Professor to disruptive class: I am failing all of you.

Students are 'your problem' now, he tells administrators

A professor at Texas A&M University-Galveston was fed up with his disruptive, dishonest, and poorly performing class—so he gave everyone an F, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Everyone gets an 'F'

Irwin Horwitz made the announcement in an email to his strategic management class. "Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to 'chill out,' 'get out of my space,' 'go back and teach,' [been] called a 'f---ing moron' to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students…" he wrote.

Next came the bad news. "None of you, in my opinion, given the behavior in this class, deserve to pass, or graduate… I will no longer be teaching the course, and all are being awarded a failing grade," he said.

Horwitz then sent a letter to senior administrators explaining his decision and washing his hands of the students. They are "your problem now," he wrote.

A spokesperson for the university says the school is investigating Horwitz's claims, but noted that "[n]o student who passes the class academically will be failed." However, he adds , "[A]ll accusations made by the professor about the students' behavior in class are also being investigated and disciplinary action will be taken."

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Horwitz says he rarely fails students, but stresses that the class was the worst he has had in 20 years of college teaching. He says the students were not just disruptive, but also performing poorly academically. For instance, none—he asserts—could perform a basic business calculation known as a "break-even analysis."

Academic freedom

So far, Horwitz says the reactions to his bold decision have been mixed, with some offering praise and others mocking him. Horwitz acknowledges that a "few" students did not deserve to fail, and adds that he offered to continue teaching just these best performers. However, the university told him that option was not possible—and that was when he made his decision to walk away from the class. Horwitz also asserts the school changing his failing grades is a violation of his academic freedom.

Henry Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, says Horwitz is correct that faculty members generally have control over their grading decisions. However, he adds that there are circumstances when such control is limited. Generally speaking, Reichman says he is uncomfortable with Horwitz's chosen form of collective punishment—although he agrees it should be a professor's right to grade on behavior as well as academics.

Reichman advises that a panel of faculty members should be in charge of reviewing Horwitz's decision (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 4/27).

The takeaway: A Texas professor who was fed up with his disruptive class took the drastic step of failing everyone and walking away, telling administrators the students were "your problem" now.

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