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I am enrolled in a lpn nursing program, and the professor teaching the pharmacology course announced to the class last week that he wont be here the following week, due to a "conference in California", and that another teacher would come and teach us the remaining chapters for the final exam.

Today no one showed up to teach the class, and the director is now claiming she had no idea he wasn't going to be here to finish the course. The director told us to read the rest of the chapters on our own before Wednesday (basically teach ourselves 6 chapters worth of pharmacology)... oh and there is also a HESI examination that they are saying we still have to take on Wednesday even though we haven't covered all of the material. I feel like the school is setting everyone up to fail at this point so we have to pay 3,000 to take the course again. I really need to know if this is ethical??

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    In my experience such cases end up easier for students. The examinations are usually not as strict. Of course, you miss part of the education. But it's usually taken into account in the test. – Džuris Apr 16 at 8:54
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    @Džuris HESI is an external body; it's a standardized test that the institution has no control over. – David Richerby Apr 16 at 9:21
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    how many chapters do you normally cover in 1 lesson? 6 chapters seems like an awful lot left. – WendyG Apr 16 at 10:20
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    How were they planning on teaching 6 chapters of pharmacology in a single week? – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Apr 16 at 16:44
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    Are you sure you need all six chapters for the exam? I don't think I ever took a university course where they didn't skip like a third of the textbook. – ReinstateMonicaSackTheStaff Apr 16 at 17:03
75

Remember Hanlon’s Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

I doubt that any of the staff at the university are deliberately trying to make you fail so that they can make more money by forcing you to redo the course; it’s much more likely that someone just put things off, failed to read their emails, or something similar because they were busy with other things.

Complain to the student ombudsman at your university if you feel like a failure by the staff to properly follow procedures has disadvantaged you.

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    It's one thing to say that "the director is now claiming she had no idea he wasn't going to be here" is attributable to stupidity, but "the director told us to read the rest of the chapters on our own before Wednesday" is the director's deliberate choice to "resolve" the situation by simply leaving students without the teaching they paid for and administering an exam for which they haven't been offered all the promised preparation. This is what's arguably unethical. The school should be figuring out how students can take the HESI and final at a later date after the class time can be made up. – nanoman Apr 16 at 4:12
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    @nanoman Are you sure that the director is aware that 6 chapters of pharmacology still had to be taught in a single session? I can totally see him saying "Just learn that one week's worth of material by yourself" without him being aware that it's actually way too much. – sgf Apr 16 at 8:03
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    @nanoman Absolutely. But the main benefit of Hanlon's Razor is that you actually think of informing the director instead of feeding your confirmation bias about the cruelty of the world. And anyways, why does the professor have 6 chapters of pharmacology to teach in one session? Or does the final exam maybe not cover the whole book? Or did the students know it covers the whole book but hope for the professor to magically teach them the last 6 chapters at once when they've obviously been lagging behind so far? There's a lot that's strange here. – sgf Apr 16 at 8:38
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    @nanoman What's the director going to do? The test is on Wedesday and can't be changed in time or content, since it's standardized. Monday is already gone. The options are to hold an emergency class on Tuesday, leaving zero time for study, or asking the students to study themselves. The latter seems to have the best chance for success. – user71659 Apr 16 at 17:55
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    What's supporting the Hanlon's Razor theory here is that while the school would get money for doing the course again, they also would get the statistics of utterly failing to educate a whole course. Like a company, they could make a quick buck by screwing over their "customers" once, but it would probably do more damage to their future business. – R. Schmitz Apr 17 at 15:46
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Consider the alternative, not letting you take that exam.

Would that really be better? I am sure many students think that would be worse. They just want their exam papers and start working as soon as possible.

So, try to prepare for the exam on your own and take it. Having to read one chapter on your own is not a big disadvantage.

Then, as nick012000 suggested, complain. The university messed up and should fix things.

A reasonable fix would be for the university to give you another chance if you fail, free of charge. Another possibility is for the grades to be adjusted.

