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Premise

My department recently finalized the faculty teaching assignments for the Fall 2019 semester (starts at the end of August 2019). As these assignments were being discussed a few weeks ago, my department chair approached me and asked my "interest" (her word) in teaching an "explorations" (again her word) class that students could take to learn more about our department and our discipline.

She had a pre-written syllabus that she had composed. The proposed work load for the class essentially consisted of having 80% attendance at a weekly 50-minute class period and filling out a course review at the end of the semester (10% of the grade was to come from a nebulous "class participation" score). This class would be worth three (3) credits, which would be the typical credit given for a class that met for three 50-minute periods a week and had several exams, weekly homework, etc. Some examples of classes in my college (STEM) worth 3 credits:

All names and course numbers are effectively fake. These are all real classes at my university, but I have completely made up the numbers to mask the real classes.

  • Math 3340 Differential Equations.
  • Math 3870 Algebraic Number Theory.
  • Phys 2200 Electromagnetism.
  • CoSc 3130 Compilers and Interpreters.
  • Stat 4650 Bayesian Inference.
  • CoSc 3270 Intro to Machine Learning.
  • CoSc 4270 Advanced Machine Learning.
  • Chem 3510 Organic Chemistry I.
  • Chem 3520 Organic Chemistry II.

(CoSc is Computer Science. This is not what my university calls it. I did this literally just so that every class only had a 4 letter abbreviation).

I told the department chair that I was not interested in teaching the class and made the passing observation that it seemed like the class was rather simple for a three credit class. She told me that, yes, it is a rather simple class, but that this was okay, since it was "targeted at the athletes from our university." The class is open to any student at the university, but it requires departmental signature to add the class.

I feel that this may be treading a fine line that borders on academic fraud, such as this scandal at the University of North Carolina. This is exacerbated by the fact that I have now discovered that there is not only one version of this class, but three (XXXX 3910 Explorations I, XXXX 3920 Explorations II, XXXX 3930 Explorations III) versions of the class.

The classes meet concurrently (e.g. Tuesdays at 2 p.m.) in "different" rooms, however it is really just one big room that can be subdivided into three classrooms with accordion curtains. (Each section of the room has a separate door to the hallway and a separate room number). So the "Explorations" classes can effectively be taken all at once by signing up for all three classes and then just sitting in the big room and "participating."

The Issue

Despite my declining having any interest in teaching one of these classes, I have been named as the instructor of one of the classes. The department chair and a new adjunct hire have been listed as the professors over the other two classes. Students have registered for the class and it looks like out of 21 students on my class list, 19 are student athletes.

I spoke (informally) with our associate dean about this class soon after my department chair first approached me about the class. At that point I had not yet been assigned to teach the class. He informed me that the dean had signed off on these classes in order to "engender interest in the college." Most student athletes at my school do not major in STEM fields.

I'm not sure how high this goes. I do not want to lose my job over being unwilling to get up in front of some student athletes and talk about interesting things in my field. If the class was worth fewer credits, I would feel better about participating. But as it is, I feel uncomfortable being associated with the course. If it were worth fewer credits, I might be more favorable to the thought of teaching the class.

Should I blow the whistle here?


Addendum

I do not have tenure. I am relatively new to the department. I think this is why the department chair is asking me and an adjunct professor (new hire) to cover these classes.

I mentioned that I had been assigned to teach this class to one of my senior faculty. His assessment was essentially "Oh yeah, sounds fishy. But if [Dept. Chair] got it approved, must be on the up and up, right? Ha ha ha...."

Grade break down for the class is as follows:

  • 10% Participation (On an integer scale from 0-10).
  • 10% Course Evaluation (Filled out = full marks, not completed = zero).
  • 80% Attendance:
    • There are 10 total class meetings (we do not meet every week)
    • You get 1 point for each class period you attend up to and including your eighth class period attended. (Max score of 8/8).

The class is not pass fail. ABC grades are assigned.

So, if you participated at a level 9 (whatever that will mean), filled out the course evaluation, and attended 5 class periods total, your score would be:

9% + 10% + (5/8)*80% = 69% in the course.

If you participated at a level 3, did not fill out the course evaluation, and attended 7 class periods total, your score would be:

3% + 0% + (7/8)*80% = 73% in the course.

