April 2015 Advocate – Article generates many responses

Article — “Student success: By any means necessary” — generates many responses

The following letters were sent in response to the article, “Student success: By any means necessary,” by Merle Cutler in the February 2015 Advocate. -Ed.

Dear Merle,

I had the chance to read your article in the latest issue of The Advocate. I want to thank you for having the courage to write such an honest piece about “student success.” While I think we have to support our students, we definitely cannot be compromising our academic standards or our expectations. Doing so is a disservice to our students and to the standards we want to uphold as an institution. I am so sorry that you had to go through such a trying situation with little to no support.

I’m not sure if I ever shared this with you, but when I took your English 100 course that summer I learned more about being a writer than I did in any past English course. I had taken several English classes, but your teaching, your expectations, and your guidance were incomparable. Since then, whenever students have asked for a recommendation for an English instructor, I have told them that if they really want to learn to write, they should take one of your classes.

With respect and gratitude,
A former student who wishes to remain anonymous


Hi Merle:

Due to my retirement, it has been far too long since I have had the opportunity to speak with you. I have always admired both your courage and your voice. Your article in the latest issue of the Advocate is a clear example of both. I am sorry you have had to endure this painful experience with a student who was clearly not prepared to take your course. It does not surprise me that you failed to have appropriate and necessary support from your administrators. I have seen this play unfold many times before–for example, in the CSM Nursing Program maybe 20 years ago.

Under certain circumstances, the type of administrative failure you describe is totally predictable.  These types of administrative decisions, tragically, do not only fail to support quality faculty, they also undermine student success. In media stories about student success and failure, teachers are generally the focus. The narrative is usually about the need for quality teachers to achieve student success. Rarely do I see stories which discuss the role of administration. Administration is generally invisible and administrators are typically presented as a benign or positive influence. I think that the failures by administration you experienced are typical and, as I say, predictable. If educational outcomes are to improve, the competence of administrators and administrative practices needs to be part of the conversation.

I predict that administration will do everything possible to act as if your article does not exist. As a Latino educator, I want to thank you for giving this student a real and honest educational experience. The process of accommodation supported by the administration harms this student greatly by promoting a sense of false competence and entitlement as well as by undermining your appropriate authority. I am very sorry that you have experienced harm as well.

Best Wishes,
Ernie Rodriguez, Professor Emeritus, CSM & Cañada College


Merle’s rant was a good read–loaded with lots of drama and excitement.  The article would make good reality TV.  However, as with most stories in the press, there is always two sides to the story and we really only heard one side of this tail.  Thanks to Fox Noise, the concept of “fair and balanced” in the media has become a joke, but you could have at least taken the time to get some sidebar comments from “John”, her ex-Marine, so we could get a better perspective as to what really happened.  After all, she did manage to trash him better than a seasoned Taliban fighter ever could.  I suspect “John” was only collateral damage and the author really wanted to attack her Dean and the VPI.  To coin a phrase from a former President, “Mission Accomplished”, but did she really have to involve a student in her personal war, especially a member of a very elite club of citizens who have chosen to serve and help keep the rest of us safe?

Roy Brixen, Professor Emeritus, Adjunct Professor—Electronics Technology, College of San Mateo


I loved your article — loved, loved, loved it. If it’s okay with you, I’m going to forward the article to a few of my adjunct friends. As adjuncts, we already feel dispensable and often worry that we’ll risk losing classes if a student files a complaint. I’ve had more than one friend become worried after a student complained or simply threatened to complain over something as silly as an assignment the student didn’t personally like.

What I can’t believe is that the issue with John continued to escalate.

I’m sorry the student and the administration caused you so much stress, but I’m so proud of you for not only defending your values but also writing about your experience. I’m sure these issues happen frequently, but even after they’re resolved, people often feel too intimidated to discuss them. I think many readers will find your article to be cathartic as well.

An SMCCCD part-timer who wishes to remain anonymous


Last semester must have been a nightmare for you. Getting continually undercut by those in authority who should be supporting you and backing you up is horrible enough, but getting placed in a situation where you have legitimate fears for your own safety is even worse. I can’t say, however, that any of it surprises me, much as it appalls me. Between the desire to hold on to the flow of tuition money, the desire not to do something that would jeopardize the student’s ability to further his education, and the desire to “honor” the veteran’s service (there’s a whole lot of PC stuff on veterans these days, which feels very ironic to me for many reasons), I’m not really surprised by the way the administration acted. It would be nice, it would have been nice, if the administration would confront their dual role of providing certification to students (and it seems this student was mainly interested in getting certified that he had received an education) and of providing an education to students, and to struggle with the obvious tension that the former is meaningless if they don’t in good faith try to provide (and succeed in providing) the latter. Throughout the whole saga, there seems to be little interest on their part in whether or not the student is actually getting educated, even aside from the fact that their willingness to bend almost every rule on his behalf undercuts so much of what they claim to uphold.

I’m happy I don’t have to deal with hardly any of that. That mainly goes to the Dean of Advising, who I think does quite a good job of upholding the standards, of supporting (and certainly not undercutting) the faculty, and of drawing a line between providing reasonable and unreasonable accommodation.

A Dean of Humanities at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts who wished to remain anonymous