Two Views Of Students As Customers

From Inside Higher Ed today, a report from Northeastern Illinois University of “a two-year anthropological inquiry into how today’s students do research.”

The goal of such an approach is priming librarians to “see the library through the eyes of others,” [associate university librarian David] Green said. In other words, librarians who serve large Hispanic populations need to learn how to empathize with first-generation college students who might never have used a library before and whose relationship with academic research is less than intuitive than many librarians are used to….

“I came to understand that over time that if we are less judgmental about our students’ [lack of] desire to dig into their research the way we think they should, and understand what it is they’re coping with, we can be much more effective service providers….”

And from the Chronicle of Higher Education two days ago, an essay, “Educating Our ‘Customers,’” by Brian Hall, an assistant professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. “Foolishly,” Hall reports, he asked for an explanation of why one of his students in a developmental English course was withdrawing,

and he spent the next five minutes outlining every instance in which I had interfered with his learning style, including by assigning homework, giving tests, taking attendance, and requiring that all essays be typed, printed out, and handed in at the very beginning of class.

When I began to tell him that I do all of those things because I’m trying to teach academic responsibility, he interrupted and said, “You’re not letting me be me.”

As a faculty member, I have found myself on a number of occasions dealing with students who are upset with me for not letting them be them, or, as some say, for “disrespecting” them. I’ll admit that my definition of “respect” must be different from theirs, because many times when I’m told I’ve been disrespectful, it usually occurs when I don’t give the lecture notes to a student who missed two or more weeks of class, or when I tell a student not to answer her cellphone in my class, or when I tell a student that he lost points from his final grade for disrupting the classroom when his friend entered my class to ask when it would be over because he was hungry and my student was his ride.


Maybe students are so used to our consumer-driven society that they have an inaccurate sense of entitlement. They believe the customer is always right. Maybe it’s true, and customers are always right. Maybe the academic and business sides of education have become so blurred that my title of assistant professor has actually been changed to “educational liaison,” and I am only supposed to teach students what they want to know and nothing more.

What we have here is obviously a failure of cultural communication. Perhaps Prof. Hall should be given time off to engage in some serious anthropological research on today’s students.

Say What?