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    The big potential for failing is that many nursing programs are run in lock-step wtih a cohort. Additionally, there may be requirements to pass all classes or you are removed from the program. – ivanivan Apr 16 at 14:25
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    @ivanivan "Additionally, there may be requirements to pass all classes or you are removed from the program." That is exactly the sort of requirement that the school could waive (allowing a redo) because of the exceptional circumstances caused by its messup. – nanoman Apr 16 at 19:40
  • @nanoman definitely. but i've also seen a nursing program or at least some of the faculty in charge of the program try their best to get rid of students they just didn't like. "sorry your grandpa died, no you can't swap clinical weeks with someone else, you miss clinicals you are out of program" type stuff. – ivanivan Apr 16 at 19:47
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    @user71659: Accreditation is more flexible than you seem to think. I went through an accredited program of study, in a field where mistakes kill far more people at a time than an nurse's mistake would, and although the projects I work on are not generally in the life-critical category, I have the license and skills to do them. The school is not going to lose accreditation for letting students retake a course and exam when the first administration ended partway through. Any accreditation body that were that strict would already be revoking this school just for the inconsistent instruction. – Ben Voigt Apr 17 at 3:58
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    @user71659: Also note that, according to OP, "pay tuition again and repeat the whole course" is an option. If that is an option without violating accreditation, then surely so is "repeat the whole course at the school's expense". – Ben Voigt Apr 17 at 4:01
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First, I suggest checking the course syllabus. At higher levels of education it becomes increasingly likely that the student will ultimately be held responsible for acquiring the requisite information for tests like HESI, graduate school qualifying examinations, etc. I've had mathematics graduate courses, the subject matter of which would be covered by mandatory qualifying examinations, specify in their syllabus that the course may not cover everything that may appear on the qualifying examinations, and that it is left to the student to study such material. Practical realities may simply not leave enough time to cover everything, and as you advance up the educational and professional ladders the more it is expected that you will have the intelligence, drive, and time management skills necessary to acquire broad swathes of information and skill sets on your own. Classes become increasingly less about telling you exactly what to do, and covering everything you need to know, and more about providing you the basic direction and fundamental skills necessary for you to figure out what you need to do and know on your own.

As such, "6 chapters in one week" may be more like "6 chapters you knew you would have to know since the beginning, but were explicitly told we may not have the time to cover during lectures, and you have to figure out how to deal with that on your own." In which case your burden is noticeably less than you think it is. Not that "lecturer disappearing" is normally accounted for in class structures, so there's still a problem here, but you may already have been expected to deal with several of these chapters entirely on your own.

Following Nick's suggestion to complain to the ombudsman is a good follow-up step. This is definitely a situation that should never happen. An instructor who will be absent for lecture days is responsible for securing a replacement instructor for those days, and for clearing his absence and replacement with the department head (or whoever else serves as a supervisor). This situation appears to be a multi-tier failure where either the usual instructor or replacement instructor failed to execute their part of the arrangement, and also the department head/supervisor failed to properly monitor the situation and make sure the students experienced minimal disruptions. At least one of them is probably getting disciplined behind the scenes and being made to feel very uncomfortable thanks to this failure.

If this provides an unsatisfactory resolution, you might even go so far as to pass this story on to local news agencies. While this doesn't sound like a state-wide or greater interest story, it may be worth it for local news channels, newspapers, school newspapers and newsletters, etc. to report on it. An unfavorable report, or even an interview request to discuss the matter, would elevate the pressure on the school to make PR-friendly amends and accommodations to affected students. No school wants to start developing a public reputation for condoning disappearing instructors and lax administration.