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    @darijgrinberg: OP was handed a pre-written syllabus, which specifies that the course is not to require any actual academic work at all. Sounds like a smoking gun to me. – academic Jun 5 at 20:08
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Jun 7 at 1:38
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    Seriously, folks... take non-clarifying comments to chat. Unrelated discussion will be deleted. – eykanal Jun 7 at 14:23
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    "Should I blow the whistle here?" depends strongly on your personal circumstances and values. I've flagged this question for closure with that reason. "What should I do about this moral dilemma?" is off topic on all Stack Exchanges where such matters are likely to come up. The question could be made on topic by stating what you have decided you want to accomplish and asking how to best go about it, though. – jpmc26 Jun 7 at 19:43

14 Answers 14

106

You wondered "how high does this go?" At my university, the football coach's salary is 7 times the president's. Who do you think answers to whom? The chancellor, the president, the provost, the dean and your chair could all agree with you and nothing would be done. (And if they were the sort of people who agreed with you, then they would not be the chair, dean, provost, president, or chancellor.)

You're new and adjunct, and so have a very weak position. I'm pretty sure this is why you were assigned the course. Options:

  1. Refuse to teach the course and hope that the there's enough bad publicity when you are fired, that the school quietly removes the course. You'll be unemployed, but will have done a service.

  2. Teach the course in such a way that the students actually have to work and learn things. Milk the "participation" for all it's worth. If you do it right, you'll never get the course again. (E.g. Lead a discussion each meeting on the topic of "Why major in STEM." Point out that the very course they're in is robbing them of their opportunity to get a real education. They're essentially slave labor for the billionaires who really own the athletic teams. They're playing pro-football for free and getting in return a worthless degree in "Undergraduate Studies" which won't qualify them to sell used cars. Wouldn't a STEM degree be more valuable and satisfying? That's on-topic for the course and should prevent you from having to teach it again. OR perhaps, choose a nice, science-y book and require that "participation" means taking turns reading aloud from the book. When this uncovers that half your students can't read....)

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    'slave labor for the billionaires who really own the athletic teams' this is would be very funny to hear from the person who holds an adjunct position (not really the most stable and well paid position in the academic cycle). Pro athletes have a chance to earn a lot of money and fame (the chance is low, but the reward is so high that for some it makes sense). But instead of it you suggest them to take a degree and then if you are lucky somewhere in your mid-thirties you might have a chance to have a decent salary. Don't hate the player, hate the game. – Salvador Dali Jun 7 at 22:52
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    @SalvadorDali No, I suggest that as long as they're going to sit in classrooms for 4 years, they might as well get a decent degree. Then they have two options for their future. – B. Goddard Jun 7 at 22:55
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    @B.Goddard probably they will need way more that 'sit in classrooms for 4 years' to get a decent degree. There is a big difference between spending 2 hours yawning and checking FB and actually doing homework assignments in hard subjects. And you basically tell that a person who holds extremely shaky position in academic hierarchy to tell them that they need to throw away their prospects and spend many years studying to have a chance to get a similar very shaky position. – Salvador Dali Jun 8 at 3:13
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    I half-disagree, rather strongly with the disagreed half, of this answer. In particular, it seems to me that this answer is basically consisting not only of objection to the possibly shady motivations of this class and faculty decisions, but also in getting on the boat of slamming and essentially invalidating the need or worth of entire fields of academic endeavor (basically, anything not "STEM") which, I'd say, is an assault not only on "billionaire athletic team owners" but on professors, scholars, and others who have made such fields their life's work and those who have actually – The_Sympathizer Jun 8 at 22:56
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    applied the knowledge from such fields. Calling them "not real" degrees is also to devalue that knowledge itself and, again, something I find a bit reprehensible. Moreover, it sounds very much like installing your political opinion into the class, again, a big no-no I'd say for any academic teaching (unless the class is specifically about a particular political philosophy or ideology, but even then the instructor's own personal opinions as to whether or not that ideology is/isn't valid or to what extent it is so, should not go in, as the point of an – The_Sympathizer Jun 8 at 22:57
83

One possible option is to prepare a syllabus for the course which adds some legitimate graded work: homework, an exam, a paper or project, anything. Then, email it to your chair, mention that you want to evaluate the students' mastery of the material and hence devised your own grading rubric, and ask for her approval.

