- #1

alex_dc1

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I'm sorry if this is a completely inappropriate place to post this in, but I know a number of people in this forum work or have worked in academia, and I was hoping that I might be able to get some advice. Also, since it is a physics professor specifically I'm having an issue with, I think it would be better to talk with others who actually understand the subject. Talking to the science department head about these issues proved absolutely fruitless as he doesn't understand *anything* about physics and he just gave me the "deer in the headlights" look when I tried to go into some of the more technical details of a few of the issues.

Here's the thing, I know a lot of students complain about "mean" teachers, especially in the sciences were they are generally required to *gasp* read the book and study outside of class. I have an issue that deals with my professor's severe incompetence. I actually really like the guy on a personal level, and he seems to really, genuinely care about his students, but he needs to be removed from any field of education. Now, I understand that "severe incompetence" is a pretty serious claim, so I will define exactly what I mean:

The professor doesn't seem to have a grasp on the basic principles of his subject matter. I would say that in about 25% of the problems he works out during class, there is at least one severe physics-related issue (as in, an issue that stems from improperly applying physics concepts to the problem, or failing to account for certain factors within the problem. I will elaborate with an example) with his methodology that leads to him working the problem out incorrectly. I try to speak up and point out these mistakes early, but that usually leads to him just talking over me, telling me why I am wrong, working out the problem, ending up with the incorrect answer, and then becoming very puzzled. Usually, this leads to me speaking up again, him talking over me and telling me why I am wrong, then me getting up and simply correcting his work without his asking, explaining to him why what he did was wrong, and ending up with the correct answer at the end. He NEVER (and I mean that literally) understands what he did wrong even after I have explained to him in the most EXCRUCIATINGLY simplest way I can. Usually, he gets very confused, writes down my work and will come back to me a class or two later and tell me that he worked out the problem again using my methodology and that I was right. I find this disturbing as the class in question is Physics w/Calculus I, and I am a sophomore who has NEVER taken ANY other courses in Physics.

To give an example of the above (I don't remember the exact details, so I apologize if something is missing or a little off): we were working out a problem that involved the conservation of momentum. It involved a "train" moving in the positive x-direction on a track. The "cars" on the train were attached by ideal springs and shot off by the train one by one. The idea was to calculate the velocity of the train as each successive car was shot off the train. The issue that stemmed from this is that when calculating the momentum of each car shot off from the train, the professor was continuously applying the current velocity of the car with respect to the x-axis, in the wrong direction. He was making a sign error in his calculations, and the reason for this error was that he was improperly distributing a sign (i.e., what should have been written as (a - b - c) in order to imply that a is in the positive direction, and b and c are both in the negative direction, he wrote as [a - (b - c)] which, when you distribute the negative sign becomes (a - b + c), implying that a and c are in the positive direction and b is in the negative direction, which is incorrect). Now, I understand small mistakes like this (I hardly claim to be perfect), but when I worked the problem out and explained this to him, the professor couldn't seem to grasp the concept that distribution changes sign, which changes implied direction. As previously stated, about 1 in 4 of the problems he works out for the class have an issue like this. Also, we have had 2 tests so far and on both of the tests there was one question in which he worked out on his answer key improperly, I later pointed out, and he eventually just gave the class credit if they either got the actual correct answer, or the incorrect answer that he worked out. Again, I can understand errors in test keys, but I find it disturbing that there have been major errors with one question on BOTH of his tests (and these are among a myriad of other issues with his tests).

I'm realizing that this is already becoming an extremely long post and for the sake of brevity, I'll just mention a few other issues with more less elaboration:

The professor gives tests with incredibly ambiguous wording and terminology. Many of his questions could be answered in multiple ways (i.e. we had a question about the velocity of the tip of a hand of a clock, but the he did not specify whether he wanted the rotational velocity or just velocity. I tried to ask which he wanted during the test, but he wouldn't tell me. There wasn't enough room on the test (elaborated below) to solve for both velocities, so I solved for rotational velocity and he marked it wrong. He wouldn't give me credit for the question later when I pointed out that it was ambiguous).

The professor tests mainly on obscure terminology rather than physics. Many of his questions deal with terminology that is literally not in the book, and that he seems to never mention in class. This makes a question impossible to answers no matter how well you understand the principles of physics.

