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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Guess Who's Still Teaching at McGill?

That's right, this guy:

A year ago I wrote a post called Nomination for Worst Professor. I highly recommend it if you're interested in how bad professors can possibly be. Here's a reminder if you need it though. First, the usual "merely bad professor" stuff:
  • His lectures were usually not specifically about the course.
  • He kept telling the class that the course is "boring" and "dry".
  • He liked to end class 30% early.
But here's the stuff that really makes him shine like a hunk of coal in a jewelry store:
  • When it was discovered that many of his students couldn't calculate an average, his reaction was "oh well!" and he never tested us on it (or really anything) even though he said he would.
  • He just about never referenced any research, ever, throughout the entire course.
  • He lied about who our TA was, then started ignoring my emails altogether. He gave me several bogus email addresses for our TA and I never found out who it was, or if they even existed.
  • I persisted, but it proved impossible to get any feedback on an essay worth 25% of our grade. I am nearly certain nobody read any of our essays and we all just got As.
He's Back: Proof the Department Doesn't Care

My comic above is not a joke. In some rare cases, I really do think offering a lecturer position to a randomly chosen graduate student would be a huge improvement for the course. Imagine how seriously a graduate student might take that opportunity? Clearly, improving this course is not McGill's priority.

Maybe hiring a replacement was too much work.

In my original post I did not identify the course, professor, or the department chair. I wanted to give the department a fair chance to do something about this. Now that he's teaching again there's no reason to maintain privacy. Gus Appignanesi is the professor and Jeff Derevensky is the department chair I complained to. I'm hoping Jeff was powerless here but it could have been a conflict of interest. Their research interests are conspicuously identical. They likely work together and know each other outside McGill. More on this in my original post.

By the way, I've still gotten zero feedback on my A grade essay. Or proof that anyone even read it. Why doesn't the department care about this, at all?

But Everyone Loves Gus!
That's right, Gus currently has a smooth 4.6 out of 5 rating on RateMyProfessors.

"Gus is a rare gem at McGill."

"Best professor at McGill"

Well, what did we expect? A professor ends class early, expects nothing, doesn't test you, doesn't challenge you with research, talks about irrelevant fun random topics, and hands out As without reading your paper. Of course students love him - especially those who write glowing reviews without punctuation on RateMyProfessors.

I can't think of a more perfect example of why you must use caution interpreting ratings on RateMyProfessors. It's up to the department to evaluate professors more objectively, and ignore high praise from student reviews in cases where a professor is seriously undermining the legitimacy of a department.

What Now?
Thank you for reading and sharing my posts. I've gotten far more readers than I ever imagined by talking about McGill. I really feel like together we're exposing how some McGill courses are the pinnacle of grade-inflated shams. Like "security theater" too many university courses are "education theater".

If you want a profoundly easy course that does not challenge you, taught by a professor who says and proves he does not care, then take Measurement and Evaluation with Gus this coming semester.

Finally, awhile ago I found a website called Degrading McGill written by a McGill professor. If you're interested in what value McGill is giving you in exchange for your time and money, I highly recommend it.

If you care, complain.

1 comment:

  1. I've had Gus twice; once for Educational Psychology, and once again for Measurement and Evaluation. Neither time did I get specific feedback at the end of the term for the final project. It's a legitimate concern to have, though questioning whether or not he actually read them in the first place is still quite speculative.

    BUT! Lack of feedback has been a consistent problem throughout my tenure at McGill and is hardly unique to him. Does that make it okay? No. Does that make him unworthy of teaching at McGill? Only if we fire everyone else who's never returned a corrected essay.

    Frankly, every other complaint lobbed against him in this is fairly petty and unfair. Having had him for Educational Psychology, it doesn't surprise me that he makes tangents away from the lessons in Measurement and Evaluation. It's just not a very interesting or complex subject. It's something would-be teachers need to know about, but there's only so much you can do to dress up the philosophy on why we have multiple choice questions. Hell, I'm glad he just came out and said that the material was dry; one of the frank truths educators have to face is dealing with stuff in the curriculum that isn't very interesting.

    As for the whole "leaving 30% early" thing, those courses were 3 hours long, and I remember us often leaving at most 20 minutes early to either work in our groups [the class was relatively small, so having us work in groups outside of the class via an early dismissal makes sense], or to be let out early because we burned through one of our breaks and kept going. By the way, 30% of 2 hours and 50 minutes [I rounded up before] is 51 minutes. I normally wouldn't point out what was likely a minor exaggeration on your part, but given that you wrote a whole paper about education students not being able to calculate averages, it only seems fair.

    Gus is undeniably flawed, but the reason I will defend him is that he's one of the most engaging professors I've ever had. He knows how to keep an audience's attention [impressive for a 3 hour course], and he knows how to simplify complex ideas into digestible chunks. He may go off on tangents, but its usually to illustrate a point or to inject some humor into the dry, dry material. Incidentally, I'm fairly sure he was joking about actually having a test on averages, and it's not his job or responsibility to completely derail his curriculum based on a relatively small sample size illustrating a brain fart 6 people had who weren't laughed out by everyone else in the room because it's just common courtesy to not laugh at someone trying and failing to answer a question.

    I don't ever remember him using studies in class since they were part of the reading list. I don't begrudge him for neglecting those though because studies are quite possibly some of the most unappealing forms of writing imaginable. They have no sense of how to grab a reader's attention and are so impersonal and methodical in outlying every single solitary step; they might as well be written by robots.

    Finally, the actual legit complaint I've heard that is unique to him hasn't shown up in either of your two articles about him. As funny and well-intentioned as he can be, there are times when his comments or jokes cross the line into uncomfortable, sexist areas. The world's certainly changed a lot since his time, and it seems like new rules about what's okay and not okay are coming out every week, but he is meant to be a professional. There'd be no way we, as teachers could get away with some of the stuff he says, and as a role model to future teachers, he should impart that level of self-control. Thankfully, as my last class with him was ending, those kind of comments thinned out and he seemed to be exerting more self-awareness. Hopefully, that can continue without him losing his funny bone.