If she approves, or if she switches your teaching assignment, then problem solved. And if she says "please use the syllabus I gave you", then you have established a paper trail.

Finally, keep the following in mind: in my discipline, I've seen advanced graduate courses where the grading rubric is openly "everyone gets an A". The rationale is that graduate students have more important fish to fry, and should be able to set their own priorities. Whether athletes should be able to do the same is debatable -- but keeping this in mind might mitigate your distaste, if you end up having to use the syllabus you were given.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Jun 7 at 14:21
45

I'd bet pounds to pesos that this course is akin to the Geology 101 course my brother took (at a major football university) with most of the football team (he wasn't a student athlete, just took the course) that was commonly referred to as "Rocks for Jocks".

However, that doesn't mean (as Buffy mentioned) that the course can't benefit the students. If I were in your shoes, and I would try to make the course give some benefit to the students. If you are allowed to change the syllabus to include some assignments (be they tests, homework, or projects) that get graded and give the students feedback, the students could actually learn something. When I was teaching (at the high school level), I taught a "Descriptive-level" Chemistry course; the basic concept was Chemistry without math. My goal was to help the students learn concepts that would help them (e.g. why you need special coating on screws used in pressure-treated lumber.)

OTOH, this worries me:

...I have now discovered that there is not only one version of this class, but three (XXXX 3910 Explorations I, XXXX 3920 Explorations II, XXXX 3930 Explorations III) versions of the class.

The classes meet concurrently in "different" rooms, however it is really just one big room that can be subdivided into three classrooms with accordion curtains. (Each section of the room has a separate door to the hallway and a separate room number). So the "Explorations" classes can effectively be taken all at once by signing up for all three classes and then just sitting in the big room and "participating."

If this is true (a student can take three courses at the same time and earn credit for them), that would constitute fraud (at least in my book). Given your non-tenured position, I leave it to you to determine if burning the bridge to this opportunity is worth it to you to report the fraud. (I suspect that, should you report, your position with the university will be terminated, or made very uncomfortable.)

Lastly, the attendance policy is something I would examine in greater detail. If your school is as sport-centric as you fear, I wonder if the athletes are considered exempt from attendance (or automatically get credit), should they be on the road. (I.e. if they get automatic points for attendance when they are away, it is another very damning piece of evidence that this is a fraudulent class.)

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    I too took a "rocks for jocks" (topics in geology) in undergrad! I wasn't an athlete, I was doing it for my gen-ed credits. It was the most fun I had in a gen ed science class, ever; not because it was easy, but because it was so interesting. My "lab" partner (an actual athlete) actually declared a geology major because he enjoyed it so much. Of course this was more of a legitimate "explorations in..." or "introduction to..." type course than what OP has described which does, as you mention, sound much more like a scam. – Roddy Jun 6 at 22:17
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    Love this answer! And to be honest, I think it gives OP the freedom to do some really freaking awesome things. Imagine getting to teach a college course where you get to do demonstrations of Planning Fallacy, do a game show of Causation vs Correlation vs Coincidence, and do a "Here's something weird: everyone write down a reason it might be that way, and a way you could test out whether you're right." You have the chance to teach the most important class that they might take, all because you don't have a rigid set of goals to achieve! – Kevin Jun 8 at 4:21
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    This is a very good point. I took a few similar classes in subjects very remote from mine (economics for dummies when getting my PhD in physics for instance) and they were fantastic. The teacher knew that there would be 90% of people who would slack and 10% of completely unrelated students with whom he can do great things. The course ROCKED and was a huge success among these students for a few years. – WoJ Jun 8 at 9:09
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If it were me, I would try hard to get reassigned to another course, but take no other actions. Hindsight is 20/20, but it sounds like you may have pushed back less than other people the chair asked. I think if you say something like “I’m deeply uncomfortable with how this course is structured and graded and if I were to teach it, I would assign regular homework and give an exam” and you’ll find yourself reassigned. Obviously it’s not great to run the risk of offending the chair, but this is less bad for you than appealing above the chair’s grad.

Alternatively, look at some of the syllabi of courses outside the college of arts and sciences. I think you’ll find that in a lot of majors the standards for a 3 credit course are much lower than you think they are. I doubt that this course is fraudulent or as extreme an outlier as you think it is. I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching it myself, but I’m skeptical that it’s actually illegal, fraudulent, or against university policies.

