Ask any professor, from a community college to an Ivy League institution, if many students treat their education as a consumer experience, I promise you, most, if not all, will say YES. While students have always paid for a higher education, only recently, perhaps in the last ten to fifteen years, do some students treat their professors as shopkeepers. These students (let me stress… SOME and NOT all) view their education as a product they are purchasing rather than degree they are earning. The prevailing attitude among this set is “I bought this class, I can do whatever I want.” Many do not seem to care if they are being disrespectful of their professors or of their fellow students.
Therefore, when this letter from an NYU professor to a student who decided to literally “shop” his class showed up online, many of us, who have experienced this sort of treatment, cheered. What is almost as heartening as the professor’s response to the student is the support other students have shown for the professor’s argument. You can read those replies here.
The professor made his email available to everyone in his classes (considerately crossing out the student’s name). Here is the email from the “shopping” student and the professor’s reply. While there is a good deal of snark in the professor’s response, there is also some very sound advice.
The Original Email:
I would like to discuss a matter with you that bothered me. Yesterday evening I entered your 6pm Brand Strategy class approximately 1 hour late. As I entered the room, you quickly dismissed me, saying that I would need to leave and come back to the next class. After speaking with several students who are taking your class, they explained that you have a policy stating that students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will not be admitted to class.
As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.
I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.
MBA 2010 Candidate
NYU Stern School of Business
Subject: Re: Brand Strategy Feedback
Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.
Just so I’ve got this straight…you started in one class, left 15-20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class which “bothered” you.
You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.
In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.
xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause…REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you:
xxxx, get your shit together.
Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…
Again, thanks for the feedback.
What do you think? Was the professor in the right? The student? Have you had similar things happen to you as a professor, teacher, or student? We’d love to hear your opinions and experiences.