Sad commentaries on our “future leaders” and their education
Readers may or may not have noticed the argument about the Spanish department printed in the last few editions of the Echo. On my first read, I thought that the exchange was just grousing and rabble-rousing in a single department. But, after I read Professor Priscilla A. Doel's obfuscating and insulting response and returned to the Echo's initial report on the controversy, I thought there was an important argument to be had about academic standards and the respect or disrespect that faculty afford their students college-wide.
The Spanish major rightly requires Spanish language-intensive study abroad, but the department seems to have a narrow view of what might work to immerse students in the Spanish language. True, not every study abroad program is educational. While some are classroom-based, involve service or include homestays, some are booze cruises. The Spanish department is probably leery of the latter--and who can blame them?--but the department's students describe the worst kind of bureaucratic culture. The department isn't interested in and, in fact, inhibits students from pursuing alternative study abroad opportunities with the blanket excuse that "rigorous standards" can't be met by legitimate alternatives. It seems unfair from this corner: plenty of study abroad programs combine academic and cultural experiences with high standards.
Those programs don't seem to exist in Professor Doel's world: she seems to recommend that students go with the academic-heavy pre-approved programs or do something on their own time. At the same time, she implies that those who don't like those options can leave the major.
That kind of attitude is something that I hoped I'd never see at Colby. As a liberal arts college, Colby ought to be a place where education is self-driven and personalized. The biggest reason I chose to study here was my belief that my professors would know my learning style and my unique motivations and interests. The students' complaints in the Echo article are in the same spirit: they're just looking for a study abroad program that makes them tick. Departments shouldn't make it difficult for students to pursue the education that they desire within standards and reason. Nowhere in the Echo article was any student advocating for relaxed standards or blatant exceptions; indeed, one student, before having to quit the department to fulfill her double major, reported contemplating additional study abroad during her summer break. Departments shouldn't force out ultra-committed students--they should recruit them.
The anonymous students in the article raised fears that they would arrive at similar outcomes. Professor Doel's response doesn't address those students' concerns but instead argues with their anonymity. This is an interesting argument, even if it is rather obfuscatory and beside the point. Professor Doel ignores the point of unattributed quotations, which are usually unattributed because the person quoted is afraid that he or she will suffer retribution for the statement. True, unattributed quotations are sometimes dubious, if not devious--see the Valerie Plame debacle if you want to know what I mean--but they can also be critical tools for reporting stories from whistleblowing sources who fear reprisal--see Watergate.
I have to say that I can't blame the unattributed sources in the Echo article for submitting their opinions anonymously. The Spanish department, as mentioned above, doesn't seem to accommodate alternative opinions and recommends that you go somewhere else if you want to express them. Indeed, Professor Doel plainly admits to using these sort of intimidation tactics--she mentions calling up the Echo reporter, Sarah Lyon, to reveal her sources in the first point of her response. Professor Doel doesn't say to what ends she sought the concerned students' identities, but I imagine it wasn't in order to congratulate them.
I'm sorry I took this piece about academic standards and methodology to a certain level of histrionics (Plame, Watergate, Mafia tactics), but you'll note that Professor Doel brought the discussion to that realm and simultaneously insulted all of the student body in the process: "I would like to express my opinion that the choice to use vague and misleading words, and the choice to remain anonymous while publicly lodging complaints are sad commentaries upon the future leadership of this nation." This "future leader" thinks it's a sad commentary on professors who try to punish students who have a heterodox idea for the way that they want to pursue their education.