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The Under-Prepared Student



Authoring Institution Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE)
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Contributor(s) Brian Schrag
Notes Brian Schrag, ed., Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries, Volume 6, Bloomington, Indiana: Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, 2002
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Rights The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) grants permission to use these case and commentary material with the citation indicated above.
Year 2002
Publisher Association for Practical and Professional Ethics
Language English
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  • Brian  Schrag

    Posted 13 years ago

    Michael S. Pritchard 

    Western Michigan University

    In general, Dr. Franklin has the same responsibilities to all of his students, including making himself available to them during his office hours. Of course, if a large number of students show up at the same time, he will be unable to accommodate all of them unless he can meet with them in a large group, or a manageable set of smaller groups. If that has not been prearranged (as, say, a group study session), it is unlikely that it will work. So, it may happen on occasion that the attention Franklin needs to give some of his students will result in limiting others' access to him during a given office hour period. Apparently, that is what happened the first time he talked with Jim.

    The first meeting with Jim alerted Franklin to serious shortcomings in Jim's understanding of algebra. However, rather than ask Jim what his math background was, thereby alerting Jim that he might not be sufficiently prepared for the course, Franklin "checks Jim's records" (presumably without Jim's knowledge). Especially since Jim's academic transcript is not a public document, it would have been preferable for Franklin to ask Jim directly about his math background. This strategy might have prepared Jim to begin asking himself whether he should continue in the course, a decision he faced later, but only days before the deadline for dropping classes.

    Perhaps encouraged by the fact that he was willing to help him for 45 minutes the previous week, Jim returned to Franklin's office the next week with more questions. Given the conclusion he had already drawn about Jim's math skills, if there were others waiting to see Franklin, he might have arranged for another time to meet with Jim. Although one cannot always predict how long a session with a student will last, Franklin might have suspected that another long session with Jim was likely. However, by the end of this second session he should have realized that Jim was a special case that should no longer be allowed to dominate his regular office hours at the expense of his other students.

    Certainly by the end of this second session, Franklin should be counseling Jim rather than simply trying to help him solve chemistry problems that require math skills that Jim lacks. Franklin could recommend that Jim seek some math tutoring. Although he should advise Jim about what sorts of math skills he will need, it is not Franklin's responsibility to provide that tutoring himself. (Should he decide to do so anyway, it should not be at the expense of his other students; he should arrange to meet with Jim outside his regular office hours.)

    As stated at the outset, in general Franklin has the same responsibilities to all of his students. However, he may have special responsibilities regarding chemistry majors in his class. As a teacher of Quantitative Analysis, he may have a "gatekeeping" role regarding the major itself. No matter how much interest he might have in helping Jim make it through his course successfully, he may also have some responsibility in assessing Jim's ability to complete the major. But, whether or not he has this "gatekeeping"; function, Franklin is in a position to advise students about "what it takes" to be a good student in chemistry. Taking a few minutes to discuss his math deficiencies will alert Jim to the seriousness of this problem for both the Quantitative Analysis course and successfully completing the major.

    Unsure about what to do, Franklin talks about Jim's case with his colleague, Dr. Winters. That is a reasonable thing to do. There is no need to mention Jim's name. In fact, Jim is probably not alone in having deficient math skills in the Quantitative Analysis class, even if he is the only one who has come to Franklin for help. Furthermore, it is likely that there will be such students in the future; it is good to develop strategies to help them when their needs become apparent. The alternate plans that Franklin and Winters come up with seem reasonable and responsible. However, it is not clear why Franklin tells Jim that he has the "potential to be a great chemist." Given the essential role of algebraic manipulation in understanding chemistry, this comment seems premature and possibly falsely reassuring.

    From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 6, 2002 

    edited by Brian Schrag

  • Brian  Schrag

    Posted 13 years ago

    From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 6, 2002 

    edited by Brian Schrag

    This case is not intended to focus on the policies and procedures of viewing student records. Different institutions undoubtedly have specific policies about obtaining this kind of information while maintaining student privacy. Faculty and students should be aware of those policies and follow them.

    Rather, the case is intended to focus on professors' responsibilities for helping their students deal with deficiencies in understanding and knowledge. Each course has a specific body of information that is intended to be transmitted to the student. If a chemistry professor noticed that a student had a problem understanding physics, he would send that student to the physics department. If he discovered a deficiency in computer programming, no one would expect him to do anything more than send the student to the computer science department for further study.

    Teaching responsibilities become less clear when a student in a chemistry course does not understand mathematical tools that are utilized in the course. It is easy to say that Dr. Franklin should teach Jim the necessary math to complete the course assignments, but that would be done at a cost to the other students in the class, the graduate students Franklin is advising, and the other departmental responsibilities he carries. The huge amounts of time he has already spent with Jim have prevented other students from having their questions answered. This type of situation also arises for graduate student instructors who have teaching responsibilities on top of their own course work and research responsibilities.

    It is important for Jim to be made aware of his deficiencies. School is the time when Jim will have the most resources available to learn the material that he needs to master in order to earn a meaningful degree. Institutions have many sources of help in the form of resource centers, tutoring and help sessions, learning centers, etc. Professors and graduate students should be aware of these resources to enable students to receive the help they need. Rather than simply ignoring Jim's lack of understanding, Franklin identified a specific deficiency, helped generate reasonable solutions and ultimately left the student in a position to decide how to proceed to solve the problem.

    It is also essential to help students who need special attention without compromising them within the department by gossiping about their problems and difficulties. Other faculty members in the department are likely to encounter students in other courses or asked to write recommendations for them. Discussions about students must be responsible and respectful.

Cite this page: "The Under-Prepared Student" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 8/10/2006 OEC Accessed: Saturday, August 24, 2019 <>