Educational Handouts

I never thought I’d see the day. The day where our compulsion to give the disabled an “even footing” or whatever, reached its absurd conclusion. This is another case of the slippery slope argument showing some validity.

What am I talking about? This, the case of Gabor Lukacs, a University of Manitoba mathematics professor, who protested against awarding a mathematics PhD to a student. Why would anyone protest this? Because he failed to meet all the academic requirements. Now, why would they award a PhD to someone who, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t receive it? After all, if you fail to meet the requirements, you fail to receive the PhD, that’s why they are called requirements. Well you see, this student has an anxiety disorder.

Exam Anxiety is likely a real disorder, I’m not going to debate that. What I will debate however, is how this was handled. See, I’m siding with Lukacs on this one. You don’t wave requirements, that’s why they are called requirements, because you are required to do them. I might be able to understand if he had a job or took a course somewhere else that could substitute what he would learn in those courses, but no, they just waved them. He did take undergrad courses that were similar, but he needed graduate courses, not the same thing, but the University administrators decided to upgrade the student’s courses without any extra studying on his part.

Now, I know what people would say, this isn’t new, the disabled have always gotten special treatment, accommodations made on their behalf to make things easier because life is so hard for them. True, but this is taking something good and noble and taking it so far it becomes ridiculous. It feels like the case a right-wing Ayn Rand worshipper would use as a slippery slope argument against this kind of thing. I’ve never heard of a case where an employer says to a disabled person, they don’t need to do half their job, but will still get paid as if they did. Because that’s what it is. A student is the same as an employee. The only difference is the work they do is learning and getting tested on what they learn, and their pay cheque comes in the form of a diploma. This person got paid for work he didn’t do, and that is the issue.

Now, I’m not saying accommodations should not be made. Sticking with the workforce analogy, employers often provide the disabled with special equipment or assistance that allows them to do the job…the entire job. The same thing applies to education, provide him with special equipment or assistance. Since this guy’s problem is with the exam, modify the exam to set him at ease. Play soothing music or spray the paper with Lavender oil. If you can’t find a solution, where you test his knowledge in a way that’s fair, and allows him to pass, then say tough luck, you don’t give out PhDs for free.

It is possible that he’s using this disorder to mask his lack of knowledge. Which is a major problem for a PhD candidate. I’m not saying this is definitely the case, but if you can’t find a way to test his knowledge, you don’t know it isn’t, and considering this is a PhD we are talking about here, you’d better make sure this man knows the material.

Besides, he failed to disclose this disorder until he started having trouble passing an exam on analysis. He kept failing it…twice. Then he disclosed his disorder and they pretty much waved the exam. They allowed him to retake it over and over again, until he passed it. Am I the only one who finds that a bit suspicious?

There is a solution to this problem, find a therapist to help him get over it. I know that sounds callous and cold-hearted, but this is coming from someone with both a learning disability (ADHD) and anxiety disorder (OCD). I used to have to take pills for them, but I don’t anymore, instead I fight it using mostly willpower and professional therapy. I once went to a psychologist for my OCD and his advice was to actively fight it, ignore the compulsions and they will start to wane. I’m not saying that’ll work for this guy, but unless he sees a shrink he doesn’t know what will work.

But this whole thing goes beyond this one student, and will affect everyone with a PhD, or for that matter any sort of degree from the University of Manitoba, because it trivializes those degrees. If the standards are this low for one student, at the PhD level no less, it looks bad on all students and graduates. Trivializing their degrees.

Then there’s another problem, it’s not fair for the student. Carolyn Mamchur, Professor of Education at Simon Fraiser University, mentioned how those who earn the title of Doctor will be taking a leadership role, which is typically a high stress role. If he can’t handle answering questions on a sheet of paper, imagine when lives are at stake, like if he had a matter of minutes to calculate a way for a small shuttle to rendezvous with the starship Destiny as it speeds away…I’ve been watching a lot of Stargate Universe. It’s a good show, and a lot of the characters have PhDs so it’s apt. Just because you already have the degree, doesn’t mean the stress is over. It’s likely your employers would expect you to handle high stress situations, after all, you managed to earn a PhD.

Also, you might be called upon to give lectures to students, or interviews to journalists, which can be quite similar to an exam, in that if you give false information you will be crucified for it later. One of the accommodations that was made was having the student take an oral exam instead of a written exam, which makes sense to me; and if he failed the exam he’d get to try again until he did pass, which, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t make sense to me. If he did manage to fail even an oral exam because of his disability, too bad sunshine, you obviously can’t handle the responsibility of a PhD, and the tasks that a PhD graduate would be expected to conduct.

A PhD evokes prestige and is something to be proud of, because of how hard you work to earn it. This student did not earn it, he was granted it, after skipping out on courses and being granted a virtual pass on an exam he failed…many times. He does not deserve this PhD, and granting him one is a disservice, to both him, and the university as a whole. People need to work hard for the money/degree, not be given handouts. That’s called communism.

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