  • I have similar thoughts. The responsibility to learn is the students. – axsvl77 Apr 16 at 14:27
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    "These six chapters might not get covered so you'd better figure out how to study them on your own" would be a ridiculous way to structure a course. The later chapters almost always depend on the earlier ones so, the students can't study chapters 7-12 until they've done chapters 1-6. So what do they do? If they wait for those chapters to be covered in class, there's a huge rush to cram in six chapters right at the end. If they study them before they're covered in class, there's not much point in having the classes. (Or, at least, the classes need to be designed around that exact scenario.) – David Richerby Apr 16 at 14:40
  • Who knows how big a chapter is in this case. If every week covers ~6 chapters of a textbook, then maybe we're looking at chapters 95-100 out of 100 chapters... – Misha Lavrov Apr 16 at 15:51
  • @MishaLavrov That's a good point. My "random" choice of the six chapters being half the course makes things look very extreme. Nonetheless, it's a silly way to design a course that's supposed to cover chapters 1-100, too. Probably chapters 95-100 don't depend on every previous chapter, so the "when do I study this?" problem becomes easier. But, in this case, surely the correct solution is to cover chapters 1-94 just a little bit faster so that there's room to lecture the last few chapters, too. – David Richerby Apr 16 at 16:24
  • @DavidRicherby: There was room in the schedule. The instructor didn't show up to class, and neither did the substitute. – Ben Voigt Apr 17 at 4:00
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Faculty Responsibilities

I take first the potentially wrong assumption that "quit" is not meant literally.

To the question of (ethics) violations by the instructor ...

A faculty member may have to file written forms before he/she goes away from teaching duties for a situation known in advance. The forms should document what is to be done in the course(s) that will be missed. They should be signed off by the department and perhaps all the way up through the college level before the trip is taken.

--> Ask your SGA representative and/or the Student Affairs Office to establish what protocols are required of faculty who will be absent from teaching duties. When forms are to have been filed, the director's claim of ignorance means either that he/she is lying or that the faculty member failed to follow protocols. One or the other deserves an administrative rebuke. Otherwise, when no official policy is in place for this case, your student organization needs to fight to establish one.

--> The next step is to file a strongly worded statement with your representative student organization and/or through your student evaluations. Regardless of whether an official form was or was not to have been filed before the trip, the instructor of record bears full responsibility in this case to assure that his/her teaching duties are properly handled in his/her absence, especially when the absence was planned in advance. The department chair, the college dean, and the university provost should hear in writing from the entire class about his/her negligence to fulfill this responsibility.

You may instead mean "quit" literally, as in "The instructor pretended to be going to a conference but actually was resigning without telling us the truth".

--> This case is entirely out of your hands. The administration above, starting the the director and finishing at the provost, have to handle the violations.

Preparation for Exams

The director is telling you to do something different than what you expected would happen. The best you can do is do as requested. I cannot attest to whether the requirement is or is not excessive. To address this, you could determine whether it would have been any different had your instructor been present. Ask students from last year's or last semester's class for insights. I will add however, the director has the responsibility to not leave your class just hanging to learn it on your own. Your class can/should petition for a make up session to cover the material when it is to be required on an exam (the final exam) for the course.

By comparison, your class cannot rightfully petition to have a make up session to cover content on (national and professional preparation) exams that are not part of the course syllabus. You can only request to have a preparation session for such exams at the graces of the department.

Being Set Up for Failure

Is the university (purposely) setting up your class to fail? ... Most assuredly not (on purpose). At worst, the university has set itself up to fail because it does not have a way to assure a responsibility of its faculty to their core mission. This is a longer discussion for a different thread.

Unfortunately what has happened instead is, the instructor of record has set up your class to fail. While Hanlon's razor is invoked, I do not see stupidity at play in his/her case. When the instructor is truly only gone on a conference trip and was to have followed a formal protocol to file forms before the trip, this is a most glaring case of official negligence of duties. Even absent that he/she had official requirements to file forms, the instructor has neglected his/her contractual obligations by not handling the responsibilities for his/her teaching duties completely and with all due attention.

When the instructor just quit and had kept that plan hidden (from everyone), he/she bears the full brunt of the blame--the university is just a bystander to the destruction. Even as a bystander though, they have a responsibility to clean up the mess fairly and equitably.

