Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Substitutions from Space

Every so often, I get a cluster of students whose graduation applications have been denied because they took the wrong courses. They come to me to get course substitutions approved.

Some of them are obviously valid – the college to which the kid is transferring wants a different pair of history courses, say, so the kid took those instead of one of our sequences. Fair enough; I want the student to get full credit when she moves on, so that’s fine. Some are trickier: a kid who has failed the second semester of a two-semester language sequence wants a lit class instead. That one depends.

And then there are the substitutions from space. American lit to replace chemistry, let’s say.

These really grind my gears, as Peter Griffin would put it. I’ve noticed an almost perfect correlation between the plausibility of the substitution and the courtesy level of the student when asking for it. If the substitution is reasonable, so is the student. If the substitution is wacky, the student is usually aggressive, loud, self-righteous, and a general pain in the neck. They usually try several moves, none of which work:

“But I have to graduate!” No, you don’t.

“But my transfer school expects me to have the degree!” Yes, as a sign that you were capable of completing a valid program correctly.

“My advisor told me to take that!” Who’s your advisor? “I don’t know his name. Some old guy.” Yeah, that narrows it down.

“You just want my money! This is all about the money!” Tuition doesn’t cover the cost of instruction. And I don’t work on commission.

And my absolute favorite...

“What difference does it make what courses I took? I took enough credits!”

When they say that, I ask if they would mind if their doctor’s degree was actually in poetry. That usually stops them long enough for me to get a word in.

The disheartening part of these exchanges, other than their eternal recurrence, is the complete lack of consequence for the student. Students can go absolutely ballistic, and nothing bad happens to them. Frequently, the savvier ones tell me to my face that they’ll appeal my decision to my VP. At that point I end the conversation and escort them from my office. (I haven’t lost on appeal yet.)

I try to remind myself that I get a skewed sample in my office. The kids who actually have their stuff together in the first place rarely find their way to my door, since they don’t have to. Still, the nasty ones make lingering impressions.

Although the worst offenders often claim misadvisement, the misadvisement they claim is usually so ridiculous (wind ensemble for calculus? Sure!) that I can’t help but suspect that they’re just trying to skirt undesired-but-required courses by creating emergencies. At my previous school, we (foolishly) required a college-skills course of all students, which the adult students would usually put off until their final semester and then make a big stink about not needing. In that case, I was sympathetic, since it was hard to tell a graduating senior that she needed a class she missed in order to do as well in college as she already had. Here, we don’t do anything like that, but students pull the same trick. And I’m the evil one for not rewarding cheating.


It’s gonna be a long week...