George Parrott has been told by California State University at Sacramento that he must abandon his practice of requiring students to bring homemade snacks to laboratory sections each week.
Parrott has agreed to comply, ending a rule he enforced for more than three decades by walking out of class whenever students didn't bring the snacks. Parrott argued that his requirement encouraged students to work together (by planning a snack schedule and teaming up to produce the snacks) and to check up on one another so classes wouldn't be called off.
For more than 30 years, Parrott's students have generally complied with the rule. But this month, students in one of his psychology courses didn't comply, then complained when he walked out of class, and the university announced that it would investigate. This is Parrott's last semester before retirement, but he argued that his little-used technique should be respected for its legitimate goal of encouraging team-building -- and his views set off a large debate on this site and elsewhere about the appropriateness of the requirement.
The university released a statement last week in which it said that it respected Parrott's goals, but was barring his technique.
"Members of the psychology department have met to discuss this issue and, while they support Professor Parrott's concept of team building in the classroom, they believe it was unacceptable for him to leave his class when the team-building exercise was not met. Professor Parrott has been told by the dean to not repeat this behavior," said the statement. "The dean also has asked Professor Parrott to discontinue requiring students to bring snacks to class until it can be determined how this requirement conforms with campus policies regarding fees."
Parrott, via e-mail, shared a memo he wrote to to Sacramento State administrators after being told he had to stop his snack requirement.
While he said he was "absolutely willing and open" to revising his rules, he also asked for (and has yet to receive) suggestions on how he might in another way meet the goals he had for his snack requirement. "Now, my problem is to come up with an assignment, as you are requesting (demanding?) that pushes students to work together, to check on one another and FURTHER that also promotes less formality during a stressful work period involving statistical applications for students, many of whom have a deep personal anxiety about this domain," he wrote.
Further, Parrott said he was frustrated by the suggestion he heard in meetings with administrators about his snack policy that he might be creating stress for students. He contrasted the speedy reaction and decision-making of officials with regard to his snack policy with how officials at the university responded to tightening budgets and their impact on students. If students in his class feel stress, he wrote, it's likely because they have to wait two or three semesters to get into required courses, not because they need to bake twice a semester.
"The collective 'leadership' at this campus relative to the function and support of the psychology department and our mission, from my perspective, is somewhere between benign neglect and myopic," he wrote. "You have forced the psychology department to degrade from a full-time faculty of 34 with 1100 majors down to the present 17 or less with 1500 majors and to now present over 60 percent of our classes with part-time teachers."
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