Category Archives: cheating

Student evaluations

I think I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of student evaluations before on this blog. Sometimes, as I’ve explained in the earlier post, I’ve received some very amusing ones. Most have been pretty positive although I have received some critical evaluations. Never anything really soul destroying…yet. Other times, the positive ones balance the negative ones exactly (eg, I get 5 saying “Where were the Powerpoint slides?” and 5 saying “Thank God there were no Powerpoint slides!”) I tend to mentally file those responses under “well, you can’t please ’em all”.

Lately I’ve come across a couple of interesting legal issues regarding student evaluations. Of course, both cases come from the US, the fount of much interesting litigation.

First, there’s the case of a student who, when asked to complete a student evaluation form, wrote offensive comments about a professor’s sexuality and expressed the desire that the professor die of AIDs. Read more about it here at Concurring Opinons and here at Volokh Conspiracy.

The evaluation was said to be confidential. However, the professor in question was very upset by the comments, and went through exam papers to identify the handwriting of the person who had made the comments. The particular student was identified, and officially reprimanded. The student has been asked to write a 1,200-word essay on how his remarks affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, to write a letter of apology to the professor (including constructive criticisms of his teaching style), and to discuss with the university training or other programs deemed appropriate.

Hmm. I have to say that I found the student’s comments offensive, and for this reason I decided not to reproduce them on my page. I’m sure that if someone directed racist, sexist or other abuse at me, I would be very, very upset. Particularly if it was something about which I was already sensitive or about which I had already had to face abuse from others previously. I also think the punishment was appropriate, although I do wonder whether it will really change the student’s underlying prejudices.

On the other hand, if it were me, I don’t know that I’d go through all the exam papers and work out who said it. To my mind, the surveys are confidential, and even when people say stupid and offensive things, that is a promise that needs to be kept, except in extreme cases where, for example, a death threat is made. The confidentiality allows students freedom of speech to say whatever they want, even if it is ridiculous or highly critical.

The student did say that he hoped the professor in question would die, but to my mind, it was not a death threat – it was more of a unpleasant and juvenile sneer of the kind that 13 year olds make. The statement made by the student indicates (a) that he is extremely immature and (b) that his opinion is not worth much anyway. I’d probably decide to brush it off as an opinion not even worth worrying about, and hope that as he progressed through university he came to a more open-minded point of view. I might also suspect that he had sexuality issues of his own (as is often the case with young homophobic males)…

However, I’d welcome comments from anyone who feels differently. I suspect some readers who are members of the gay and lesbian community might feel very strongly about this one.

The second case concerns a professor who altered student evaluations to make them more favourable towards him. The professor happened to teach law, and the Supreme Court of Iowa has suspended him from legal practice, with the possibility of reinstatement on conditions. (Hat tip to Stephen Warne for alerting me to this one).

The misconduct occurred as follows. The professor remained in the room when the student surveys were taken, and he and his research assistant also completed surveys which were handed in (favourable, I’m sure). It seems that they amended some of the results.

The professor also gave a speech to the students stressing the importance of good reviews, and said that his problems with the law school had arisen because others were jealous of him. I must say that I have never had the hide to give a speech to students about how important student evaluations are to academic careers. I’d rather people judge me honestly, without having to beg them to be kind.

The professor was suffering from bipolar disorder, and at the time of the offences, he had not taken his medication, which makes his conduct rather more explicable. Ironically, his speciality was mental health law. Still, despite the bipolar disorder, he must have known that what he was doing was wrong.

The consequences have been quite devastating for his career, I am sure – what a silly fellow! – he would have been better to leave the questionnaires untouched and leave his career in one piece.


Filed under academia, cheating, education, freedom of speech, law, legal education, powerpoint, sexuality, society, tolerance, universities, USA

No wonder I cancelled my subscription to The Age

I’ve been a bit out of it lately; no time to read blogs or newspapers much. And I cancelled my subscription to The Age when we moved hoise. Why? Because they keep publishing stupid opinion pieces by authors like Catherine Deveny and Tracee Hutchison. I think the final straw was Deveny’s opinion piece about changing one’s surname after marriage. I don’t mind if someone has a different opinion to me, as long as it’s well thought out and well justified. But frankly, I’d prefer to read posts of my blogging friends, which are vastly better written and reasoned than these opinion writers. I think the blogosphere keeps a person honest. Try writing a post where you haven’t thought the issue through properly, and commenters and bloggers will point out what you have missed very quickly.

Anyway, I thought I might catch up on what I’ve missed in the blogosphere and MSM over the last two months, but I didn’t get very far before I discovered Deveny’s idiotic offering about affairs in marriage. I’m almost reluctant to talk about it, because to talk of it gives some credence to the piece, but I can’t get this irritation out of my head. I came upon it by reading Cynthia Karena’s response to Deveny’s article in The Age today. Karena puts it succinctly: “There’s no such thing as a good affair.” Well said.

