I received an email from the administration in the program where I teach this morning. This email expressed concern about student behavior at evening lecture events. Apparently, students are chatting, texting, and otherwise acting like @$$-hats during the speakers they are required to attend outside of regular class time. The email suggested that we as instructors attend the lectures with our students, and sit with them to ensure they behave respectfully. To which I responded (out loud as I read the email): You have got to be effing kidding me. It’s not the instructor’s responsibility that their ill-mannered students act like rude fuckwits. Perhaps the suggestion can also include mandating that college professors buy their students popcorn and save their seats while they go outside to smoke a joint.
As a general rule, I don’t enjoy interacting with my students outside of class and designated office hours. There are exceptions to every rule of course and I have had some brightly shining stars over the years, but generally speaking, students are not my peers and I don’t want to deal with them outside of the classroom. Am I being a total duck-bag? Perhaps. But let me explain: some of them are total jerks who actually frighten me—and I don’t just mean the garden variety texting-during-a-speaker kind of jerk; I mean the drunken-vandal-crime-committing kind. I have felt physically and emotionally threatened by groups of students and I am not going to volunteer to chaperone them during my off hours.
Last year, the whole rigmarole about whether to continue the traditional spring festival (you know the one I'm talking about) in the light of ongoing riots, serious injuries to students, and widespread property damage, demonstrated the scary crowd mentality I’m talking about. The local newspaper interviewed a number of students, and to my chagrin, one of the interviewees was a former student of mine. He reported he would continue to drink excessively and party, university sanctioning of the event or not. They included a picture of him, a now iconic red plastic Solo cup of beer in his hand, standing in the front yard of a campus town frat house in the middle of the day. Way to represent higher education, guy. This student is the rule, not the exception. The huge mob overturning cars and tearing down lamp-posts that resulted in the cancelling of a century-old institutional tradition proved that. I imagine my now-deceased grandfather—a proud 1930s alum—furrowing his brow in disappointment from beyond the grave as the spirits of the sheep he raised for the livestock show bleat their ghostly disdain.
This isn’t a problem some babysitting at a lecture can solve. There’s actually a systemic issue taking place here, and it’s not one I can fully explore in a 600 word rant. I would even argue that there are multiple systemic issues at work here, none of which can be solved with me yelping. However, I am going to keep barking about it like a mangy, t-bone-deficient junkyard dog. My cat is currently sitting on my lap and does not approve of this metaphor. Too bad, kitty. I’m running with it. Woof.
Here’s the nutshell: College is the new high school. We treat students—especially students in first and second year gen. ed. courses—like they’re still children. Unsurprisingly, they continue to act like children. (And by “we” I mean the royal “we” and not me specifically since I resist this tendency with every fiber of my academic integrity, which is wearing awfully thin as I am asked to lower my expectations a bit more each semester.) At what point to we treat students like adults (which THEY ARE) and expect them to act like it? Talking during a lecture? Have the ushers ask them to leave. Also, babysitters make more money per hour than most adjunct instructors.
In summation, anyone old enough to vote is old enough to attend a lecture unsupervised. I hope I don’t get fired for writing about why this angers me.