Wednesday, November 19, 2008

University fires teacher for publicly identifying cheaters

The Daily Texan - University fires teacher : "The six students received F’s and were reported to the school, but their grades may not stand because of Young’s blog post [in which he publicly identified them]."

Not terribly long ago, at a school where I'm no longer on the active call-out roster, I busted a student for plagiarism. Dead to rights I caught the student, as in, "I took the last sentence of your essay and Googled it as a text-string search, and the only hit I got led me to your essay, verbatim, looking me in the face." When I went to my department chair, the first thing he asked me was whether or not I could document the cheating. Inside my head, my first response was, "Gee, you think I'd waste your time if I couldn't?" The second thing he asked me was if I felt inclined to give the student another chance. Out loud, I responded, "No, the students were specifically warned in my college-approved course syllabus that cheating would automatically result in a course grade of zero, no exceptions." And then he asked me if I was willing to let the student drop the course (W). I was astounded, and grew even more so when he then told me that unless I went immediately through the registrar to fail the student, the student could (via a not-so-roundabout process) drop my class without penalty and without my approval or comment!

This is the crux: students are no longer in any way held accountable for their actions. It starts in the public schools, where it's an open secret that teachers aren't allowed to fail more than X% of their students (and they have to document that they bent over backwards to help/assist the student, notified the parents multiple times, etc.), and that if every little step to "re-teach" hasn't been taken, the failing grade can (and often will) be overridden. Knowing this, students are quite confident in doing no work and/or cheating, because the onus is not on them but on their teachers to justify the grades. "You can't fail all of us, even though no one did the work, because if you do, you will get in trouble, not us." And yes, this even goes down to something as simple as doing worksheets!

In this professor's case, the students will probably end up getting course credit because, parallel to the public teachers, the professor did not follow proper procedure. And while violating FERPA is a huge no-no and the university is justified in not rehiring that adjunct, giving the students credit for cheating sends entirely the wrong signal here. They were warned that this could happen, why are they surprised and/or angry when it does?!? But because the entire education establishment is now "learner-centered," as in, "we need the learners in the seats so that we can get money," they know that they will now be rewarded, not punished.

But it's just plagiarism. The worst that can happen is that you end up Vice President.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Comparing the Election of 2008 to... Part I: 1800

[okay, I never did get the graphics issue resolved to my satisfaction, so I'm going to just write it out long-hand. And because I'm doing that, I might as well start with...]

Two parties that cannot stand each other, hurling mud and invective against the other faction's candidate. False charges, threats of violence, even revolution if the wrong person wins. A lot of fuss for two men in powdered wigs, but that's 1800.

Senator Obama's elevation to the White House is a big deal. Considering the long history of black Americans, for one to win a presidential election is a milestone, one that cannot be ignored. We can ruminate on the current significance of that in some future conversation; right now, it's time to play History Lesson and put this election into its proper historical context. And for our purposes here, that means forgoing the race angle as much as possible; race is simply too much of a non sequitur to be brought up at every turn and twist. Thus, apologies now to everyone who wants to harp on that point.

Let's look at the big points of comparison between the two elections, 1800 and 2008:

  1. Unpopularity of the sitting President --without a doubt this played a major role in the elections of both Jefferson and Obama. John Adams's Federalists had come close to bringing the nation into a war to which a significant number of Americans objected. To pay for this war, taxes had been increased, further angering opponents of the war. Worried about the effect that opposition newspapers were having on volatile electorates, the Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, effectively criminalizing anti-government speech. Ironically, the Sedition Act had the effect of galvanizing the Republican opposition instead of stifling it. When the Quasi-War hysteria passed, many supporters of the Federalist faction began second-guessing the Adams Administration. In the 2008 election, we had a president who (evidently, according to Gallup) is the most unpopular president ever recorded, an economy with rising unemployment and much anxiety about the financial infrastructure. Oh, and said president led the nation into a once-popular-but-now-not-so-much-even-though-most-Americans-now-think-we've-won-or-are-winning war.

  2. Regional appeal of the opposing candidates. Jefferson's support came solidly from the South and the trans-Appalachian states, but he only won the election because he carried the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Obama's support is perimeterial in nature (is that even a word? It is now, heh), with the coastal states and the Great Lakes solidly lining up behind him, and key swing states --including Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York-- also coming into line. Obama also picked up support in other traditional (last 30 years) Republican areas, so in that sense, he is much less a creature of the regions than Jefferson.

  3. Nastiness of the campaign. In both elections, the candidates themselves eschewed the sort of negative attacks that Americans find distasteful from their presidents, but love to see from their subordinates. McCain was noticeably more negative as the campaign wore on, and some believe that it held him back (while others consider it his fatal flaw that he didn't "go negative" sooner). The attacks on Jefferson and Adams by their respective opponents are the stuff of legend. Federalists warned that Jefferson would import the guillotine from France and begin executions of his opponents. Republicans warned that Adams wanted to institute a hereditary monarchy and aristocracy. Both sides' supporters published false, malicious and/or misleading statements about the other guy --in fact, this was used by the Federalists as continued justification for the Sedition Act. In that sense, nothing much has changed in over 200 years, although the number of Republicans demanding the jailing of the New York Times staff remains quite small. (NB there is a real sense, on the other hand, that an Obama Administration may punish those perceived to be "hostile"; witness the bumping of reporters from Obama One is the closing days from papers whose editorial pages supported McCain.)

