Denis Rancourt is a recognised researcher and he may even be an excellent physics teacher for all I know. But he either suffers from wanting to be a “martyr” for the cause of “no competition in education” or is just plain lazy and couldn’t be bothered to go to the trouble of grading his students.
I am inclined to believe it is the latter together with a desire for the limelight.
Denis Rancourt has lost his bid to reclaim his job as a professor at the University of Ottawa. …. arbitrator Claude Foisy concluded he had no reason to intervene in the university’s 2009 decision to fire Rancourt, then a tenured physics professor, for defying its orders to grade his students objectively.
The university dismissed Rancourt after he awarded A+ marks to all 23 students who completed an advanced physics course he taught in the winter of 2008. The university had earlier issued him a letter of reprimand for awarding A+ marks to virtually everyone in a first-year physics course he gave in 2007. As well, Rancourt’s dean, the late André Lalonde, gave him “clear and unequivocal direction” in March 2008 that he must not grant every student in his courses a grade of A+ based only on their attendance at class.
Rancourt, …… testified that he’d come to believe that traditional methods of teaching and evaluating physics students were ineffective. Learning physics, he said, must be anchored in self-motivation. Key to his “student-centred” pedagogical method, he testified, was allowing students to learn free of the stress produced by the traditional method of grading and ranking.
…… Foisy noted that the university had opposed Rancourt’s evaluation method “every step of the way.” Lalonde testified that it would undermine the university’s reputation, causing it to be seen as a “Mickey Mouse university,” and was prejudicial to students graded in the traditional manner.
Foisy agreed, even accepting Lalonde’s characterization of Rancourt’s failure to objectively evaluate his students as “a form of academic fraud. This, in my opinion, is a very serious breach of his obligations as a university professor.”
Even though Rancourt was “well aware” of the university’s opposition to his method of evaluation, “he continued to defy the administration,” Foisy said. “Is the dismissal the appropriate remedy in the circumstances? The short answer is yes.”
The arbitrator rejected arguments that Rancourt’s teaching methods were protected by academic freedom, freedom of expression and his tenure status.
“Academic freedom is not so wide as to shield a professor from actions or behaviour that cannot be construed as a reasonable exercise of his responsibilities,” he said.
Foisy did uphold one of Rancourt’s grievances, ordering the university to remove any mention of a disciplinary letter dated Nov. 20, 2007, from Rancourt’s record. The letter blamed Rancourt for not having taught the content of an approved course.
But he rejected Rancourt’s demands for a written apology, monetary reparations and help in partially recovering lost time and career advancement.
Rancourt is not a stranger to controversy. He claims that he was fired for political reasons rather than for his teaching methods, but that does not seem to have cut much ice with the arbitrator. His own blog is here and there does seem to be a touch of paranoia. In fact reading his blog suggests he is more interested in publicity through controversy than actually in teaching. He is also being sued for libel by Joanne St. Lewis a Law Professor at the University of Ottawa, after Rancourt referred to her as university president Allan Rock’s “House Negro” on his blog.
From my own experience – though not in a classroom – it was always very difficult to get my managers to objectively grade the performance of their subordinates. Poor performance ratings in a department reflected also on the manager’s own competence. And in my experience it was the goodness of the manager which determined whether he got the balance right in the application of stress to improve the performance of his subordinates or if he went over the top and caused a burn-out. But I have no doubt that performance ratings – done right – improved performance in the work place.
And I am quite sure that much of the poor performance of students reflects on the teacher’s ability to teach. An element of competition and stress is – in my experience – necessary for learning.
Which leaves me without much sympathy for Denis Rancourt.