COLUMN: Professors should recognize student time commitments

Monday, January 31, 2011 | 12:24 p.m. CST; updated 6:07 p.m. CST, Monday, January 31, 2011

The first week of classes, dubbed “syllabus week” by most MU students, has already been long forgotten. As it was my final syllabus week, some general thoughts I've had about college seemed to come full circle during it. 

Allow me to explain.

The doctoral candidate who conducted my first class went over the syllabus that he described as "intimidating" verbatim. He warned us not to use deaths in the family to get out of class. He said there’s statistical proof that if every family-related death reported by a college student during finals week were true, a Rhode Island-sized population would disappear.

He did not provide the proof.

He then said he only accepts homework in hard copy. He used to accept things from e-mail attachments but his “ancient laptop” got all kinds of viruses from deadly Word document files. His white Macbook appeared to be no more than five years old.

Have I mentioned yet that this class has six books? I was less than an hour into my semester and it was already on a downhill slope.

I went to my next class, which also has six required books. The instructor asked us if that was a lot.

The entire 60-person class nodded.

"No, it's not," she said back.

Why even ask?

She insisted that she wouldn’t baby us. She said that it wasn’t her job to get us out of bed and bring us to class every day and that if we wanted the knowledge, it was our job to come get it. She said that by now we were all adults and knew the responsibilities of higher education.

She immediately contradicted herself by calling us "kids" multiple times.

She didn’t feel bad for us, even if we were taking upward of 18 credit hours, because it’s less work than a 40-hour-a-week job. Irritation washed over me at that statement because going to class is definitely not the only thing students do. Most of the class consisted of seniors, which most likely means they’re taking the final classes for their majors and those classes immediately take precedence over others. Many students have jobs and other outside-of-class obligations. Just because our default title is student doesn’t mean going to class is the only thing we do. We don’t sit at home with blank stares on our faces every time we’re not in class. The cost of college and living doesn’t quite allow for that.

My final class of the day was a new gem called Men and Masculinities. Populated by fewer than 15 students, this class was what I’d been waiting for. The professor gave us just the right amount of detail about his scholarly work, his volunteer work and his personal life. He wanted the class to be very conversational. He had everyone say why he or she was taking the class. Behold, a professor who is honestly interested in motives behind why a student takes a class, a professor who will try hand-tailoring material to meet the students’ interests. Professors like this are few and far between at such a large university. It’s refreshing to have class with one.

Part of his e-mail address is composed of the characters "BWWING." It will be hard to lay off the Buffalo Wild Wings references in class this semester. Oh dear.

He mentioned he was still not over the fact that he only assigned two books for the semester instead of the many more he wanted to.

I was certainly over it already.

By the time I had only two days’ worth of class, I already had more than 300 pages assigned to be read in a couple of days. I understand why reading is a fundamental part of learning, but it is also the most time-consuming activity that has to do with learning.

When professors get students, they want to dump as much knowledge as possible onto them. I think instructors should consider taking a step back and understand that students have way too many things going on to be 100 percent committed to any one single class.

During my syllabus week, each professor seemed to have his or her own version of saying that he or she knew we had other obligations as students, but would then blow by that and assign something anyway. Like my first instructor did on Tuesday — he said he hated assigning reading quizzes and knew we were busy but he gives them anyway. Saying you’re sorry about giving students work doesn’t make the work any less strenuous. Why bother?

There's a weird shift from when students get to college as freshmen and how things develop as classes pile on. From the start, advisers and residence hall assistants urge us to get involved as much as possible in clubs and organizations to really take advantage of what we have. But then professors load us up with so much reading and work that it's sometimes impossible to get involved with anything, especially if a student has a part-time job.

Perhaps if we could only take a couple of classes at a time to be full-time students, it would be easier to make the most out of our educations. But it would take forever to earn a degree that way. Instead, students have to take many classes at once and try to balance which ones are the most important and which ones to place on the back burner. This also leads to the effect of not remembering much from classes taken just a year or two before.

Not to mention, the process of getting into classes that actually pertain to a student's interests at MU is dictated by when he or she is scheduled to begin signing up for classes online. If you're not scheduled to pick classes early, you're out of luck.

I have only seven semesters under my belt, yet I don’t think I can name every single class I’ve taken, much less remember major concepts we discussed after spending five months each in the classes.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed this lack of learning in college. I'm also partly echoing some points Alison Gammon made in her recent column. If you're tuckered out on the subject, my apologies to you.

I place classes that aren’t in my major (because the J-school requires us to take so many that have nothing to do with journalism) immediately behind journalism classes. Yes, I have come very close to failing a handful of classes because of this, but I don’t think I would go back and change anything if I could.

Take for instance, the moment I wrote this column. It was 2:50 in the morning and instead of catching up on the 150-plus pages of reading I was drowning in, I wrote this.

Which is more important, building a professional portfolio in writing to present with my resume, or reading a 170-page story that will be discussed for a single day in a class that has nothing to do with my major? I’ll pick expanding my portfolio every time.

Corey Motley is a magazine journalism major at MU. He's a columnist for the Missourian, a department editor at Vox Magazine and has time management issues. He blogs about video games on IGN under the username Motley14 and tweets more than any sane person should.

