The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, October 30, 1991, Page 5, Image 5

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UNL basking in mediocrity
By Joyce Ann Joyce
When I attended orientation
for new faculty members in
August 1989,1 was told that
a fair number of the students here at
the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
were from towns of no more than 300
people and that UNL would begin
these students’ first encounter with
black people and other minorities. No
one added what is now blatantly
obvious to me: that these students are
no more insensitive to the humanity
of African-Americans than many of
their white professors at UNL.
On Oct. 23,1 returned from a two
trip lecture circuit, where I partici
pated in The First Annual Black Writers
Symposium, organized by poet Haki
Madhubuti, at Chicago State Univer
sity, and from giving a lecture on
Afrocentric Literary Criticism for one
of the leading Afrocentric philoso
phers, Molefi Asante, at Temple
University. I returned home enriched
and energized by having worked with
scholars and students who share my
cultural roots and interests to find that
the College of Arts and Sciences
Grading Appeals Committee had voted
to change one of my student’s grades
from an F to a C and another from an
F to a D+.
The dean’s committee based its
decision in part on the report of the
acting chair of the English Depart
ment’s Grading Appeals Committee,
who had regraded my students’ ex
ams. Although I do not know of an
other accredited university in the
country where any other professor
can regrade another’s students’ pa
pers and although I am told that doing
so is even against this university’s
policies and that I should present this
matter to the AAUP, I, at this time,
have no intention of pursuing legal
recourses. Simply put, I do not think
the university is worth the effort. I
refuse to lose valuable time from a
productive scholarly career to attempt
to change a department satisfied with
and basking in its less than mediocre
I came to UNL quite excited about
teaching in a new environment, about
having new colleagues and about
interacting with my students. During
the fist semester, numerous things
happened that made it clear that the
English department had long been in
a state ol stasis. Its policy is to hire
candidates on the beginning and oc
casionally the advanced assistant
professor level. Thus, most of the
professors in the English department
have been here at least 10 to 15 years,
for it takes six years to acquire tenure.
Therefore, the department recruits
professors who have had very little
teaching experience and who are held
hostage to conformity and depart
mental demands for six years. By the
time they become tenured, the UNL
mold has firmly set. The English
department, in other words, has al
most no turnover of faculty. It, as a
consequence, is quite non-intellec
tual and non-progressive and it lacks
rigid standards and proper procedures.
For example, this summer the as
sociate chair called me to tell me that
the Grading Appeals Committee had
voted to change one of my students’
grades. No one showed me — to date
— a copy of this student’s appeal;
therefore, I was not given a chance to
respond to the student’s allegations.
The associate chair merely said that
he was signing the proper-form in
agreement with the committee.
Also, one of the graduating seniors
who received a failing grade in my
class went to the acting chair of the
appeals committee to discuss the
appeals process. The chair of the
appeals committee volunteered to give
this student an independent study
course so that he could graduate. Thus,
it was understood from the beginning
that this student would receive a pass
ing grade. Not only was this profes
sor’s action unconscionable in that it
reflects what should be a conflict of
interest, but also the student was semi
illiterate. I should not have been sur
prised. For last year, I had a graduate
student in one of my classes who
could not write a simple declarative
Unfortunately, those students who
filed appeals this summer really do
not know' that the education they are
receiving in the English department
here is inferior compared to mans
other schools in the country. During
my two long years here, I have had
both undergraduate and graduate stu
dents tell me that they do well in
English courses without reading the
books and that they have never been
challenged as much as they are in my
courses. The irony of this is that I, to
a small degree, relaxed my standards
once I saw that most of the students I
teach have no idea how to write a
paragraph or an essay. It is quite shame
ful for die university and the state that
this is the first year that the English
department has had a writing lab
available for students, many of whom
must be coerced to use it.
The letter I received from the Arts
and Sciences Grading Appeals Com
mittee makes it quite clear that the
College of Arts and Sciences sees my
instruction here as inferior and that it
believes other professors who are not
specialists in my field are better judges
of my students’ work than I. The
letter also said that my classes are
“emotional,” “highly charged” and
“hostile.” I am a black woman who
teaches African-American literature,
an area whose subject focuses pre
dominately on slavery, racism and
white students who have never had to
confront their racism. My class de
mands that they do so. When students
are correct and profound in my classes,
I say so; when they are superficial and
racist, I also say so.
If I were a white man or a white
woman, the students would be more
willing to accept my leadership and
instruction. Even some of my black
students would prefer white profes
sors. They want liberals who will feel
sorry for them and let them graduate
What the Arts and Sciences ap
peals committee and the English
Department Appeals Committee did
to me by overturning my grades is not
very different from the way the Sen
ate treated Anita Hill. For, in the eyes
of those who exercise power in this
country, a black woman is fair game
for disrespect and discreditability.
Joyce is a I NI. professor of Knclish.
Editor's note: Joyce said she had
received a letter from the chairman
of the English department stating
that he had written to the grading
appeals committee to question the
procedures used in its decisions.
The Daily Nebraskan welcomes
brief letters to the editor from all
Letters will be selected for publi
cation on the basis of clarity, origi
nality, timeliness and space avail
able. The Daily Nebraskan retains
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Readers also are welcome to sub
mit material as guest opinions.
Whether material should run as a let
ter or guest opinion, or not to run, is
left to the editor’s discretion.
Letters and guest opinions sent to
the newspaper become the property
of the Daily Nebraskan and cannot be
Anonymous submissions will not
be considered for publication. Let
ters should include the author’s
name, year in school, major and
group affiliation, if any. Requests to
withhold names will not be granted.
Submit material to the Daily Ne
braskan, 34 Nebraska Union, 1400 R
St., Lincoln, Neb. 68588-0448.
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