It’s that time of year! For many of you, it is the time to return gifts or start your new diet and/or fitness program. As the Chair of an academic department (actually 2 departments) at a large institution of higher education, it means two things. First, since Fall Semester just ended, I am receiving grade appeals from students for courses from that term; and second, since annual reviews will take place soon for the faculty members who report to me, I will soon be receiving their inputs concerning their performance for the recently completed calendar year. I have found that most of the grade appeals and some of the faculty inputs have something in common……….a focus on activity, not necessarily achievement.
Allow me to explain. I have had a number of students coming to me to appeal the grades they received; some claiming they deserve a C instead of a D or F and others claiming they deserve an A instead of a B. However, no matter what the grade situation, the argument is very similar. The student indicates that he/she attended all of the classes, did all the readings, and handed in all of the assigned homework and therefore, deserves a higher grade. It does not seem to matter to these students that they did not score high enough on exams or papers to merit such a grade. They want to be recognized for what they had done (activity) rather than how well they had done it (accomplishment). I am startled by such logic and thought maybe it was a generational phenomenon of the “Trophy Kids” (Gen-Y or Millennials), who were often given trophies just for participating in a particular activity as they were growing up.
However, this logic is not limited to the Millennials. In recent years, some of my faculty began turning in their annual review inputs with a similar pattern (however, please note, that this is not the case for a majority of faculty, whereas it is true for a majority of the grade appeals). Some faculty members are focused on what they did rather than what they accomplished. For example, they indicate that they had taught particular classes and served on certain committees, but there were few examples of how good the teaching was or what the committee accomplished.
This phenomenon is not limited to within the walls of academia. Activity over achievement is becoming pervasive in America. I started taking notice of this problem in the 2008 presidential election when Barack Obama and Sarah Palin were praised as great candidatesthough their pasts were scant with achievement. I look forward to seeing our country value achievement again, which I believe is the road to economic vitality and international leadership.