Here’s an excerpt from Deveny’s piece.

Lifelong monogamy is an unrealistic expectation that makes people feel like failures. And if you don’t believe me, take one look at the divorce statistics. People are torn between their emotions and an archaic expectation that was conceived when the average life expectancy was 30. Monogamy is a wonderful way to maintain what the church and the state would call “social order” and, more importantly, to ensure paternity to hand wealth down to offspring.

Things are different now. In First World countries most people’s lives are no longer just about survival. Seeing survival’s sorted, we’re distracted by the promise of stimulation, happiness, constant change and upgrading. Eating our way up the food chain via hedonism and desire.

Yes, of course I think lifelong monogamy is a wonderful concept. And I would love to think that we would all find a mate for life and live happily ever after and be buried in the ground side by side for all eternity and never fancy another person. But it’s an unrealistic expectation. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try our best to achieve it. You can’t go into a relationship thinking: “I’ll stay till I get bored or she gets fat.” The mantra of for better or worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health is something that applies to all relationships. Not just sexual ones.

But what about the notion of spiritual theft? An open relationship is one thing, but what about a secret connection on the side that is filling the desire for something more breathless, more glittery, more slippery, more illusive. Something you just don’t get in a long-term relationship. Some people have confided in me that an affair has saved their relationship. We hear all the bad affair stories, but never the good affair stories. Most would say that it’s not right, but I can see that some people may feel that if no one is being hurt, that it is not totally wrong either.

This piece sounds like an apologia for cheaters, and that’s not something which sits well with me. It’s an excuse for the selfish person to cheat on his or her partner and say “Well, it was in everyone’s best interests really. I deserve it. I mean, after all, I’ve stuck with this person for 30 years. And now I can go back to my partner again.” And then they feel a happy little glow…

I disagree. If you go into a relationship which is expected to be monogamous, then you should not cheat with another person. I also disagree with the proposition that friendships are equivalent to sexual relationships. I don’t think that I have to swear to stay friends with someone, but if I’ve formally sworn that I will stay married with someone, that’s a different story. It’s no chance that in Jewish law, the bride and groom have to sign a ketubah or contract – it’s a promise. There are some friends who will be friends for life, of course, and whom I will stick with through thick and thin. And other friends drift in and out of your life, and I’m not a “cheater” if I drift apart from a friend and make new friends.

Of course cheating happens, and sometimes, there’s even a good reason for it. I have had friends who have cheated while they were in a relationship. And the circumstances were almost identical. The cheater repeatedly tried to end the relationship honourably, and the other person wouldn’t accept this and became hysterical and suicidal. So the cheater committed the ultimate unpardonable offence of cheating to finally put an end to the relationship. In both cases it worked, too. It seemed to me that the cheating was understandable in that kind of a situation.

But what about cheating on a partner who doesn’t know the relationship is in trouble or that the other person is unhappy? Or cheating on a partner just because you are “bored” and want to try something different? That just doesn’t seem appropriate to me. In the first instance, the cheater should communicate his or her dissatisfaction. In the second instance, the cheater is just a selfish bastard.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “good affair”. Say A is married to B and has an affair with C, but doesn’t tell B. Firstly, C might be expecting the relationship to continue, and C might be hurt. Secondly, even if B doesn’t know about the affair, it could still hurt B, and it’s certainly dishonest to B. The only one who wins is stinky old A. I would hate the idea of my partner cheating on me and not telling me. I’d rather end the relationship than keep on going with someone who lied to me and cheated with someone else. But I wouldn’t have a real choice because in the scenario above, I wouldn’t be told. And then if there’s kids involved, and they are aware that A is cheating, but can’t tell B, then they’re being hurt and betrayed too.

Perhaps it depends on what is meant by “cheating”. Speaking to another man is definitely not cheating. Looking at Brad Pitt and thinking he’s hot stuff is not cheating. In my view, nor is flirtatious conversation, as long as it’s made clear that it’s in fun only. Kissing or sleeping with someone else is definitely cheating.

There’s just no way to keep the hurt out of it. A friend of mine had ex-hippy parents with an “open relationship”. For many years, this seemed to work okay. Until he confessed he’d been sleeping with someone from work, so she told him that she had been sleeping with his best friend. Apparently just sleeping with just “someone from work” was okay, but sleeping with a “best friend” was a different story. They separated for a while. Then they decided they couldn’t live without one another, and got back together on a “non-open” basis.

I doubt that there’s many open relationships where both partners have remained unhurt, unless they are both selfish narcissists who don’t really care for one another, only for their own gratification.

People aren’t perfect, and unfortunately, cheating happens in marriage and other monogamous relationships. Some marriages or relationships may emerge stronger from the other end, with better communication between partners. But many break up, causing a great deal of pain to at least one party in the relationship. Let’s not make excuses for cheating. To cheat is to hurt the other person, and there’s no way around it.


Filed under cheating, marriage, media, sex