Shannon Proudfoot, Canwest News Service, Monday, November 10, 2008
Most university students believe that if they’re “trying hard,” a professor should reconsider their grade.
One-third say that if they attend most of the classes for a course, they deserve at least a B, while almost one-quarter “think poorly” of professors who don’t reply to e-mails the same day they’re sent.
Those are among the revelations in a newly published study examining students’ sense of academic entitlement, or the mentality that enrolling in post-secondary education is akin to shopping in a store where the customer is always right.
Students who are academically entitled are more likely to engage in academic cheating, exploit others and shirk hard work, the study found.
Jana Chytilova/Ottawa Citizen
The paper describes academic entitlement as “expectations of high marks for modest effort and demanding attitudes toward teachers.”
It’s a hot topic – and source of much frustration – among instructors, says author Ellen Greenberger, a research professor of psychology and social behaviour at the University of California-Irvine.
“I would have trembled with fear before I suggested to some of my revered teachers that I wanted them to give me a higher grade,” she says, chuckling about how attitudes have changed.
Greenberger’s study reveals that students who are academically entitled are more likely to engage in academic cheating, exploit others, shirk hard work and display “narcissistic orientation.”
She found virtually no connection between self-entitled attitudes and grades, meaning it’s not just weak students trying to wheedle better marks out of their profs, and those who do so aren’t reaping the benefits on their transcripts.
“It certainly suggests that these attitudes and behaviours aren’t producing the desired effect,” she says. “It’s just making teachers crazy.”
Greenberg was surprised that parenting appears to have little influence in shaping self-entitled students, with one key exception: students who say their parents often compare their achievements to siblings, cousins or friends are more likely to engage in these behaviours.
It may be that young people who are pushed to keep up with the Joneses develop a shaky sense of self-esteem and use academic entitlement as a “coping strategy” to get good grades by any means necessary, she says.
The study, which surveyed two groups of approximately 400 undergraduates aged 18 to 25, is published in the November issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
Technology may encourage some of this demanding student behaviour because e-mail is quick, provides easy access to professors and opens the door to a less formal and respectful tone, Greenberger says.
“In-person communication obliges you to look the person in the eye as you’re about to say, ‘You really ought to give me a B because I came to most of the classes.'” she says. “Try saying that face-to-face.”
However, professors may well be guilty of the same impertinence in e-mails to their students, she says.
Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University who has witnessed this behaviour in his own students, blames it largely on the self-esteem movement that ties evaluation of work with personal judgment.
“If I give a student a B or a B-minus or a C – God forbid – I have to explain to them because they haven’t learned it in elementary school that I’m not evaluating their personality and I’m not even evaluating work they intended to do; I’m evaluating the work they submitted and it’s not personal,” he says.
He sees the roots of this in own children’s elementary school, where spelling is sometimes not corrected for fear of squelching students’ creativity and walls are adorned with grammatically incorrect work.
The “consumer revolution” has also convinced some students that universities and professors are service providers, Troy says. Both he and Greenberger believe anonymous student course evaluations have fuelled this and left some professors capitulating to student pressure because evaluations can be tied to tenure and advancement.
“It’s kind of like, ‘OK, you’ve done your grading of my work, now I’m going to grade you,'” Gil says. “And it’s often grading you as a performer.”
The study asked approximately 400 undergraduates aged 18 to 25 whether they agreed with these statements:
If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade – 66.2 per cent agree
If I have completed most of the reading for a class, I deserve a B in that course – 40.7 per cent
If I have attended most of the classes for a course, I deserve at least a grade of B – 34.1 per cent
Teachers often give me lower grades than I deserve on paper assignments – 31.5 per cent
Professors who won’t let me take my exams at another time because of my personal plans (e.g. a vacation) are too strict – 29.9 per cent
A professor should be willing to lend me his/her course notes if I ask for them – 24.8 per cent
I would think poorly of a professor who didn’t respond the same day to an e-mail I sent – 23.5 per cent
Professors have no right to be annoyed with me if I tend to come late to class or tend to leave early – 16.8 per cent
A professor should not be annoyed with me if I receive an important call during class – 16.5 per cent
A professor should be willing to meet with me at a time that works best for me, even if inconvenient for the professor – 11.2 per cent.