Friday, November 12, 2010

University of Manitoba and the Downfall of the Canadian Education System

In case you haven't heard, this is what's been happening at the University of Manitoba. A professor protested the university's decision to award the doctoral degree to a student who failed his comprehensive exams twice. He also failed to complete the required graduate courses. The university bent over backwards in order to convince itself that the student should be accommodated. Requirements were lowered, comprehensive exams were waived, undergrad courses were accepted as if they were graduate courses with no extra work involved. The brave professor who protested this insanity was ostracized and punished. He was suspended for three months without pay just for believing that a PhD degree has to be earned. What a monster.

This craziness perpetrated and defended by the University of Manitoba (which used to be a respectable institution of higher learning)
led Prof. Lukacs to seek a court injunction in September against the awarding of the PhD. In doing so, the university alleges he continued his “insubordination” and “harassment,” and violated the student’s privacy by filing court documents that refer to the anxiety disorder. For this, Prof. Lukacs was suspended without pay for the rest of the year, a penalty his union is contesting. A threat of further punishment followed his filing of a supporting affidavit from a colleague. The doctorate was in fact awarded to the student, and so in some ways the case is now moot, even as its next court date looms later this month.
Imagine that. The only professor on campus who still remembers what the words "academic standards" refer to is accused of "insubordination." Apparently, the university's administration feels they are a military institution or something like that. They forget that it is supposed to be a professors job to have opinions and even - oh, horror! - voice them from time to time.

I have observed a while ago this tendency towards handing out degrees to complete ignoramuses who barely know how to read. What we need to remember is that, in its push to reward incompetence, stupidity and laziness, the administrators effectively rob their current, past and future students. As their degree begins having an ever-lessening value, alumni and current students of the University of Manitoba and other similar institutions will have nobody else to blame but their administrators who have been handing out degrees to every passing idiot and punishing those who have the courage to question this insanity.

Shame on you, University of Manitoba, for doing so much to lower the standards of the system of higher learning in Canada. Shame on you for making Canadian degrees (including mine) an international joke.

* Thanks to my reader V., a professor in Canada, who sent me the link to this article.


Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

I read this post with a great deal of interest. Many years ago, I left the best PhD program in my field halfway into it, just before my oral exams. There were many reasons for my leaving, and one reason was that I could not fathom how I'd get through my oral exams without the benefit of being able to write anything down or refer to written text. It wasn't that I hadn't studied. It's that I had a then-undiagnosed auditory processing condition that makes following speech very difficult, especially for long periods of time and in stressful situations. I'm getting ready to go back to grad school, and I'd like at some point to pursue a PhD again, but the question of the oral exam always stymies me in the same way that the written exam seems to have stymied the student in Manitoba.

If I'm reading your post correctly, it seems to me that you are not saying that you are against accomodating the young man's medical condition, but that you don't think that it was proper to waive the requirements of a written exam and graduate level coursework. I would wholeheartedly agree. I wonder what ideas you would have about how to accomodate someone in an oral exam with an auditory processing condition. If I knew ASL, I could sign, but I don't.

Clarissa said...

I am absolutely in favor of accommodating any legitimate medical condition a student might have. Normally, students with disabilities inform me IN ADVANCE of any problem they might have and we find a solution together. An oral exam can be substituted with a written one and vice versa, for example. Different formats of taking an exam can be explored. Last year, for example, I had a student who had exam anxiety. We met on a regular basis until she felt comfortable with me. When the exam time came, I found a separate room for her and told her I will constantly be around to offer any help she needed. Also, I let her take as much time as she needed to complete the exam. In the course of the exam, whenever she got anxious, I came by and talked her through the process. She got an A for the exam and for the course.

The fact that the student at the U of Manitoba never mentioned any exam anxiety until AFTER s/he failed the exam twice makes me doubt that there was any legitimate medical concern here. Also, the student refused any accommodations being made (which was suggested by the department) in order to retake the exam in a different format.

When you start your graduate degree, I suggest you talk to your advisor in advance and I have no doubt that a mutually satisfactory compromise will be worked out.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Thanks, Clarissa! It's been over twenty years since I've been in an academic environment, and it's good to see the possibilities. I just talked with a friend today who went to the same school I'm applying to, and she said that people there are very helpful with any challenges a student might have. So good news all around!

There are times I wish I could go back and finish my English degree, but since I was able to get an MA out of the process, I don't feel too badly. Onto the future...

Anonymous said...

Auditory processing, it would seem this would be easy to get around by doing the "oral" exam in a chat room.
People could even gather in the same room to do this, just type instead of talk.

This story is very interesting on all sorts of levels.

NancyP said...

If you need real-time oral-to-written language conversion, voice recognition software used for high-volume dictation (eg, for medical reports) may be your ticket. If the department or uni doesn't have the software, you might be able to take the exam off hours at an uni-affiliated hospital possessing the software.

The software isn't perfect but it is improving. Dragon is the best-known brand, and it is expensive.