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    "I cannot imagine that a faculty member does not have to file a set of written forms before he/she goes away from teaching duties." Really? It may be different in a professional program, but the most intensive requirement in any program I've been in is notifying the chair when one is missing a class, and most programs haven't even required that. Missing some teaching to attend conferences is standard in many fields, and the only expectation is that the instructor will make sure the class is taught appropriately (which obviously failed in this case. – Henry Apr 17 at 13:27
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    All the reasons in the world why you think it's a bad idea will not chance the fact that it is, in fact, utterly routine at many universities. – Henry Apr 17 at 17:45
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    Again, I'm merely reporting on my actual experiences at every university I've worked at. I'm not making any claims about the propriety of the practice. What you imagine a state legislature might think of it does not, in any way, "challenge" the fact that the practice exists. I'm prepared to believe your report that some schools require specific forms before a faculty member misses class to go to a conference, though I've never seen such a practice. I don't understand why you have such difficulty believing my report that some schools are different. – Henry Apr 17 at 20:28
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    Just to back up Henry here: I have taught at two state universities. At one, we were supposed to tell the chair when missing class to go to a conference, but in practice nobody ever did. At the other, there was no such requirement. The first time I took a trip I told the chair, and he was mystified and couldn't figure out why I thought he would care about my trip. – Mark Apr 17 at 22:17
  • If the professor has in fact "quit", as the title suggests, then much of this answer is moot. – Nate Eldredge Apr 18 at 17:02
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Where I did my undergrad (in the 1990s), it was was not uncommon for the final exam to be about the chapters of the book that were not covered in class. It generally went like this:

  1. We students arrive on the last day of class, awaiting information about the contents of the final exam
  2. The professor looks at the syllabus, and says "hmmm, we only seem to have made it to chapter 8 in the lectures. But the course requires that we cover through to chapter 12. So let's make the final exam about chapters 9 through 12."
  3. The professor then spends the class paging through the textbook, saying "this section is important, learn this" or "ignore this part".
  4. We students studied like crazy to learn the material, cursing the instructor for having some 20% or 40% of our grade based on material that we didn't learn through our homework. Stress allowed us to learn very quickly.
  5. We students took the exam.

That's it. So, your question is: "Is this ethical?"

My answer is "Yes, it is ethical".

Here is why I think it is ok. In high school, it is the job of the teacher to ensure that each and every student learns the material. In a University setting, this is not the case - it is the job of the student to learn the material, with guidance from the instructor. This is especially true for graduate school.

Here is a counter-question. Did you read the text prior to class, in preparation for the lectures? Did you arrive with questions about content that was unclear? Is it ethical to arrive to class unprepared? This is your job as a student. While it is nice to receive this information in a palatable, spoon-fed format, it is not required.

Perhaps your entire post-secondary education was a mere extension of high school, where the responsibility of learning was cast upon the instructor. That is lucky! Good for you. I suggest working to learn how to learn independently.

Addendum:

Does your University have a required number of hours of instruction per course? Did the cancellation of classes brings the number of instruction hours below this limit? If so, the University has breeched its contract. This is most certainly un-ethical.

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    The fact that professors do this sometimes does not make it ethical or right for a professor to cover 2/3rds of a course and demand that they learn the final third on their own between the last day and the final exam. It is certainly a student's job in higher education to learn on their own, but it's not, in my opinion, ethical to charge students thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands) and fail to provide them with the guidance, in some sort of reasonably coherent fashion, they need to learn the material. That your undergrad professors did this to you doesn't make it right. – Zach Lipton Apr 16 at 20:59
  • @ZachLipton Perhaps we got more out of learning those few chapters independently than we got from the rest of the course? And the structure of the final certainly helped. However, it turns out this is different than HESI; it isn't a final exam but a board exam of some sort. Probably my answer needs to be modified. – axsvl77 Apr 16 at 21:15
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    So your "argument" is that, since you were abused, the asker can put up with being abused, too. Great. – David Richerby Apr 17 at 8:37
  • @DavidRicherby Not at all. My argument is that it is the student's responsibility to learn the material. Is my writing so unclear? – axsvl77 Apr 17 at 10:57
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    ... the expectation of spoon feeding should end during graduate school. (or before) – axsvl77 Apr 17 at 15:26

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