Taking it Easy

As registration approaches, it’s worth taking a look at the name St. John’s University. The key word is “University,” collegiate vocabulary for school. Schools, actually.

It’s fascinating how often students ignore this.

Case in point: I was listening to some friends discuss classes for next semester, and the only thing that seemed to concern them was whether or not they would be able to sleep through their classes and still get A’s. When comparing professors, the faculty that rated best in their opinions were boring, gave easy A’s and didn’t require students to ever come to class. Even taking 18 credits, they were able to find plenty of classes that didn’t entail any work.

I’m sorry. I thought this was school.

This student mentality-not held by all students, obviously, but held by too many-is unfortunate, as it damages the credibility of the University. In any school there are lazy students who only want to maintain as high a GPA as possible with the minimum amount of work, but the prevalence of the attitude is directly related to how well it can survive. Given only a draconian set of classes-where laziness isn’t a survival trait-this form of sloth will die quickly.

Students who say they don’t want to do any work certainly don’t, but that’s not exactly their attitude; the actual, though unspoken, statement “I want to get by with a minimum amount of work” is a fundamentally different position. Students who seriously want to do no work whatsoever will wilt at even the slightest hint of challenge in a course. Those who want only the minimum of effort will take-and pass-whatever requires the minimum of effort, but won’t go beyond.

This is an important distinction, as it seems most students who say they don’t want any work will actually do what is required of them in the smallest conceivable way-the alternative is a swarm of failures and dropped classes. There is something, then, that allows students to look at course offerings and decide to take eighteen credits worth of nothing. The classes where this can be done exist.

That is the real problem. The students that want to do the minimum of work know which classes to take, when they’re offered and who teaches them. Courses that don’t offer a modicum of challenge-ones which can literally be slept through-exist.

Consider for a moment the ramifications of making sudden, sweeping changes to those classes in terms of rigor and difficulty. Students who truly want to do no work will drop their courses, somehow meet the challenge, or fail, all of which serve to enhance the University’s image.

Does St. John’s want to be associated with a breed of students who can do nothing for four years and then leave with a degree? I hope not, but the administration likely wouldn’t mind being associated with students who were once like that before being resuscitated by a quality curriculum.

If those who don’t want to do anything fail out, it improves the quality of the student body; if they meet the challenge, it improves the quality of the student body and reflects well on the school. If they drop all of their courses, they only delay one of the two other outcomes.

Meanwhile, those that just want to meet the minimum challenge will almost certainly step up to the plate if the alternative is a falling GPA. These are the students who will do what they need to for the grade they want, but not more. If classes become more challenging they’ll meet that challenge, with gripes-but won’t throw in the towel.

Obviously, the matter is not that simple; there are far more types of students than can be defined through three vague categories of motivation. Nevertheless, it is in the interest of the academic reputation of the University to make a serious effort at revamping the sleeper courses. It improves the quality of the student body as well as the university curriculum.

So long as classes exist where no-work A’s are common, a slothful student attitude toward academics is almost impossible to curtail-and no-work schedules will be repeated indefinitely.