Sunday, June 24, 2012

Proposed DACs would undermine teaching and relations between teachers and students

The post below is an edited version of comments sent to David Kanis on the new philosophy DAC. I asked Kanis to share them with other faculty because the component of the blog it criticizes--documentation of help we give to students in their writing and other work--almost certainly applies to DACs across the university. The comments below apply only to that one element the DACs. I endorse birobi's post below giving a more comprehensive account of the meaning of these new DACs.

The documentation of “additional activities” required as evidence of superior teaching constitutes a form of petty harassment. Are we do ask students to fill out a form indicating our help to them each time we meet in assisting them in their research, mentor them, or lead a study group? Of course, this is possible to do, but it is a ridiculous form of petty harassment. It does more to remind us that we are underlings than it does to enhance teaching and mentoring of students.

The requirement that we documentsuch activities as a condition of receiving raises or promotions changes them from meaningful activities of being a real teacher to things we do in order to receive a raise. (For evidence of how such extrinsic motivation undermines the intrinsic meaning of important activities see the research of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan; if you would like further documentation of their research and how it applies to the changes in the DAC, I can provide this upon request.) The generalization is that extrinsic motivations for performing intrinsically meaningful activities undermines their intrinsic meaning and importance.
Mentoring and tutoring students are parts of the meaningful activity of being a teacher. We do these things because we are teachers. What gives our lives as teachers meaning is seeing our students learn. Giving an external incentive for them will tend to make us do them for that external incentive, and the evidence is that acting on such external incentives undermines their intrinsic meaning. So instead of helping students in order to see them learn the material we do so in order to get a raise, retain our job, etc.

It would be easy and trivial to create the required documentation: prepare a series of form letters and place them on our office doors. Each time a student comes for advising, mentoring, tutoring or a study session, ask the student to fill out the form, including the time and date and the activity that we carried out together.
But such documentation UNDERMINES THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TEACHER AND STUDENT. Now we help students because we are teachers and helping them advances their learnings. The students see that this is what we are doing; this creates a morally-motivated relationship between teachers and students. If we ask students to fill out a form explaining the help we give them, that changes the relationship from a moral one to a business relationship of tit-for-tat: I help you with the course material; you help me to get a raise (keep my job) by filling out the form.

So the required documentation of teaching activities is a stupid form of petty harassment that would undermine intrinsic motivation to be a teacher and undermine relationships with students.


  1. Well said, Paul. The student-teacher/professor relationship is one that all teachers/professors hold almost sacred (I know you wouldn't use that term, Paul). A 'positive', trusting relationship between student and teacher is central to any learning endeavor. Of course, those who make policy around here would not know this because they are not educators but merely political functionaries. Even more evidence of why universities require scholars to lead them. And this leadership should be in the form of implementing the polices created by those most invested in and knowledgeable about the university; its faculty and students. How many times do we have to say that our students are not customers and that the university is not a business?

  2. I think Corday puts it best when she says that students don't come to CSU because of the administration, they come in spite of it. They don't stay because of the administration, but in spite of it. The political hack who nominally heads this place thinks it's about him. It's always about students and faculty and the relationship between the two.