Spring 2009 Grades – Whoa!

I want to preface this semester wrap-up with an anecdote that I believe provides an insightful, behind-the-scenes look of inner workings and thinking as well as speaks to important matters, such as student learning, undergraduate journalism, Academic Freedom and the kind of baleful malaise that corrupts academic values and principles.

The D:F/M chair informed me a while back that he and the D:F/M Policy & Budget Committee wanted me to take a leave from teaching Basic Reporting, MEDP 292. I was suspected of being the culprit responsible for the drop in enrollment of department majors. There was this concern that a lot of students were flunking my classes (which have high standards and expectations for students, high – I’m being kind – in light of this department’s standards).

The result, if one was to believe the chair and the P&B, was a cosmic resonance so strong that what occurred in my classroom emanated beyond its boundaries and was discouraging students (who didn’t take classes with me, who weren’t even planning to enroll in my courses) from taking the major or were being encouraged to drop it. 


Lame courses, lame instructors were not being considered. Not to mention lame policy decisions.

I refused, of course.

It is not unusual for serious students taking my basic journalism classes to secure really good internships and jobs and win J-competitions, such as those sponsored by the SPJ, and become crew members for student treks to the New Hampshire Primary, courtesy of New York Community Media Alliance, and the Democratic National Convention in Denver last August, courtesy of New America Media. Dare I say that more treks are in the works.

Advanced Reporting, MEDP 293, also is such a class. And MEDP 299.47, Feature Writing, looks like it has potential. The writing-publishing classes have helped me to develop a strategies that not only are excellent classes for serious students but have attracted grants, such as my last one from the Ford Foundation, as well as lots of plaudits and attention because of the required publishing imperative. This publish or perish imperative for undergraduates is not as stringent as it might sound but it does push the instructor and the student to a higher level of effort.

No one in my department accomplishes as much as I do with the J-classes. A better way to rephrase that is this: I challenge anyone in my department to a comparison of their teaching methods and mine and final results. Nevertheless, my innovative success have driven D:F/M bonkers, revealing an academic malaise so sordid that … [the blanks are still being filled in].

I also believe that students taking my J-classes learn more than students taking any other J-classes. Although I have pointed out internships, scholarship awards and J-contests, grants and student-treks to significant real-world happenings like political primaries and conventions, I also believe that my classes provide students the kind of critical thinking challenges that are suppose to be found in so-called theory courses taught in the department but aren’t – or aren’t taught well. Journalism as it is practiced in the United States is undergoing radical change. Why not undergraduate journalism curriculum. 

I will be arguing this point in future blogs. I got corroboration. Undergraduate journalism classes are known, simultaneously, for being notoriously and popularly soft, mushy, easy. Mine aren’t.

After I rejected the suggestion to cease teaching MEDP 292, the chair and deputy chair were subsequently quoted in the Hunter student news publication The Envoy, citing other reasons for the drop in enrollment. There were no references related to any admissions about D:F/M institutional lameness nor to the P&B’s supposition, as relayed to me by the chair, that my too tough classes were the cause for the enrollment drop. I guess having the chair and, or, the deputy chair, being quoted in the student newspaper, saying, QMfE, “We believe Professor Morris is the cause of the drop enrollment because of the way he teaches his basic reporting classes,” would have exposed the department’s modus operandi.





An unexpectedly high number of W’s (official withdrawals) and WUs (unofficial withdrawals), the latter being for those students who stopped attending class but didn’t withdraw officially, occurred this semester. I also used WU this semester for several students whose attendances were poor and who had failed to turn in assignments. They were essentially flunking the class and, clearly, were not about to do anything to improve other than to tell me they would get their act together and, of course, they didn’t.

For example, too many this semester believed that they couldn’t be held accountable for a missed assignment if they didn’t show up for class the day the assignment was due. And lots of students showed up this semester unprepared for the BR and AR courses. The latter is not a good class for students hoping to juggle jobs and internships and 15 credits in the same semester because of the required course assignments, which include reporting on City Council and Community Board meetings as well as trekking to State Supreme Court, Civil Branch.

The College has been moving to better inform students what the classes are about and I try. And what about my department?

I often warn students about the demands of the courses but the ones who eventually get into academic trouble ignore the caveats and try to bluff their way through. I use to experience real angst flunking students. D:F/M has cured that for me.

This semester was definitely a WHOA!

Acting out behavior, mild, mostly immature but still acting out, made a wry appearance. Other stuff I may  describe later. The students got the talent but many are undisciplined. My opinion, based on several years of anecdotal information, is that 30-40 percent showing up for class are going to be problematic. And the real challenge in a semester for me has been how to reduce that percentage significantly without shortchanging the students who come to class to learn. I have to note this: When I was teaching in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies at the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, it was not unusual for 30-40 percent of the students to flunk the introductory news writing class. And the failures were not the result of students who couldn’t do the work. They just refused.

So, the students who flunked this semester on the Hunter campus, as usual, had the talent to earn a B or better. And I believe that about the students who got Ws and WUs.


MEDP 292, Basic Reporting (I wish the department would change this name; it is so jejune):
A+ — 1
B+ — 1
B — 3
B- —1
CR — 1
F — 1
W — 4
WU — 2

MEDP 293, Advanced Reporting (A disaster)
A+ — 1
A — 1
B — 1 (This is temporary, expected to go up to an A)
INC — (Expected to go up to a B+)
WU — 3
W — 2

MEDP 299.47, Feature Writing (I’ve been experimenting with the best way to teach this class and I think this semester I found the rhythm.)

A — 5
A- — 1
B+ — 1
B — 2 (One is to be revised, up)
CR — 1
F — 1
INC — 2 (I could have flunked them but decided against it but there status is unknown as of this date)
WU — 2


I might want to revisit this topic/them later this summer.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.