Finally, I’ve found a news story that combines two great things - education and food. A professor at California State University is being investigated after insisting students brings snacks to his classes. If students fail to bake, not only do they go hungry, but he refuses to teach; the lesson being that students must learn the consequences of their actions.
He argues that there are sound pedagogical reasons for doing so. Firstly, the labs are 3 hours long and it is hard for students to concentrate when they are hungry. Secondly, these students are in large, depersonalised classes and the act of sharing food makes the class more informal and strengthens the bond between tutor and students and amongst students. Finally, he argues he is building time and team management skills which will have value for these students in the wider world. I think he’s right on all three.
However, while I can’t fault his intentions, this sits uncomfortably as we move towards a service orientated higher education system. Can we make demands on students, especially those paying £9,000 in fees, and then protest if our demands aren’t met? I would argue we can, and we must, as long as they are reasonable.
If we argue, as the professor has done, that the said demand is part of the learning outcomes for that class and funding was available (he insists snacks must be homemade, which given Jamie Oliver’s humongous ingredients list isn’t cheap) then setting such a task wouldn’t be unreasonable. But refusing to teach is another matter. You couldn’t refuse to teach if say, half the students failed their assignment, for example. The consequences for the students who failed to meet the learning outcome is a poor mark. It wouldn’t be fair on the students that passed, or those who failed who arguably need the teaching much more, to refuse to teach as result.
I’m not suggesting he grades their baking of course, although that would be interesting. However, he would need to justify that the provision of snacks is a learning requirement to colleagues and students, which seems not to have happened here; clearly, fault lies with the faculty administration, as well as with the professor.
Increased student fees won’t mean we can’t make demands on our students. It may just mean that we need to be even more open to discuss, and justify, the decisions we make with colleagues and more crucially, with students.
All I know is I’d like to take his class.
The details of the story can be found here.