As an educator, I’m approached by students, alumni, colleagues, administration and outside parties through email…a ton. In fact, a big part of my after hours is spent on replying to all sorts of issues. Some big. Some small. Never anything in between, interestingly enough. But, the big ones are the ones I’m really proud of because it’s usually a moment where I can address a significant issue that relates to the professional development of my students…
…emails that provide a teachable moment that happens out of class, out of the designed curriculum and with no current place in my class itinerary: teaching in real-time, as I like to say.
I put a lot of care into every thing I do and, although trying to be informative, my secondary intention with these well considered emails is to impress upon my students the power of words and the value in articulating thought through written form. EMAILS THAT KICK ASS are a collection of such correspondence…cut and pasted directly from my Outlook box, but with names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty!
*KID GLOVES* is a moment of discern for me; figuring out how to bite my tongue and advise a highly lackluster student who doesn’t deserve the considerate response I sent. In fact, I wrote a highly reprimanding reaction to this person’s sassy correspondence, sat there hovering over the “send” button, erased the message and started again. I changed direction in my approach. I wanted to facilitate a change in this student’s perspective of the situation (that they put themselves in by continually performing terribly as a student)...and I thought maybe a stern note with an overall encouraging tone might be more effective.
Here’s the situation: this student came into our program with special accommodations, neglected the opportunities and special arrangements provided to them, squeaked through most of the academic terrain, was allowed to walk at Commencement, but had a few holes in their course sequencing ( to patch up afterwards...Art History credits to make up that they had previously dropped due to their own negligence.
The student had a very generous opportunity to travel abroad over the summer provided by friends and family. The student soaked in as much culture, community, art, and architecture they could in those glorious months of vacation...but when contacted by their academic advisor to start figuring out how to make up for those Art History credits, this student was giving this advisor a lot of guff about having to do so; that they just had this wonderful, immersive travel experience and couldn’t believe that it couldn’t be used as some sort of course equivalency for those missing credits. A very problematic hand to play on their part...for a lot of reasons I map out below. But hen the crybaby antics built up into some disrespectful correspondence to the advisor, I stepped in to bring the whole thing in focus.
Parts of the email that I erased in the spirit of encouraging this student are added down below. I cut and pasted them on a Word Document before completely starting over. I still feel strong disappointment in how the student treated their entry into our program, how they performed throughout it, and how it continued to be so lackluster even afterwards.
The harsh criticism to follow the email is for me...catharsis.
I haven't been involved in the discussions regarding STUDENT's unfinished course requirement and was unaware that THEY have yet to complete THEIR degree until this email thread. I, of course, would be happy to help in this matter. However, the turn-around time with the add/drop period ending tomorrow makes it difficult to both understand how to fully be of service in this matter and how to officially proceed. I would like Michael and I to get together on this when we meet in studio tomorrow.
STUDENT, I can say for myself that I have read the email you wrote ADVISOR that was forwarded to me regarding your travels abroad...the one that begins this thread. I appreciate the effort in asking about the possibility of using your summer adventures as a possible course substitute for Art History credits. I also enjoyed the lyricism with which you painted those experiences and their relationship to elements of your own identity as a budding artist. You must understand that those things aren't disregarded by any one of us...they are special to you and, therefore, special to us. What you have to realize, however, is that your degree is not granted on relevant life experiences; it's earned after meeting the academic requirements held of you by your university that you agreed to adhere to when you decided to enroll. If you want to earn your BFA, I'd recommend you comply with this very generous opportunity laid out by ADVISOR.
Here's the good news: if you're willing, this independent study could allow you integrate those experiences in Europe within the assigned coursework involved. In fact, I'd highly suggest you do. Instead of looking at this requirement as something to get done, approach it as an opportunity: one to examine those personal European experiences even closer within a scholarly context. There's no reason someone as capable as you shouldn't want or wouldn't be able to make connections between what you've witnessed and what you're assigned in that class. The next challenge would then be to let those Art History projects further influence your current thinking and making in studio. I was in your position once and that's what I did...the idea of trying to identify with Art History courses…of not just learning about them, but using them as a creative tool…and it led to the development of work that got me accepted into graduate school.