  4. Congressional coattails. In 1800 the Republicans rode the wave of dissatisfaction to commanding leads in both chambers of the Congress, with a 68-38 majority in the House but only a 17-15 majority in the Senate (one vacant House seat, two vacant Senate seats). While the Democrats already controlled both chambers going into the 2008 elections, they have managed to increase their margin to fifty-odd votes in the House (435 members total) and are close to 59 seats in the Senate (including the two independents who caucus with them; also depending on the final vote tally in the Minnesota race). Significantly, though, Jefferson may have had the better deal, as the Senatorial filibuster had not yet come into existence and debate could be closed by a simple majority vote. In the end, there would be limits to Jefferson's power over Congress, such as the rise of the "Tertium Quids" who ultimately out-Jeffersoned Jefferson in their adherence to strict constructionalism. Party unity in the present day, however, is generally much more structured, although the Blue Dog faction in the House may yet pose problems for Obama and his close ally, House Speaker Pelosi. (Aside: the grand irony is that Jefferson's coattails almost did him no good, as this election was an electoral tie owing to shenanigans involving Republican electors and rumors that Aaron Burr, the designated running mate, may have actually wanted to be at the head of the ticket. As such, the outgoing Federalist-dominated House actually decided the election, ultimately choosing Jefferson as the "known" devil over the "ambitious" Burr.)

  5. Ramifications for the judiciary. I doubt severely that we will see the kind of repercussions in the judiciary in the modern day that the nation saw in the wake of the 1800 election. The court system was simply far too small and limited to have any real impact --or so it would seem. Yet Federalists so feared the Republican take-over that they deliberately stacked the judiciary in an attempt to limit the power of the Republican government. From this came the case of Marbury vs Madison,from which I take great pleasure in discussing how Chief Justice John Marshall out-constructed Jefferson and Madison and argued that an ultra-strict reading of the Constitution actually gave the Court the power to deny itself an ability (mandamus), yet in so doing achieve the greater power of interpreting the Constitution, even to the point of being able to nullify acts of the Congress which it felt violated the Constitution. Jefferson and his allies would then spend the next few years targeting judges for impeachment, ultimately with very limited success. Given the nature of Senate procedure today, especially the reluctance of the Senate to formally adjourn (thus giving the President the opportunity to make recess appointments), there will be no similar court-packing today.

    6. The popular vote. Not that it mattered in Jefferson's time, since the vast majority of the electors were chosen by the state legislatures (Electoral College 1.5, as I like to call it), nevertheless Jefferson won about 68% of the popular vote in those areas where electors were thus chosen. Obama's margin is much much smaller, on the order of 53% or so.

--okay, I think that will do for a start. Comments are most welcome. Coming next time: the election of 1824.

But...but...there's only so much Farsi I can learn before they go broke!

#115 Promising to Learn a New Language

It's no great secret that a significant number of poker players in my area are foreign-born. In fact, it makes things much more interesting. The casino-standard rule "English-only at the tables during a hand" has started many heated arguments.

A good many of my acquaintances are Persian-born, exiles from the Islamic revolution of 1978-9. So I am s-l-o-w-l-y learning conversational Farsi --which, not coincidentally, is a good way to learn to swear and order drinks in most Middle Eastern bars. It's also fun because I become a source of much amusement when I mangle pronunciations...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shedding Potential Kos/Huff Cooties

You know you you are, and you know why you're here, so let me spell out the other side for the sake of balance:

Suppose McCain/Palin wins the election, but the Senator from Arizona is Unavailable before December 15, the date of the formal election of the President via the Electoral College ballots. Republican electors have two options: to honor the spirit of the Constitution's Article II and the 20th Amendment and vote Gov. Palin as President-Elect; or to select a candidate of their own choosing, perhaps at the behest of the Republican National Committee. YOUR worst-case scenario, worse than Newt, worse than Cheney, even worse than Huckabee: Tom Delay is elected President. Remember: he's not a convicted felon, and it's looking a lot like all the charges will end up being dismissed in the end anyway.

[This post relates to a comment I made on The Volokh Conspiracy regarding what might happen should the Senator from Illinois win the election but decede before December 15.}

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Folly of Temper

It may come as a surprise to some (but not to those really close to me) that I actually have a very nasty temper. It was much worse when I was younger (testosterone?), and I have made many long strides in the last ten years in bringing it to a manageable level. It still shows itself in verbal slips now and again, but that just adds to my curmudgeonly charm. It's when It (that's what I call the beast) surfaces when things can quickly get ugly.

Wednesday night, after a particularly questionable hand of poker, It emerged. Its immediate target was an innocent, inanimate cocktail table. I attempted to place-kick it across the room. Left-footed --that's how upset I was. Unfortunately, said table proved to be much heavier than it looked. I did knock it over, but at the cost of a broken severely bruised big toe. The next day, I was unable to do any serious walking. And the day after that. And today.

It was today when I really regretted my folly, because Mrs. declared it was such a nice day that she wanted to take the Wee One to the zoo for the very first time. After some protests, I gave in and walked all over the park with my family. The Wee One enjoyed it and my wife now adores me (again). I managed to walk slowly without putting weight on that toe --which inordinately stressed the calf of that leg as a consequence, and so I'm back to limping at half-speed anyway.

Bright spot: I can still lift at the gym and do cardio, so the workouts continue apace. I'm glad I'm no longer doing free-weight squats.