10

My personal view is that I would willingly teach such a course only if I could be assured that the parameters overall were such that I could give value to the students. I can't judge the situation here with the information given, but it seems worrisome based on some of the edits and comments. The original post seemed to leave enough room to do a decent enough job. The edits, not so much.

However, I have two concerns. The first is that if you want to "step away", as is likely your best option, do so very carefully and with a smile. As an untenured faculty member you will have little chance to make changes if heads and deans, etc. are on board with this. I think it would be unwise to flatly refuse, but, with decent personal relationships, it might be possible to express your discomfort with the situation and your reluctance to get involved with it. But carefully. Carefully.

The second is more serious. If you agree to do it, or get trapped into it, you are unlikely to be able to find an escape before you achieve tenure. You will become the "go to person" for such courses and will likely be saddled with them for a while. If, indeed, it is a scam, then it would also be a mind-killer.

If, indeed, it is a scam, then you are being asked to do this because, being untenured, you find it harder to refuse.

On the other hand, if doing this provides a better path to tenure (say in a place heavily influenced by administration) then you have to think about the long term. Hard choice.


And, for the record, not all athletes are dumb. Bill Bradley of Knicks fame, comes to mind. He earned an MA from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

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    Regarding Bill Bradley, this (career overview) is an example of a fairly well known mathematician who many are not aware that he once had a fair amount of success as a (U.S.) college football player. I know several other sports examples also, but they tend to be in sports like tennis and track & field, which are not nearly as notable for their rarity of scholar athletes as is the case with football (or basketball). – Dave L Renfro Jun 7 at 8:11
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TL;DR: get the department riled up about this - this is not just your problem, but a matter of department image and prestige.

This is a really tough situation to be in, but it would be much tougher if you try to handle it by yourself. If I were in your position I would probably go ahead with taking the course (anything else would be outright rebellion, and may seriously hurt your chances of promotion). I would however

  1. Garner support from others in the department - the existence of these classes is detrimental to the department as a whole: it lowers departmental prestige, hurts it in the rankings, makes it more difficult to attract undergrad and grad students, etc.. Moreover, if you are going to make enough noise, this class will be passed on to someone else, who'll face the same problem. This is not just affecting you.
  2. Try and assess the department's attitude towards this class. If everyone is on board with this and you're the only one seeing the problem, then you will have a much tougher time moving forward. If there is a significant number of people who do not like this class, then you may be able to make your case (significant here may be one person with a lot of influence, or a lot of people with less). It may not be a bad idea to openly discuss this with your department chair: they can offer you an interesting perspective of departmental politics and the requirements handed down to them (and very well convince you of the unfortunate reality of these classes). If you have a good amount of backing, then perhaps you can generate enough momentum to change something.
  3. If all else fails, and you feel like this is seriously affecting you, then this may be a good reason to consider your prospects elsewhere - not being given a choice in teaching a class, or control over its syllabus/grading method, is not reasonable in my opinion.

Good luck!

9

Your comments to my answer say clearly that blow a whistle means to make an outcry about a case of fraud. You have however no expertise to make the judgement of fraud. This judgement is made at a higher level, such as an accreditation board. So, the answer is no, you should not and indeed cannot blow a whistle in this way.

How should you proceed?

Perhaps you are asking whether you should blow a whistle to lead a charge about the integrity of the course. As an untenured faculty, this is not a battle for you to lead or to engage fully. In essence, it is a rabbit hole that could suck away your success in your career. It is a battle for tenured faculty members to address. Engage someone at a higher level in the department to blow a whistle in this manner.

For the immediate term (summer), contact a trusted, tenured faculty member in your department. Discuss their views on whether the course is worthy as a case to raise for improvement or potential Academic Fraud. Your Faculty Senator may also have insights. Use this time to gather information about what other faculty in the department feel about the course. You may also learn about your allies and enemies for future worthy battles that you would want to fight to improve the integrity of courses in the department.

