The Wednesday, January 6, 2010 article “Students Fail to Pass Calculus” by Jordanne Pascual gives plenty of attention to professor Akemann’s grading scale and the logistical impact of failing a high percentage of students, yet it does not provide even a mere reference to students’ responsibilities for their own grades. After all, haven’t we all been told countless times that teachers don’t give grades — students earn them? As far as I’m concerned, if a student doesn’t know the majority of the material in a class, then he/she should not pass. And, most importantly, the measurement of “majority” should be independent of how his/her peers performed in the class.
Keeping standards and expectations high, as professor Akemann did, is especially important in math and science classes that build on previous knowledge. As a math major myself, I know that learning the material presented in lower division math courses is critical to succeeding in all other subsequent math (and many science) classes. If a student can’t master the basics of derivatives and integrals in Math 3A and 3B, then they won’t stand a chance at surviving classes that require a deeper understanding of concepts beyond simple “plug and chug” introductory calculus.
Furthermore, the alleged “difficult learning environment” of professor Akemann’s classes is a weak excuse at best. Has anyone ever told these students that they may actually have to study outside of class? UCSB also provides a plethora of free resources to supplement learning from lecture and professors, including teaching assistants, the mathematics department’s Math Lab, and CLAS drop-in tutoring and group sessions. It is the student’s responsibility to know when he/she is having trouble in a class and seek out the appropriate resources as necessary.
So, professor Akemann, thank you. Thank you for ensuring that future engineers will actually have to learn something before they design the bridges we drive on and the planes we fly in. Thank you for preserving the quality of our UCSB education. Giving passing grades to students who don’t learn the material taught is an insult to both our school and my personal work as a student, and I’m glad professor Akemann has resisted from inflating grades in this way. Blaming a high percentage of failing grades on professors, strict course requirements and standards, and no grading curve is a poor and sad attempt to mask a lack of true effort amongst students.