Professors now face a dilemma between giving out accurate grades and protecting their lives
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article first published on April 27, 2015
Texas college professors may soon face a dilemma between upholding professional ethics and protecting their lives.
On Thursday, December 10, a task force at the University of Texas at Austin recommended restricting guns in residence halls, at sporting events and in certain laboratories, but allowed them in classrooms.
The 19-member task force was set up following a “Campus Carry” law passed by the state in Spring 2015. The law, which will come into effect on August 1, 2016, will allow people with handgun licenses to carry concealed firearms on college campuses.
With the recommendation to allow firearms in classrooms, a question coming up for many academics is whether they would be forced to give As to undeserving students, just so they can avoid being shot.
This is not as far fetched as it sounds. In my five years as a college professor, I have had experience with a number of emotionally distressed students who resort to intimidation when they receive a lesser grade than what they feel they deserve.
Threats on campus
Here is an example of one such threatening experience: one evening in a graduate course, after I handed back students’ papers, a young woman stood up and pointed at me. “This is unacceptable!” she screamed as her body shook in rage.
She moved toward the front of the class waving her paper in my face and screamed again, “unacceptable!” After a heated exchange, she left the room, and stood outside the door sobbing.
All this was over receiving a B on a completely low-stakes assignment.
What followed was even more startling. The following week, the student brought along a muscle-bound man to class. He watched me through the doorway window for the entire three hours of the class, with his arms folded across his chest.
And if this wasn’t enough, the young woman’s classmates avoided me on campus because, they said, they were afraid of getting caught in the crossfire should she decide to shoot me.
After that, every time she turned in a paper I cringed and prayed that it was good so that I wouldn’t have to give her anything less than an A.
Learning from this experience, now I give papers back only at the end of the class or just “forget” to bring them with me.
I was lucky that the student didn’t have a gun in my classroom. Other professors have not been so lucky.
In 2014 a student at Purdue shot his instructor in front of a classroom of students. In another incident in 2009, a student at Northern Virginia Community College tried to shoot his math professor on campus. And, in 2000, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas shot his English professor.
In each of these states, carrying handguns on campus was illegal at the time of the shooting, although a bill was introduced in Arkansas earlier this year to allow students to carry guns.
Despite these and other shootings, a new trend has emerged across the US that supports guns on college campuses.
We know that some students will carry guns whether it is legal or not. One study found that close to five percent of undergraduates had a gun on campus and that almost two percent had been threatened with a firearm while at school.
Allowing students to carry weapons to class strips off a layer of safety. Students are often emotional and can be volatile when it comes to their GPAs.
Who would want to give a student a low grade and then get shot for it?
Many majors are highly competitive and require certain GPAs for admission. Students on scholarships and other forms of financial aid must maintain high grades to keep their funding. It’s no surprise that some might students resort to any means necessary to keep up their GPAs.
An international student once cried in my office and begged me to change his F to an A, as without it, his country would no longer pay for him to be in the US. I didn’t. He harassed me by posting threatening messages on Facebook.
So, the question is, will we soon see a new sort of grade inflation, with students earning a 4.0 GPA with their firepower rather than brain power? And if so, what sort of future citizenry will we be building on our campuses?