The professor gives very little space to show work on a test (he puts two questions to a page), yet for every question he wants a DETAILED illustration for the problem, a summary of all the factors of the problem, and every step of your work. However, if your work is very small and he has trouble reading it he simply marks the question wrong (he won't even give partial credit). If you don't include all of the above, he immediately marks the question half-off.

I really don't know what to do at this point. Out of the 37 students that we had at the beginning of this class, there are only 12 of us left, and only 3 students are actually passing the course. I am one of these three students, and I have a borderline C. The other two students aren't doing any better, and my grade is probably the highest in the class. From campus hearsay, I have found that this is actually pretty typical of his classes, but I can't actually confirm this.

As I mentioned, I have already talked to the dean of the science department twice about this and he has been all but completely useless. He doesn't understand any of the technical details of these issues, and doesn't seem to be concerned with the fact that 2/3rds of the class has withdrawn and that 75% of the remaining students are failing. I have been trying to get the other students to speak up to the dean about these issues, but the few who actually have the time to come in during the day and talk to him (most of my classmates are working full-time) are very intimidated by this professor and scared to speak up.

I have also tried going to one step above the dean (I can't remember the position of the person above him), but from what this person explained to me, the science department has complete control over issues within the science department and this person really couldn't involve herself in any of these issues (which, to me, sounds like a whole lot of bull-crap from someone who doesn't actually want to get up and do anything, but I'm giving this individual the benefit of the doubt because I really don't know anything about the internal workings of academia). Finally, I've tried reading through our school's policy and procedures manual, but the thing is like a textbook and I don't understand half the terminology within it. Right now, my plan is to talk with one of the student counselors on Monday and see if the can give me some advice, but I don't know if they will have any idea of what I can do next. The biggest problem *I* have personally at this point is that if I fail this class (incredibly likely despite the fact that I've worked my *** of and have a very thorough understanding of the subject matter), I am going to lose all of my financial aid (the only way I am able to pay for school), and my academic schedule will be completely screwed up (really, not even a concern considering my first problem, but worth mentioning). Without going into details, I would literally have to go through an extra year of school just so I can can complete my physics requirement.

So, does anyone have any advice? Should I maybe consult one of the other physics professors in the department? I've heard really good things about the other two physics professors at our school, but I don't know if dragging either one of them into this is a good idea. Also, I'm more than sure I could get letters from my current professors and every one of my previous professors attesting to my academic performance if necessary, in every class I've been in I almost always have the first or second highest grade in the course.

Here's the thing, I know a lot of students complain about "mean" teachers, especially in the sciences were they are generally required to *gasp* read the book and study outside of class. I have an issue that deals with my professor's severe incompetence. I actually really like the guy on a personal level, and he seems to really, genuinely care about his students, but he needs to be removed from any field of education. Now, I understand that "severe incompetence" is a pretty serious claim, so I will define exactly what I mean:

The professor doesn't seem to have a grasp on the basic principles of his subject matter. I would say that in about 25% of the problems he works out during class, there is at least one severe physics-related issue (as in, an issue that stems from improperly applying physics concepts to the problem, or failing to account for certain factors within the problem. I will elaborate with an example) with his methodology that leads to him working the problem out incorrectly. I try to speak up and point out these mistakes early, but that usually leads to him just talking over me, telling me why I am wrong, working out the problem, ending up with the incorrect answer, and then becoming very puzzled. Usually, this leads to me speaking up again, him talking over me and telling me why I am wrong, then me getting up and simply correcting his work without his asking, explaining to him why what he did was wrong, and ending up with the correct answer at the end. He NEVER (and I mean that literally) understands what he did wrong even after I have explained to him in the most EXCRUCIATINGLY simplest way I can. Usually, he gets very confused, writes down my work and will come back to me a class or two later and tell me that he worked out the problem again using my methodology and that I was right. I find this disturbing as the class in question is Physics w/Calculus I, and I am a sophomore who has NEVER taken ANY other courses in Physics.

