Sunday, August 15, 2010

Racism, intolerance and prejudice?

Ethical workplaces. Ethical co-workers. Ethical behaviour. Simple enough isn't it?

So many of the people I work with want to behave ethically and with integrity, and yet feel pressured into putting their own deeply held values aside when they enter their workplace.

This leads to extreme tension for many people, and impacts on their psychological, and often their physical health.

I was working with a University leturer recently who confessed that what he perceives as a lack of ethical behaviour at his university is making him seriously consider resigning from his prestigious post.

You see, in his university, English language standards for international students (who will remain in Australia on completion of their degree) are apparently being bypassed or ignored.

To be enrolled the students are supposed to have English language of a satisfactory standard to complete their course. They are expected to have sat, and passed, an exam to ensure they will understand lectures, course notes and reading lists. The English language exam is also meant to indicate their ability to be able to produce satisfactory written and oral work.

Where does this go wrong?

This lecturer has been accused to being racist for pointing out that if a student is unable to complete the requirements to the University standard, then the student should fail.

Sure we can and do teach requirements for the presentation of their reports complete with referencing and bibliographies. His university also offers bridging English courses for students who may need them. Fair enough, that’s how it should be.

But somewhere along the line some students are being passed who don’t have the required English skills to, for instance, write a report independently, read (and understand) Warning labels on bottles, or adequately understand mathematical questions. (This is naturally of great concern when some of these students will work in the medical field, and has a negative ripple-on effect in those workplaces).

This post isn’t about the rights or wrongs of the system per se, but about the effect of name calling, and being required to compromise your own standards. It’s about the effect of this on an individual employee. (I'll talk about the effect on the students in another post).

Simplistically it boils down to - pass the students, or have your hours reduced. And the effect is an uncomfortable dilemma. Do you pass students who aren't up to scratch, or fail them and not make your mortgage repayments?

Unfortunately this is all too common an occurrence. I regularly work with academics, teachers and administrative staff who are deeply distressed about having to compromise their values; to be pressured into passing students whose work is sub-standard.

Some leave, some stay and struggle on, disillusioned and unhappy. Being an onlooker, I do wish that someone; someone in a position of power would acknowledge the damage that is being caused, (not just to my clients, but to the students and their future employers) and have the courage to say “This is wrong. The buck stops here. I will address this issue.”

But I'm not holding my breath.



Hart Johnson said...

It is a difficult dilemma, and I would agree with you that it seems wrong to force the academic into that position. It seems though, there are solutions that might be reasonable. My best friend did a graduate assistantship at a medical university where her job was to work with foreign students on helping with the English of their scientific papers... THEY wrote it, then she went over the grammar and non-scientific vocabulary issues with them so they could learn to do it properly. That meant the only real penalty they had for not being native speakers was they needed to be done enough ahead of time to plan in that extra time.

sue said...

Hart, I agree, and am fortunate to work in that field at a tertiary institution. It's so rewarding to see the students become confident and assured in their work. And to pass fairly and squarely.
Sadly, what I wrote about has political overtones. The students are full fee paying, so there is an extra layer of complexity that needs to be addressed at both our Federal and State levels of government.
There have been a lot of issues in the press (both here and overseas) that are waiting for some gutsy academics and politicians to work on.
All very complex and messy.
Thanks for your thoughts.

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