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Why do terrible professors continue to teach forever?

mamaroneckmamaroneck Posts: 232Registered User Junior Member
edited November 2012 in Engineering Majors
Objectively terrible professors, you know the type I am talking about. All students in his classes have nothing nice/only terrible things to say about his teaching ability (among other things), all bad reviews on r@temyprofessor, and presumably bad reviews on his official end-of-semester evaluations from students. Such a prof is likely tenured, and likely old/has been with the college for decades.

Why on God's good earth won't the deans or chairs do anything about it? Why do such professors continue to be teaching their usual classes semester after semester? Is the tenure an iron rice bowl? Do the deans and department chairs and admins think that most students will just grit their teeth, learn to deal, and pass the class and move on? Is it a deliberate life lesson? To teach us that we can't always choose our superiors, or to make us flexible to different teaching 'styles' (even the bad ones) and other such life lessons? Do they want us to bond over a common misery/enemy?

I am suffering such a prof this semester. I'm done complaining with classmates about how terrible he is. I just want to cry and walk into a brick wall when it comes to his class.

If I write that the hopelessness (of his class) makes me want to kill myself in his evaluation, will that get notice from the deans and chairs? This is true, I've never felt such utter hopelessness in anything before. Obviously, the 'i hate this prof' kind of evaluation comment won't be given much thought
Post edited by mamaroneck on

Replies to: Why do terrible professors continue to teach forever?

  • boneh3adboneh3ad Posts: 5,361Registered User Senior Member
    First, if you seriously are suicidal because of it then you need to go see a counselor.

    Anyway, they keep teaching because what you call terrible is not what the school calls terrible. They may be horrid teachers but chances are they are prolific researchers, and that is where the department makes all it's money and reputation. That's how he/she got tenured in the first place, and tenure is basically infinite job security as long as you don't break any laws.
  • VladenschlutteVladenschlutte Posts: 3,313Registered User Senior Member
    I'm not exactly sure how this works, but wouldn't it make more sense to have the great researcher doing research, rather than teaching undergrad classes. I don't know if the TC is talking about a professor for an undergrad/intro grad class, but at my school I know that there are a few who are terrible professors (but probably really good researchers) who are constantly assigned to teach introductory undergrad classes. I don't understand why they do that.
  • intparentintparent Posts: 12,402Registered User Senior Member
    It is tenure... give him an eval the reflects his teaching quality at the end of the semester, and post on Rate My Professor as well. But be fair... people can sense a "sour grapes" post from one that is thoughtful.

    You may be required to take some courses from bad profs at your college in order to graduate. But as much as possible, check them out in Ratemyprofessor before taking the classes. My D did that, and also talked with others at her college about the profs before signing up for classes. Sometimes she had to take an 8 am class to get the best profs, but she decided she would rather do that and get the good teachers. Sometimes you are stuck... I am sympathetic. But you are more than halfway through the semester, so hang in there.

    Vlad, I think almost everyone at a research college is there because they are a good researcher... they just don't hire for teaching quality, so it is luck if someone has both. Which is why my kids are probably both going the LAC route, where good teaching is more highly valued. They can go to grad school at a research institution.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Posts: 5,361Registered User Senior Member
    I'm not exactly sure how this works, but wouldn't it make more sense to have the great researcher doing research, rather than teaching undergrad classes. I don't know if the TC is talking about a professor for an undergrad/intro grad class, but at my school I know that there are a few who are terrible professors (but probably really good researchers) who are constantly assigned to teach introductory undergrad classes. I don't understand why they do that.

    Who else is going to do it? Universities have a finite amount of money to work with, and that money generally goes towards things that have a chance to pay off, meaning research. The only other solution would be to pay researchers less and then also hire dedicated teachers, which happens some places, but generally it is not good to have all your classes taught by adjunct faculty like that either. In theory, performing research makes you a better teacher and vice versa. Usually it does work that way, but you definitely get some bad eggs in there that way, too.

