Facebook: a post-secondary complaint forum
SASKATOON (CUP) —The university teacher-student dynamic can be a strange one.
On one hand, students are students, and should reasonably be expected to act accordingly, deferring to professors as superiors and as more knowledgeable.
On the other hand, students know they pay a good chunk of their professors’ salary, and this can sometimes lead to students feeling as though they deserve more equal footing with their instructors.
Professor June Madeley of the University of New Brunswick is one of a growing number of post-secondary instructors who has found a distinctly modern way to deal with the frustrations of an increasingly entitled student body.
“That’s PROFESSOR Uptight to you, Johnny” is a private Facebook group where professors meet to gripe about students and to support each other. Madeley, who joined two years ago when a colleague forwarded the group to her, says it fills an important void
“In high schools, they have a staff room. I’m sure they have conversations about frustrating things there. Profs don’t have that. There isn’t a lot of room for commiserating,” she said.
Madeley also said while professors share complaints about students and sometimes post hypothetical scathing responses to student emails, it is more often a venue “for self-support.”
“It’s also very helpful to know that the kinds of things we’re facing, others are facing them too,” Madeley said. “It’s a morale thing.”
The private group, which has members from Canada, America and the UK, has never been a source of trouble to a professor, as far as Madeley knows. This is different from how a group of University of Calgary students were treated after creating a group to vent about a professor.
Twins Keith and Steven Pridgen have been embroiled in a legal battle with their university since being placed on 24 months of academic probation for their membership in a Facebook group called, “I NO Longer Fear Hell, I Took a Course with Aruna Mitra.”
The group was not private, Keith said, though “it was not intended to be for the public.” The Facebook group’s creator, Tom Strangward, said that he did not really think about that aspect of it when he made the group.
The Pridgens won their case against the U of C in late 2010, when Justice Jo-Ann Strekaf ruled the university was required by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to respect the Pridgens’ right to free speech.
In early 2010, the U of C announced its intention to appeal the ruling, claiming it was seeking “clarification.”
Keith Pridgen said the appeal hearing “could reasonably be heard before the court by early November, although the date is not set in stone as of yet.”
When asked about the Pridgens’ case, Madeley said she hopes students exhaust every possible official option before turning to online complaining when faced with an unsatisfactory teacher.
“I think the fact that (the U of C group) was public was more of a problem,” she said. “Professors have contracts, they need to meet tenure; if review committees were looking at it, that would be inappropriate, in the same way that Rate My Professor is inappropriate for (assessing professors).”
Pridgen said he and his brother had, in fact, already contacted the university through conventional channels with no success.
“We brought questions to the professor during class,” he said. “Then we began to appeal our grades to the head of the program.”
After this led to many students receiving an even lower grade, Pridgen said they took their complaint to the associate dean of law. This led to higher grades for many students, but the Pridgens also found out that the head of their program, who had lowered their grades, was married to the professor they were upset with.
“It was only after all this that we decided to join a Facebook group intended only for fellow students to voice their concerns about the professor.”
On the other side of this fraught relationship is Madeley, who said that it can be difficult to teach class upon class of students who expect more and more from professors in return for less and less work.
“(Teaching) really is such a demoralizing experience, sometimes,” said Madeley.