For the Fall term, teach the course. Establish what it requires and strive to meet its standards to the fullest degree possible. As you desire and as the course description permits, allow yourself the liberty to inject some degree of your own academic integrity. However, be clear at the outset about what this means in your grading rubrics, especially when they differ from your colleagues who are teaching EXACTLY the same course. Finally, when you do make changes, be prepared that you will have students who will either jump ship right away or who will complain loudly about you during and after the course, and they will likely do so to the highest level possible. In other words, tread lightly about this path.

Also, during the Fall term, grant yourself the liberty of having an easy course to teach and do something productive entirely for you.

After the Fall term, write a course assessment report. When this would be an engineering course in an accredited college, this report would be called an ABET course assessment report. Document the course requirements, what you did during the course to meet them, and what the outcomes were from your efforts. Bind these documents in a folder and post them to the department. This is your record of the level of integrity that you held under the constraints that you had to meet.

Looking ahead from that point ... Keep yourself productive in your own way and trust that, as the case may require, you have done what was demanded of you with the fullest integrity allowed. As the saying goes, you cannot be blamed after that point for anything falsely done by those above your pay grade (or tenure level in this case) and for something that you are in a position only to seek to correct by seeking further advice.

Finally, your background discussion adds information on other factors that have no bearing on the question of blowing a whistle for fraud. specifically, you raise an issue of not being willing to teach the course. I will address some aspects of it here as well.

Your teaching load is most likely assigned to you by the department Chair in consultation with you. Your Faculty Handbook sets the policy. You can ask your Chair again for the due respect to not have to teach the course. Your reasons that the credit hours are too high or that you are unwilling to "stand up in front of some student athletes" will likely fall on deaf ears. Some might consider you raising such alarms as reasons to brand you as a complainer. A senior faculty member might give you further guidance for a better reason to decline the course. One that comes to mind is to ask how teaching this course will or will not strengthen your teaching credentials for your tenure dossier. Again, your Faculty Handbook sets the guidelines to make this call.

To be fair, no one appreciates being assigned to teach a course that seems to be beneath their dignity. The proper reflection may be to define the standards that you can live with to teach the course to the best level permitted, to present your standards clearly to the students, and to hold to them as you teach. You might by inverse consider this case as a challenge in your own learning process -- how well can you learn to teach something worthy about your field to students who are not at a level that you normally would want to teach and who are likely not at all interested in learning the material in the first place.

You also say that you are unwilling to teach a course that is potentially a case of Academic Fraud because it may make you complicit in such fraud.

You did not generate or approve the initial form to create the course, you did not dictate the requirements for the course for this coming Fall, and finally you are not able at this moment in time to determine whether the course is truly a case of Academic Fraud.

Teaching what you are assigned is an obligation of your appointment as a faculty member. You must do what is assigned to you. Failing to do this is a cause to fire you. With due notice to a colleague about your concerns of the integrity of the course, you do the best that you can in your position to give notice that you want to know whether the course should be investigated even as you go forward teaching it.

In summary, raise your concerns about the integrity of the course privately to trusted senior faculty. When you mean this as your statement to blow a whistle, then yes. When by blow a whistle you mean to lead a charge on a case of fraud, no. This is not a battle for an untenured faculty to engage. When you want to consider to improve the integrity of the course, continue by gaining insights about the course, by teaching the course in the immediate future to your best standards within the bounds of its requirements, and by consulting to find allies to improve or change (remove) it.

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    "I want to blow a whistle on a case of being assigned to teach a course that is outside of my area of expertise." That seems wildly speculative as to why I do not want to teach the course. Nothing I have said indicates that I just think this class is "beneath me" from a pure subject matter stand point or outside my area of expertise. It is a straight forward matter of suspecting fraud. You are arguing against a straw man. – Vladhagen Jun 5 at 21:08
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    Why assume she wants to 'blow the whistle' for any reason other than disgust at the blatantly unethical nature of the class? – kbelder Jun 5 at 22:10
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    This answer does not address the issues of financial aid fraud, visa fraud, and NCAA penalties. Could it be that the asker would be personally liable for fraud? – Anonymous Physicist Jun 6 at 3:24
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    @Magisch I suspect if it were that simple, many universities would either have already lost their accreditation or would have stopped offering such courses. Since many universities offer such courses while retaining accreditation, my guess is there are other forces at work. – Todd Wilcox Jun 6 at 14:21
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    > you have no stand to make this specific judgement -> Everyone has a stand to speak against fraud. One could argue that everyone has a moral obligation to speak up. This answer is plainly wrong. It promotes a "not my job" attitude towards academic integrity, which is completely against everything an academic should do. – Sam Jun 7 at 8:14
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When I was a TA, there was a rumor that [Very Famous Athlete] wanted to be a math major at a rival school and had to be talked into studying basket weaving instead so that he wouldn't be distracted by homework from [Big Money Sport].