    LACs will often have more emphasis on teaching, but research experiences are going to be fewer and farther in between and the faculty won't generally benefit as much from modern breakthroughs in the topic or the experience of researching. The first of those don't come into play much for undergrads, but the experience of researching really does lead to a plethora of examples that can be used to illustrate topics in classes. But again, while the LACs miss out on that stuff, the professors are generally better pure teachers, so it is kind of a pick your poison kind of thing.
  • intparentintparent Posts: 12,402Registered User Senior Member
    It actually depends on the LAC... some have very well funded science departments, and get good research grants as well. And as there are no grad students hogging the research assistant position, the undergrads get that experience. A lot of the undergrad experience is about building a foundation of the basics for grad school anyway, and LAC students can also look for summer or semester-off-campus research opportunities.
  • RoKr93RoKr93 Posts: 259Registered User Junior Member
    I know the feeling. My physics professor is miserable, and the one that I will have next semester is apparently even worse if rate my professor has anything to say about it. Ugh.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 35,558Registered User Senior Member
    I don't know if the TC is talking about a professor for an undergrad/intro grad class, but at my school I know that there are a few who are terrible professors (but probably really good researchers) who are constantly assigned to teach introductory undergrad classes. I don't understand why they do that.

    Perhaps it could have to do with that faculty member being most willing to teach that course, or some other reason hidden in the opaqueness of the department's method of making teaching assignments.

    Many obviously prefer to teach advanced level courses in their specialty areas (some of those courses also function as places to recruit graduate and advanced undergraduate students into research projects), but someone has to teach the introductory courses.
  • intparentintparent Posts: 12,402Registered User Senior Member
    Departments can actually be quite stupid that way... I went to a top ranked business school within a research university, and intro marketing was taught by a fantastic older professor. He was just fabulous... and made lots of us want to be marketing majors (like me). I realized later that I had been "marketed to" by the marketing major department. But they get more students, and more money/professors that way.

    So assigning the intro classes to the worst teachers is pretty dumb, IMHO.
  • mamaroneckmamaroneck Posts: 232Registered User Junior Member
    In my situation, said prof is teaching me Chem Engineering Thermo right now. He also routinely teaches Transport II, which I will have to take later on. I have a test tomorrow in Chem engineering thermo and I'm at the end of my rope. I won't complain about him, because it will be rebuffed as 'you-the-student-are-wrong' on these forums. For Transport II, which I will likely take in the summer, I honestly plan to take it at a nearby public uni and just transfer the credit. I'll have to pay a few hundred to take the course outside of my own uni, but it's for the sake of my sanity.

    at my mid-sized school, I did not have a choice with any other professor for chem engineering thermo. This person teaches both sections. Historically, ditto for transport II.

    I swear, the only thing that is keeping me going is that all other junior chemical engineers must suffer this guy also, and grades always come on a curve, so the playing field is level.

    In my eval, I plan to write "I know he'll be teaching forever, but at least can other professors also teach other sections of courses he is teaching? I am at the end of my wits with this professor." <-- suggestion that might be doable, yet conveys my utter bleakness and hopelessness
  • MD MomMD Mom Posts: 6,728Registered User Senior Member
    We had an evaluation in our department this past year that got the dean's attention. It went something like this: If I only had one hour to live, I would want to spend it in this professor's class. In [ insert prof's name]'s class, an hour seems like an eternity.

    Made my boss roll on the floor. It was not my evaluation.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 35,558Registered User Senior Member
    intparent wrote:
    Departments can actually be quite stupid that way... I went to a top ranked business school within a research university, and intro marketing was taught by a fantastic older professor. He was just fabulous... and made lots of us want to be marketing majors (like me). I realized later that I had been "marketed to" by the marketing major department. But they get more students, and more money/professors that way.

    So assigning the intro classes to the worst teachers is pretty dumb, IMHO.

    On the other hand, they may be overflowing with students, so trying to draw in more potential majors may be low on their priority list.

    A department may also not care as much about introductory courses for other majors, such as calculus for business majors, physics for biology majors, English composition required for everyone, etc..
  • santookiesantookie Posts: 374Registered User Member
    I had one of those teachers. Horrible reviews, guy was crabby from a horrible comute everyday. He stated he would admit everyone on the waiting list. Class was 50 people and he added 25. He also stated fact that more than half of the people would drop the class. Which happened 5 weeks in last possible drop day. Most couldn't handle it. I admit he know his stuff his teaching style just was horrible. Made me want to gouge my eyes out. But I bared with it and got a B-. Tenure it's a B-tch what can you do.
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