To give an example of the above (I don't remember the exact details, so I apologize if something is missing or a little off): we were working out a problem that involved the conservation of momentum. It involved a "train" moving in the positive x-direction on a track. The "cars" on the train were attached by ideal springs and shot off by the train one by one. The idea was to calculate the velocity of the train as each successive car was shot off the train. The issue that stemmed from this is that when calculating the momentum of each car shot off from the train, the professor was continuously applying the current velocity of the car with respect to the x-axis, in the wrong direction. He was making a sign error in his calculations, and the reason for this error was that he was improperly distributing a sign (i.e., what should have been written as (a - b - c) in order to imply that a is in the positive direction, and b and c are both in the negative direction, he wrote as [a - (b - c)] which, when you distribute the negative sign becomes (a - b + c), implying that a and c are in the positive direction and b is in the negative direction, which is incorrect). Now, I understand small mistakes like this (I hardly claim to be perfect), but when I worked the problem out and explained this to him, the professor couldn't seem to grasp the concept that distribution changes sign, which changes implied direction. As previously stated, about 1 in 4 of the problems he works out for the class have an issue like this. Also, we have had 2 tests so far and on both of the tests there was one question in which he worked out on his answer key improperly, I later pointed out, and he eventually just gave the class credit if they either got the actual correct answer, or the incorrect answer that he worked out. Again, I can understand errors in test keys, but I find it disturbing that there have been major errors with one question on BOTH of his tests (and these are among a myriad of other issues with his tests).

I'm realizing that this is already becoming an extremely long post and for the sake of brevity, I'll just mention a few other issues with more less elaboration:

The professor gives tests with incredibly ambiguous wording and terminology. Many of his questions could be answered in multiple ways (i.e. we had a question about the velocity of the tip of a hand of a clock, but the he did not specify whether he wanted the rotational velocity or just velocity. I tried to ask which he wanted during the test, but he wouldn't tell me. There wasn't enough room on the test (elaborated below) to solve for both velocities, so I solved for rotational velocity and he marked it wrong. He wouldn't give me credit for the question later when I pointed out that it was ambiguous).

The professor tests mainly on obscure terminology rather than physics. Many of his questions deal with terminology that is literally not in the book, and that he seems to never mention in class. This makes a question impossible to answers no matter how well you understand the principles of physics.

The professor gives very little space to show work on a test (he puts two questions to a page), yet for every question he wants a DETAILED illustration for the problem, a summary of all the factors of the problem, and every step of your work. However, if your work is very small and he has trouble reading it he simply marks the question wrong (he won't even give partial credit). If you don't include all of the above, he immediately marks the question half-off.

I really don't know what to do at this point. Out of the 37 students that we had at the beginning of this class, there are only 12 of us left, and only 3 students are actually passing the course. I am one of these three students, and I have a borderline C. The other two students aren't doing any better, and my grade is probably the highest in the class. From campus hearsay, I have found that this is actually pretty typical of his classes, but I can't actually confirm this.

As I mentioned, I have already talked to the dean of the science department twice about this and he has been all but completely useless. He doesn't understand any of the technical details of these issues, and doesn't seem to be concerned with the fact that 2/3rds of the class has withdrawn and that 75% of the remaining students are failing. I have been trying to get the other students to speak up to the dean about these issues, but the few who actually have the time to come in during the day and talk to him (most of my classmates are working full-time) are very intimidated by this professor and scared to speak up.

I have also tried going to one step above the dean (I can't remember the position of the person above him), but from what this person explained to me, the science department has complete control over issues within the science department and this person really couldn't involve herself in any of these issues (which, to me, sounds like a whole lot of bull-crap from someone who doesn't actually want to get up and do anything, but I'm giving this individual the benefit of the doubt because I really don't know anything about the internal workings of academia). Finally, I've tried reading through our school's policy and procedures manual, but the thing is like a textbook and I don't understand half the terminology within it. Right now, my plan is to talk with one of the student counselors on Monday and see if the can give me some advice, but I don't know if they will have any idea of what I can do next. The biggest problem *I* have personally at this point is that if I fail this class (incredibly likely despite the fact that I've worked my *** of and have a very thorough understanding of the subject matter), I am going to lose all of my financial aid (the only way I am able to pay for school), and my academic schedule will be completely screwed up (really, not even a concern considering my first problem, but worth mentioning). Without going into details, I would literally have to go through an extra year of school just so I can can complete my physics requirement.

So, does anyone have any advice? Should I maybe consult one of the other physics professors in the department? I've heard really good things about the other two physics professors at our school, but I don't know if dragging either one of them into this is a good idea. Also, I'm more than sure I could get letters from my current professors and every one of my previous professors attesting to my academic performance if necessary, in every class I've been in I almost always have the first or second highest grade in the course.

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