Grading and Institution

I usually avoid commenting on contemporary events in this forum, not because I lack the interest, though this is often true as well, but because it is one of the ways that I am trying to write the web more slowly, one of the ways that I am trying to contest the internet’s habitual demand for speed and currency.  Today, however, I discovered an article in the Globe and Mail that I feel compelled to discuss, and so, since it is probably necessary to prove the rule in any case, I will make this one exception.

The article, for those who would prefer not to read it for themselves, reports that professor Denis Rancourt has been fired from the University of Ottawa for refusing to provide individual grades to his fourth year physics class.  During the first class of the semester, he informed his students that they would each be receiving a grade of A+, which would free them from the pressure to test well and permit them to be scientists instead.  Though Rancourt had previously been involved in his share of controversies, it was this refusal to grade that finally convinced the university to take the very rare step of firing a tenured faculty member.

This should not surprise anyone very much, of course.  I could write for pages about how the ability to measure knowledge through grades and and courses and degrees is essential to the viability of the educational institution as such, about how this imposes on the institutional instructor the necessity of justifying grades through all the procedures of marking and commenting and correcting that consume so much of their time, and about how this permits the educational institution to attain only, at its highest, to a kind of editorial approach to learning.  I will spare us all those pages.

Instead, I just want to express my saddness at seeing the inevitable suppression of the desire for learning by institutionalized education.  I know almost nothing about Rancourt, and I am not otherwise endorsing him in any way, but I applaud his attempt to encourage learning to take place in the cracks and crevices of education, and I sympathize with him in his present situation.  Though I am cynical enough to believe that this must necessarily be the result of what he was attempting to do, I am grieved, as I always am, that learning can find no place for itself in the university.

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2 comments
  1. TC said:

    Hm..I was just a few days ago reading Lacan on the university discourse.
    the quote is fragmented as it is broken up by hecklers (interesting in itself, and relevant, but too wordy for here):

    “If you begin by putting in its place what essentially constitutes the discourse of the Master…namely that he ordains, that he intervenes in the system of knowledge, you can then ask yourself the question what it means when the discourse of knowledge, by this quarter turn [to the discourse of the university], which has no need to be put on the board because it is in the real, by this displacement, knowledge has the whip hand. When this happens, where you are, is where there has been defined the result, the fruit, the fall, of the relationships between the Master and the slave. Namely….last year…I said that it was the place revealed, designated by Marx as surplus value.

    You are the products of the University. the surplus value is you and you are proving it, even if only in this respect – which you not only consent to but which you also applaud – and I see no reason to object – which is that you leave here, equal to more or less credits. You have all made yourself into credits. You leave here stamped with credits”

    Lacan. Analyticon, Vincennes – Impromptu no. 1: 3rd December 1969

  2. TC,

    Thanks for the quotation. Lacan’s style is inimitable, which is perhaps fortunate, though I do love to read the way that he writes.

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