If you feel like making big waves, the mass media (journalists) are your only hope, and you should probably figure your future job choices will be limited to smaller institutions without semi-professional athletic teams. You could also try the NCAA Enforcement Division, but they seem to be most interested in safeguarding the financial profitability of athletics; e.g., looking for hidden cash benefits to athletes. Academic Fraud is unlikely to matter.

By the way, the Explorations Structure is probably so that this course can be taken three times in different quarters.

4

Call a journalist and make him/her do the dirty job for you. Simple as that. Maybe some alumn from your department ended up writing about it. If so, that would be a good choice.

  • Reading through the answers, I was thinking exactly this, that tipping off the media anonymously might be the safest way to blow the whistle. If they don't seem interested, then that probably indicates that it's common practice in the US, as some answers suggest. – Time4Tea Jun 12 at 23:31
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You know, I think I'm going to take a different stance on this than most of the answers: you should dive in!

This class sounds like it has pretty much no expectation for quality. I mean, it's just a way for athletes to get their credits, right? But that actually gives you a freedom you don't have with a regular class. If you're teaching "Data Structures in OOP", well, guess what: you're not going to be able to discuss much that isn't a Data Structure in OOP. But you're being asked to literally teach an exploration class about science (which honestly sounds pretty freaking sweet to me!)

So ask yourself this: if you could take an average everyday person and have them be smarter about one or two science things, what would they be?

  • "I wish people could understand the difference between Correlation and Causation!" Great! Then do a few sessions on that. Make a gameshow, where the contestants have to take a factoid like "Cancer rates have increased proportionally to cell phone use" and hold up one of three cards: "Causation", "Correlation", or "Coincidence".
  • "I wish people understood planning fallacy." Then go ahead and actually do a mockup of one of the famous studies in your class. Ask them how long it'd take you to drive to the football stadium and lay on the 50 yard line. How long for 90% certainty? For 99% certainty? ... and how long did it actually take you?
  • "I wish people understood the scientific method better." Awesome! Break out a bottle of supercooled pop, and show them how it freezes over when you open the lid. Ask them to come up with an explanation why - and then, come up with a way of testing that explanation. And go ahead of do some of those tests in front of them. Show them a scientific phenomena each session, and not only make them come up with a guess why, but a test that would give evidence whether their guess is right/wrong.

There's the possibility that this class could give you a lot of freedom to teach some really important things.

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    So, I would +1 you if it weren't for the fact that OP needs to introduce a number of subjects rather than spend his/her time teaching whatever they feel like... – einpoklum Jun 8 at 8:04
  • I think this is a great answer. OP: teach the class, and make it the best possible class working within the guidelines that were handed down. You beat the system by being awesome, and get the students to "Stand and Deliver". – Joe Corneli Jun 8 at 10:51
2

As an adjunct, I LOVED situations like this. (I didn't have something exactly like it, but I got paid for 4 credits for what was (on my end) a 3-credit class, and the students had other teachers for the 4th "credit" and they taught study-skills and such. My only extra obligation was a few lunches with the other instructors.) Getting one of those was like a "prize" and meant the department head liked you, I felt.

But back to yours -- can you add useful content, both inside and outside your discipline? For example: study skills! Resources on campus (include the counseling center and that there's no shame in it --I always pointed out the "happy" things there, like the Zen room or massages, so people could feel like they had a "plausible excuse" for entering that building.) What your options are when personal stuff (death, divorce, illness) means completing a semester is tough. (We had a rule students had to ASK for Incompletes -- officially we couldn't suggest them.) Balancing schoolwork, personal life, and student-athlete obligations (at my university they had a mandatory study hall, mandatory "general gym" time, plus whatever specific practices they had).

