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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Garden State: Grade Inflation in Higher Ed, Part VI

By Nicholas Stix
July 4, 2001
Toogood Reports

With 200,000 students and 12,000 faculty members, the City University of New York (CUNY) system may be the nation’s largest system of organized educational crime, defrauding taxpayers out of as much as $4 billion per year, and issuing meaningless grades, but CUNY is far from unique.

During the mid-1990s, I taught in New Jersey, at Passaic Community College and four-year William Paterson College (WPC).

Passaic CC had a very simple grade fraud program. As I once observed while waiting outside my English Department chairwoman’s office, a full-time faculty member would go over her remedial student roll, and each time she came to the name of someone who had failed the New Jersey Basic Skills Test at the end of the class in question, she would say, “justified.” And like magic, the boss would pass the student. This was known as the process of “justification.” It was restricted to full-time faculty.

If only the students had known that the trick for “passing” remedial classes was to get a full-time, rather than an adjunct professor, I’m sure the ones stuck with adjuncts would have sued the school!

While Passaic CC was virtually white-free — “very inner-city” was the description by the white male, WPC adjunct colleague who suggested I look for work there — WPC’s student body was predominantly white. Its website says that “The institution was founded in 1855 as the Paterson City Normal School in response to the growing demand for professional preparation of teachers-in-service in the emerging free public schools of Paterson.”

William Paterson’s leaders used the teacher ed card during the 1920s to get state legislators to radically expand its mandate as an official teacher ed mill.

Long before I started teaching there, WPC had become a center of feminist and multicultural orthodoxy. A tenured philosophy instructor, Paula Katz Rothenberg, hadn’t taught in years, yet was paid out of Philosophy Department funds to run The New Jersey Project, a program which develops feminist cadres for the purposes of re-writing history, misrepresenting contemporary society, terrorizing males of all ages, and in particular, harassing men professors.

Meanwhile, teacher ed students showed off their erudition, by hanging banners in stairwells displaying “corrected,” classic quotes from the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Whenever the generic masculine pronoun appeared in the original quotation, the future teachers would follow it with “[sic],” as if old Ralph and Hank hadn’t known proper English!

Until then somewhat selective regarding white applicants, but less so regarding black and Hispanic applicants, during the mid-1990s, WPC unofficially switched to an open admissions policy for black and Hispanic applicants. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy school officials.

In fall, 1993, I had two charming but borderline female Puerto Rican students in my remedial writing class. I was afraid they might flunk the final examination, an essay which would be graded by two independent readers from among my adjunct faculty colleagues, while I graded other colleagues’ students. The minimum passing grade was a combined score of seven, out of a possible twelve.

The Puerto Rican students not only passed, they got “nines.” The highest grade in the class was a ten, which went to a white female. The best writer among the white men, an Irishman named Gallagher, got only an eight. Another white man, a fellow named Schneider, who was one of the best writers in the class, was flunked, with a six.

I informed Elizabeth “Betty” DeGroot, the director of the writing program, that I was passing Schneider. She didn’t argue the point.

The grading was transparently corrupt. Each student’s name was on the “blue book,” in which he wrote his essay. My colleagues, over ninety percent of whom were white feminists, simply determined the testee’s race or ethnicity based on his name, and graded him accordingly.

One of my black students at nearby Passaic Community College told me that a black friend of hers at William Paterson had complained to her that WPC professors conspired to make black students fail. I told her that if anything, there was a conspiracy to make black students pass!

The “conspiracy theory” was, no doubt, the work of black administrators and instructors, who themselves had frequently been hired based on the “qualifications” of being black and racist. As Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate report in The Shadow University, it has become routine at campuses across the country for black administrators and instructors to fill black freshmen’s minds with racist persecution fantasies.

As Kors and Silverglate report, Harvard assistant dean and co-chairman of the Association of Black Faculty and Administrators, Lawrence Watson, has told black students, “When you experience racial insensitivity in the classroom, whatever way you choose to deal with it is valid, provided you are willing to accept the consequences.... Overreacting and being paranoid is the only way we can deal with this system.... Never think that you imagined it, because chances are that you didn’t.”

But the Lawrence Watson quote was from the “good old days” of 1989. Similarly, the black conspiracy theory circulating at William Paterson College preceded further “reforms” meant to guarantee that black students passed their exams.

In fall, 1994, my WPC English Department chairwoman, Catarina Edinger, eliminated the New Jersey Basic Skills Test (NJBST), and expanded the time for the essay from 20 to 75 minutes. The NJBST was known to trip up weak students, which, of course, was its purpose. Although the time allotted for the essay was expanded, the standards used in grading it were watered down even more.

During the same year in which Catarina Edinger was cheating on state standards, the school was engaged in a “Comprehensive Analysis” of all academic programs, under the pretext of tightening standards.

The following paragraph is a complete final examination essay I received from one of my remedial English students that semester.

My father is the one person who I can truly say has helped me through school and work and just life in general, he has helped me to learn how to wash my clothes by showing me in detail from what Detergent to use Down to how long it will take them to Dry, and when ever I had trouble with school work he allways sat down and showed me what I was doing wrong and then showed me the right way and made me pratice it many times over, for example when the time I didn’t know how to Do frations he showed me how to do them and then tested me on them. There was a nother time when my father tought me how to Lift weightfirst he bought a weight set then we started from the brench press to the squat, he tought me ever thing I know. wHen I was first hired at Roy Rogers he was the one who showed me the fastes and best way to clean the grill because He’s a manager of that store in that area also. What makes my father such a great teacher in my eye’s is that he takes his time with me Doesn’t yell and most important of all He explains in very fine Detail whats and has to be done in that situation.

