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Professor's Lament on Declining College Standards, Performance

August 29, 1993

* I have been unable to get out of my mind the article by Hugh Glenn about the decline of college standards ("College Standards, Student Performance Decline," Aug. 16). The students detailed in the story are lacking in two fundamental things: concern and respect.

Why aren't these students concerned about receiving a failing grade, instead of being indignant? They ought to be high-tailing it to the professor's office for a conference to find out why they failed and what can be done about it. A passing grade is a meaningless one if the knowledge is not behind it.

Secondly, where is the respect for the professor? He is the one with the years of training and experience, and if he deems a paper unfit, his decision should be respected. To take away this empowerment is the beginning of educational anarchy. I fear that in the near future, a college degree will be a meaningless piece of paper instead of a measure of knowledge carefully and painstakingly earned. We will all pay the price if this shameful descent into mediocrity (and worse) is allowed to continue.

JANET SULLIVAN GOSSE

Laguna Hills

* Hugh Glenn's defense of higher standards in education would be more convincing were he willing to delineate what standards he has in mind. Without such delineation, references to "standards" are likely to be merely cryptic, loaded with many prejudices and much misinformation.

Glenn illustrates the result of lowered standards by quoting a sentence from Student A's letter of complaint to the administration. Unfortunately, this piece of evidence has less to do with the student's overall abilities as a writer (which we are in no position to judge) than with the fact that this particular student is probably a non-native speaker of English.

Many foreign-born students who are otherwise competent writers have difficulty with certain constructions. The abilities to use contractions and to employ inflections idiomatically are examples of these kinds of skills, skills largely taught by time.

Time and experience speaking and reading a given language make the difference, not instruction. Ironically, even if Student A had written a grammatically correct complaint, Glenn would have been due only minimal credit for the performance. His student might merely have been a native speaker.

The ability to use a particular language idiomatically is important because it affects the level of communication one can aspire to, but successful writing depends on more than idiomatic usage, or spelling, or any of a number of other important skills. Thoughtful, competent teachers of composition who have second-language students in their classes will be versed in these matters. Glenn would do well not to attach his case about lowered standards to such narrow evidence.

RICHARD NESTER

Irvine

* Prof. Glenn rightly called attention to declining college standards and student performance. It is all the more regrettable that he spoke of an "incredulous" response instead of an "incredible" one. The point is that a person may be incredulous, i.e., unbelieving; a response, however, may only be incredible, i.e., unbelievable. A refresher study of transitive versus intransitive usage is recommended.

DORIS GRUENEWALD

Laguna Hills

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