Another option is to partner with graduate programs on campus (if relevant), and if the students need a student-teach experience or to practice a lecture before a conference, they can use your class for practice. (I had a teaching college composition course -- classmates had a hard time finding classes to guest-lecture in, but they could do something for any major -- so for a chemistry course, we would be able to talk up how to clearly write lab instructions (tech writing type guidelines), "rocks for jocks" we could do something about organizing observations and how looking deeper can result in better writing.)

Do know any former student-athletes from other classes? Maybe ask them about the Explorations classes? Or what they wish they had learned earlier about coping with college?


I just saw the all-3-explorations at once thing -- yep, fraud. But I taught at an online college where they KNEW the homework answers and such were all online, and they didn't care if I busted them for plagiarism (100% word-for-word copy-paste all semester) or not. Sigh.

2

I have to ask whether you're a recent immigrant to the US, because I don't understand how else you could avoid knowing that this is absolutely the norm at pretty much every US university that has a significant sports program. There is no whistle to blow: it is a widely known practice - searching on "fake college courses for athletes" returns ~64 million hits - that is, as you've seen, tolerated & encouraged by the multitude of college sports fans that only want "their team" to win.

So the answer, unpalatable as it may seem - is just to teach the course (enjoying the benefits of not having to grade assignments &c) and hand out As and Bs to the athletes.

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    The fact that multiple people and universities are participating in this sort of fraud does not make it any less unethical for the OP to do the same. – Ray Jun 11 at 0:47
  • @Ray: But as a practical matter, I assume that the OP is not independently wealthy, and so needs a job in order to put a roof over his head and food in his stomach. So it would seem that his alternative is to find a job in industry. – jamesqf Jun 12 at 1:13
0

Course content doesn't have much to do with the credit count, but more about the level of the course (i.e., schools usually offer a code by which courses below some number are introductory, and courses above some other number are advanced). Credit count is more related to contact hours and the amount of hours a student must put into the course outside the classroom.

It's perfectly acceptable to offer a low-numbered course that requires the appropriate amount of student hours. It's less acceptable to offer students credit for work that isn't done.

Different schools may offer different auditing requirements for course credits, but a good rule of thumb is to divide a 40-hour full time work load by the normal credit load per semester. Thus, if the "normal" credit load is 15 credits, a 3 credit course should involve 40*3/15 hours per week, some of it inside and some of outside the classroom. If you don't think the course meets a standard like this that is university-appropriate, you have a valid complaint. Similarly, if you think the course is numbered at a higher level than it effectively is (e.g., and advanced number for an intro course) then you have another valid complaint. If the course is listed at the intro level, and the appropriate number of hours are required by the student, proudly teach it knowing that you are probably doing a valuable service, perhaps introducing students to a field.

The next level of "protection" for the value of a degree is the requirements to achieve the degree. This a a matter for the faculty, the department, the university leadership, and any accrediting bodies that apply. If it's possible to take only low-level courses to get a degree, I suspect that situation won't last very long.

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I'd say, start off by offering your objections to teaching the class up front -- knowing that you probably May as low-man-on-the-totem pole get ultimately stuck teaching the class.

Now, it seems like the 'participation' grading is up for debate -- you can decide what and how to grade it as you'd like. I mean you could divide the class into Presentation groups and have each group present a mini-lecture on a topic that's interesting.

Or everybody has to chime in during a group discussion

Or some kind of written evaluation based on something they're required to have read.

Or, a final project/exam/essay at the end.

I'd define participation by a standardized rubric that makes some sense... e.g. attendance = x% of the grade, final = x% of the grade, participation is x% of the grade and defined by y tasks

The course doesn't need to be super-easy (e.g. Everybody gets an A for showing up 8 times),though it should be fair...not necessarily too hard as it seems like it's more of an intro-level course. As people said, like "rocks for jocks" or whatever for non-majors, where you don't preconceive that anybody knows anything about the topics.

I'd have no problem with saying everybody starts with an A and drops it as they go through...and can improve a bad grade by doing extra work (and/or showing interest). Give them a reason to Want to learn about whatever you're teaching.

And, hopefully make it a non-fraud class...

Or, go in, and if you find you can't legitimately give students a quality class based on what you're given (e.g. your fair rubric is shot down) and you think it's fraud...then find legit but fair ways to give lower grades - e.g. not all A's...and become the hard ass professor who nobody wants and make it so they don't want you teaching it anymore.

protected by StrongBad Jun 6 at 15:13

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