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Michael Williams January 31, 2011 | 3:06 p.m.

Those who came before just had it too easy, I guess. The topic of "difficulty" has never come up before.

Would you like to try one of our famous Missouri whines? It's called: "College is soooooooooo hard!"

From all appearances, this fellow is one of those students coming out on the losing end of Alison's survey column.

(PS: After spending 9 years in college including grad school, I find my sympathies with this author are rather low.)

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 31, 2011 | 4:33 p.m.

Corey, you'll be disappointed to hear that it won't get any easier when you enter the workforce. For example, if you're going into business journalism, instead of reading a 170-page story that will be discussed for a single day in a class, you'll be expected to read a 50-page 8-K so you can ask the Cxx intelligent questions instead of just taking the press release at face value. On top of that, you'll also be expected to read up on the basics of whatever other companies and sectors you're covering at the same time so that instead of regurgitating press releases, you can do the kind of reporting that produces stories readers are willing to pay for.

As Szell said to Babe: "I envy you your school days. Enjoy them fully. It's the last time in your life no one expects anything of you."

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 31, 2011 | 6:37 p.m.

Corey, that's very sad. Engineering students, whether at MS&T, Washington University or MU, bleed for you! I'm sure you''ll receive due sympathy from MU's medical and law students as well.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 31, 2011 | 7:31 p.m.

Send Corey to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)
Courtney Shove February 1, 2011 | 12:09 p.m.

I must jump to Corey's defense. I am a graduate student in the j-school and can attest to its all-consuming nature. I can also attest to the fact the the j-school undergrads are hard-working and committed (many put the grad students to shame. If they weren't, they wouldn't make it in the program.

The three-hour practical skills classes that the j-school requires are like full-time jobs in and of themselves. I worked full-time for nine years before entering grad school and was never as overworked in my professional jobs as I have been at the j-school. And I'm not exaggerating.

Plus, with the many technological changes that have taken place since getting my bachelor's, I have experienced firsthand the way they have affected higher education and its expectations of students. With more information and technology at our fingertips and with more technological distractions than ever, being a college is much more challenging than it was even 10 years ago.

Corey, I don't know you, but you were in my reporting class in fall 2009. I saw you as a hard-working, thoughtful member of the class. I have also seen you at work in your off-campus job. Kudos to you for balancing a very intimidating daily workload on what must be only few hours of sleep each day.

Remember, though, you need a full night's sleep every now and again. You must take care of yourself — despite the demands of the j-school.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 1, 2011 | 1:46 p.m.


I have no doubt j-school is hard.
So is law school, medical school, biochemistry, physics, engineering, biology, philosophy, business, ANY job, etc.

I've never known anyone who didn't think they had the hardest and most important job in the world. Most of the time, those thoughts run counter to market forces but that doesn't stop us from consoling and feeling sorry for ourselves.

If you and Corey get through it, you'll certainly be a better person and professional. Suck it up and recognize that you aren't the only ones walking in tight shoes.

If it wasn't hard, anyone could do it.

(Report Comment)
Corey Motley February 3, 2011 | 3:54 p.m.

First of all, thank you for reading and contributing to the discussion about school, learning and time commitments.

I'd like to address something I did not explicitly mention in the column that has now caught my attention through Mr. Williams and Ms. Shove's comments.

This column was not, in any way, meant to pit MU's journalism school against another school on campus, be it law, medicine, physics, etc… I'm sorry if it came out that way. I strongly believe that other students on campus are hard-working, have difficult classes and have to juggle time commitments, too.

I have friends who are in other schools on campus and my boyfriend got his undergraduate degree in math and physics and is currently in grad school for nuclear engineering. I understand the difficulties of other majors.

This column is just my account of how things are in the journalism school for me. If I were a student of medicine or law, I could contribute to the discussion from those angles but I'm not. This column was meant to be more of a blanket statement for every student on campus, and for the professors, not just the students in the journalism school.

In addition to that, none of the classes I mentioned in the column were journalism classes. They're all examples of the extras that aren't journalism classes that I have to take to fill my schedule and credit requirements.

I understand a stereotype exists that every student in the journalism school is a snob who thinks he or she is the most esteemed student ever, who can do no wrong. This might be due to professors constantly telling us that MU's journalism school is the best ever in the whole wide world. If these students exist, I am not one of them. I will fully (as I did in the column) admit to mistakes I've made, such as nearly failing a couple of classes. I am not a 4.0 student and I will not pretend to be.

I take my education seriously, to an extent, and I imagine if I were part of any other school on campus, I would do the same. But at the same time, as I stated in the column, I have to balance what is currently important and what isn't. I want to work as a video-game journalist when I graduate, not for the New York Times or The New Yorker. There is a difference in the editorial style among industries like those. I'm trying to cater mine to what I want to do.

I hope this clears up a view that I did not mean to express in this column. As Mr. Williams stated, every school has its difficulties and every job is important. I certainly did not mean to undermine any major of any student on any campus or any job that evolves from those majors. This was just my account of my last first week of classes and some observations I have made in the past four years at MU.

Thank you,
Corey Motley

(Report Comment)

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