In conclusion to my essay I felt that my father is a good teacher throughtout my Life has tought me a great Deal of many things that I have needed to be successful up to this point in life.

The student received a combined grade of six. My supervisor, Betty DeGroot, gave me the “option” (read: Pass him, if you know what’s good for you) of passing him. Though the student, a young black man, was of sterling character, I flunked him. My mistake.

DeGroot requested that I change the grades of two other students from the same class, whom I had flunked. One student had after countless disruptions stepped over the line, in seeking to humiliate me in front of my class. When I ordered him to leave, he refused, demanding instead that I “step outside” with him. When he finally vacated the room, it was too late.

The next class, he showed up, smirking from ear to ear, and waving a letter from my chairwoman, Catarina Edinger, “requesting” that I re-admit him to class. There were “only two weeks” to go before the final examination, she wrote, and “he needs the time to prepare.” Prepare for what? He was finished. I called campus police, who removed him. Edinger later informed me, that the student had told her exactly what he had done during the previous class.

Anticipating that Edinger would side with the student, and not wanting to be guilty of insubordination, I hadn’t informed her about the incident.

At the time, I got rides from school to Manhattan from a full-time, Philosophy Department colleague. An English Department colleague named Barbara had recently started riding along with us. After years of adjuncting, Barbara had been hired by WPC to a full-time, tenure-track position. She complained of her terrible treatment as a CUNY adjunct professor, where she was never so much as invited to apply for full-time positions. She also reported that when a CUNY student made physical threats against her, she was permitted to immediately drop him from her class, and received police escorts to and from class.

Barbara expected and got my sympathy for her sufferings. I assumed that her expectation was borne of some general sense of fairness and decency; I was wrong. When I told her of being threatened by my student, and of calling the campus police to eject him, Barbara lectured me, “You can’t do that, if you want to teach here!” “Teach” meant “as an adjunct,” or perhaps “as a convicted white male, and suspected heterosexual adjunct.”

The student I had removed was a white male, but his Latin-sounding name was Portuguese. Hence, it is possible that he received an apartheid bonus. Or maybe he just got a “pissing-on-a-white-male-adjunct” bonus.

The irony of this student’s case, is that the only full-timers at WPC who had any respect for the higher learning, were the three campus police officers who led him away from my class. Smirking and waving Edinger’s letter in their faces, the student instructed them, “He has to take me in!” The supervising officer responded, “It’s his classroom, and if he doesn’t want you there, you don’t go there.”

The other student whose grade Betty DeGroot “requested” I change, was a black female who had skipped ten out of thirty classes (four absences were the limit, as per my syllabus), and had not completed a single writing assignment. She had made a point of cutting class on writing days, and once lectured me that, “If I pass the final, you have to pass me!”

I refused to change the respective students’ grades, but am confident that DeGroot changed them, anyway. But that wasn’t enough for Edinger and DeGroot, who apparently were hell-bent on teaching me a lesson.

The funny thing is that, posing as my friend, DeGroot had confided to me, early during the fall 1994 semester that, following the lesbian campaign against the chairman of the Sociology Department, Vincent Parillo (or as a part of it?), there was “a tidal wave of charges against white-male adjuncts” by female students. DeGroot turned out, however, to be encouraging the harassment. The beautiful teaching evaluations (“amazing”) I’d received at WPC apparently counted for nothing.

After the semester ended, I got a series of telephone calls and letters from DeGroot and Edinger, trying to get me to travel out to WPC, for a “hearing” regarding the black female student. I no longer worked there, and DeGroot and Edinger both knew that such a round-trip from Queens would take six hours. Had any full-timer ever had to endure such a hearing? “No,” replied DeGroot.

DeGroot admitted that the only person ever to suffer through such abuse was an adjunct who had wanted to continue teaching at WPC (I forgot to ask if they let him return.) DeGroot also wanted me to send a copy of my grade book from the class — which was already in storage in one of some fifty milk crates — to prove my innocence. It seems the young woman insisted that she had attended all classes, and written all required class essays. I told DeGroot that since I had returned all class work to my students, if the young woman was telling the truth, she would possess her nine original class essays, and her nine corrected versions, with which to prove her case.

DeGroot and Edinger evidently sought to lure me back to campus for some sort of kangaroo court (show trial?), in order to put me in my place. Faculty union functionaries had previously told me that the union would not help adjuncts. For weeks, DeGroot and Edinger kept leaving messages on my answering machine and sending me letters, until I wrote to the school president, threatening to sue the school, unless they ceased and desisted. After that, Edinger and DeGroot left me alone.

WPC had paid me the standard adjunct rate at all New Jersey state two and four-year schools, of $6.75 per hour — before taxes and transportation costs — to take such abuse. (On paper, the adjunct pay scale was $27.00 per “contact hour,” meaning classroom hour, but each classroom hour required three hours of preparation, which for English Comp classes largely involved the correcting and grading of papers.
(In case you’re wondering how the DeGroots and Edingers treated full-timers, my full-time colleague Barbara once admitted to me — in a most defensive tone — that she flunked over 75 percent of the black students in her college-level English course. But no kangaroo courts for her.)

There was one student in that remedial English class whose attendance and behavior were good, and whom I flunked, without repercussion. The young man in question was a Polish immigrant. Betty DeGroot never asked me to change his grade.

In case you’re wondering whether William Paterson College was ever punished for defrauding New Jersey’s taxpayers out of millions of dollars per year, its website currently brags that, “Based upon the quality and breadth of our faculty and our academic, cultural and community service programs, on June 27, 1997, the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education accepted the college’s petition to become The William Paterson University of New Jersey.”

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