Weale could have complained — and I’ll bet you he actually DID complain — till the cows came home about this unwieldy class size and it would have had exactly zero effect on an Administration bent on “maximizing resources”. What he did was make a radical, outrageous move that drew immediate attention to the problem and I say “Good on him.”

I hate that this has been skillfully turned into a “David Weale is eroding UPEI standards” thing. Through his career — and ask any of his students — he has had a passion for and a commitment to teaching. That damn university was built on educators like David Weale. That the school — and especially his goddamn COLLEAGUES on the so-called “Faculty Association” — should hang him out to dry on this is an embarrasment and an injustice.

oliver's picture
oliver on January 24, 2006 - 02:22

It might be a better experiment if he allowed people to opt for a default grade of 70% while choosing to attend classes anyway. Some students might have taken the offer even though they like the subject, because they appreciate their grades in other classes and their GPA (and resumes) would be better if they didn’t have to worry about performing up to a high standard in Weale’s course. I suppose a pass/fail option probably already for people of that mind—but maybe if you need the course to satisfy a general ed requirement, school rules might not let you take it pass/fail.

Roy Blake's picture
Roy Blake on January 25, 2006 - 23:23

It’s an old question, much discussed, I remember, in the 60s: should education be about learning or just about credentials? Institutionalized learning is usually a mixture of both. I teach technology at a community college, and certainly employers and students alike want a grade in my course to reflect actual knowledge. I don’t take attendance, but I do give tests. Students can learn from me or on their own, but if they don’t learn somehow, they don’t pass.

It’s a bit different with less cut-and-dried subjects. My favourite place for this type of learning is the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. People (including me) go there to learn, and receive absolutely no credit or certification. It’s great —- but I don’t need credits in philosophy or history —- I already have a job.

If a teacher doesn’t want to give grades, he or she should give public lectures or teach non-credit courses. I believe Weale has done that. Otherwise, taking attendance isn’t necessary, but having students do work and assigning grades to them is.

Gabor Lukacs's picture
Gabor Lukacs on January 26, 2006 - 00:50

I have been teaching mathematics at the university since 1998, first as a teaching assistant, and later on as a course director. Since January 2005, I am at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The problem that Professor Weale was faced with well-known: Certain students are forced (without any good reason) to take certain courses that they normally would not take. Depending on the subject, this group might be a minority or a majority in the classroom. While it is possible to sweeten a boring calculus or linear algebra course with a nice poem read by the lecturer, I would expect it to be much harder to make the uninterested students feel comfortable in a humanities class.

I find the solution of Professor Weale very creative, because it prevents the uninterested 20% to hold back the remaining 80% of the class. From a practical point of view, I am convinced that his decision was fully justified and absolutely necessary in order to maintain the level of the course. On the other hand, I am not surprised at the reaction of the administration: It would cause a major academic problem, and would result in further depreciation of academic degrees if this became a general practice. In other words, the problem is that the “70% deal” can be efficient only if it is not a common practice.

It sad that the administration blames the professor instead of reviewing its own curriculum and requirements. The root of the problem is that most North American high-schools fail to provide the minimal knowledge necessary for the grown-up population, and thus universities are forced to take over part of the burden of what used to be the job of secondary schools. Currently, most BA programs’ primary aim is to teach the students how to read and write. Universities should reassume their roles as high-level professional schools as it used to be in Europe couple of years ago. (Unfortunately, a change is observable there too.)

To summarize, I find the solution of Professor Weale very creative, innovative and powerful for a humanities course. My father, who teaches philosophy, does the same with problematic students, but he actually offers to give them 100% — just to get them out of his face. At the same time, there are obvious practical bureaucratic problems with this method. But disciplinary actions are not the right way to address them.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on January 26, 2006 - 03:25

Gabor’s perspective has made the most sense of anything I have read or heard since this story broke. And it is as close to anything David has tried to get across as well. Thank you for cutting through the crap, so to speak…and I’m being polite.

Ken Williams's picture
Ken Williams on January 26, 2006 - 03:35

One of my classes at St. Mary’s was dBase programming. I went to the first class, the midterm and the final. I got 78%. I am bragging.

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