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Texas Professor Becomes Flashpoint in Education Reform Powder Keg

Updated on April 28, 2015

TAMU Galveston professor Irwin B. Horwitz

TAMU Galveston professor Irwin B. Horwitz
TAMU Galveston professor Irwin B. Horwitz | Source

Irwin Horwitz has gone viral, but not for any video. Rather, the business professor at Texas A&M's Galveston campus has made big news for failing his entire class of some thirty students. In an e-mail, the angry prof accused his pupils of rampant and blatant academic dishonesty, disrespectful behavior, and even threats of violence. He claims that complaints to university administrators did nothing to curb the inappropriate behavior, and that he even had to go as far as to request security for his classroom. According to Inside Higher Ed, Horwitz' controversial actions have become a lightning rod.

Many educators and other folks sympathetic to Horwitz' plight are standing up for the distressed academic, accusing colleges and universities of turning a blind eye to student antics and disrespectful behavior in order to pad their enrollment and graduation statistics. Others sympathize with the students and accuse of Horwitz of extreme overreaction and abuse of power, with some saying the educator lacked the basic ability to control his classroom. While details of Horwitz' allegations are still being examined, it is clear that nobody is happy. TIME reports that students have protested their failure and that the university plans to reverse the angry professor's blanket action.

With the university overruling Horwitz' decision, he is accusing the school of violating its own honor code, reports The Huffington Post.

This story covers several important issues, ranging from student rights to academic freedom to top-down education reform. Do college students have the right to due process in regard to blanket grades? Is it unfair to ever give an entire class an identical grade? Is it unfair to give grades influenced by behavior instead of solely academic performance?

Some academics are upset that Texas A&M is being quick to reverse the professor's grades. Is academic freedom being violated? Are teachers, lecturers, and professors being tacitly instructed to ignore misbehavior and give "acceptable" grades to keep students, parents, and state leaders happy? Are educators losing power and authority, being reduced to babysitters whose task is to keep "customers" happy?

Finally, what does the whole situation say about public education today? Are our teens and twentysomethings running amok in the classroom? Are our schools simply passing the buck and turning a blind eye to academic dishonesty, student apathy, and disrespectful and belligerent behavior?

As a teacher, I anxiously await the final fallout of this event. Many educators can sympathize with wanting to lash out, rant, and give failing grades to a classroom full of miscreants. Fortunately, most of us do not. We regroup and find a way through. Some teachers are lucky enough to only rarely deal with angry, disrespectful, and belligerent students. Some have a natural knack for dealing with such students, while others do not. How much skill in classroom management is expected at each level of public education?

Though some have criticized Horwitz' classroom management skills, does this justify the students' alleged behavior? How much classroom management is expected at the post-secondary level, anyway? Are the students not officially classified as adults? It's not like a prof can send college students to detention!

Pundits on both sides of the debate will seize the unusual event and run with it. Critics of Texas A&M's reaction will assert that we have eschewed school discipline and, in pursuit of profit, filled our college classrooms with students who have no business being there. Critics of the professor will assert that students, who are paying exorbitant tuition and fees, deserve competent, level-headed professors who respect student rights. Policymakers will take notice of this public battle and prepare legislation initiatives accordingly.

When the dust settles, which reforms will be proposed in state and federal legislatures?


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