Happy to talk more about it if you'd like...lots of additional thoughts. LOTS. Just let me know and I'll share. In the meantime, I will seek a conversation with Michael tomorrow and work with you all to move this ahead.
*** Quite truthfully, I have a lot of issues regarding your last paragraph in your email that begins this thread. I think it's coming up short on your understanding of what "education" can be and the value of "personal accountability" within one's learning. You knew what you signed up for when you came. You knew when you were dropping the ball. Over and over again. We still supported you. We still encouraged you. You made your way to the graduation ceremony knowing that you had to atone for those dropped courses. Stop making it sound like RIT, its faculty, its staff, and its academic commitment to instilling a sense of excellence within its student body is doing you wrong. Stop passing the buck. Stop pointing your finger. Start growing up.
Your accusations are false. And your attitude to ADVISOR in these emails Michael and I have been included in are really showing a despicable side of your character. So bold you are in email form…to a staff member doing their job, no less. So bold from a distance. So bold when addressing somebody innocent with such disrespect…especially when thinking the coast is clear, that your faculty wouldn’t catch wind of such despicable behavior. Now that we’re clued in, are you embarrassed? Are you sorry? Are you shamed? You should be. You’ve misrepresented us, our program, your community…perhaps even your family.
And to think of all we’ve done to get you in. We allowed you to bypass a Freshman and Sophomore year as a transfer. Course experiences that would have instilled the work ethic, time management, and the sense of accountability to others (and yourself) that you are still so desperately lacking. You came late to classes OFTEN. You missed department obligations REGULARLY. You NEVER apologized. To us, to your colleagues. We sat you down, we talked to you, we expressed our disappointments and sternly warned you that such negligence couldn’t carry on. You nodded in agreement. You immediately let us and your community down again within days. This happened all the time. And it’s still happening…this whole Art History debacle that you’re in is incredibly stupid.
What’s worse is that you think you can put an hour or so into a lame-ass rant to allow ADVISOR to merely accept your international travels as a relevant replacement for Art History course credits? What is it with you when it comes to putting your nose down and doing the work? If you put half as much energy into doing what you’re obligated to do as a student as you do to try and get out of everything you’d be so much farther along. If you are so concerned with issues of time and money when it comes to enrolling into some Art History courses at a community college to wrap up this degree, then why didn’t you make good use of the time and money you put into the Art History courses you dropped here at RIT? How did you ever believe you had a case?
I mean, you didn’t even propose such an idea BEFORE you left on those international travels. Wouldn’t that be the way this possibility of seeking a course replacement would ever work? ...if it even remotely made sense to work in this way? (which it doesn’t) But you didn’t because that was never the intent of this trip…it wasn’t a research trip. It was never meant to be a research trip. It was a fuck around, drink beer, meet cool people and have a great time kind of trip. All on someone else’s dime.
Do you even know what Art History is for?
Art History offers deep engagement with key specimens of human achievement throughout time. Art History is a discipline…a study of time and place and culture and humanity by rigorously examining the things that were made…it’s a way of placing one’s self as an artist in relation to the past…it develops a broader platform in thinking critically of who we are and how we relate to the world around us (in the present and in the past). It’s involves rigorous looking, assessment, and analysis. Did you do any of that in your travels? Your social media posts certainly didn’t indicate that. Just because you were in the presence of these exquisite things and places, it doesn’t mean you invested in them. Feeling something, being moved by them is bullshit in relation to what you’re arguing for…in that you think your travels abroad amounted to the same educational objectives the Art History courses you’re obligated to take are designed to hold you accountable to. Not even close, STUDENT.
…and, for what it’s worth, I’m putting more thoughtfulness into this rebuttal to your shitty email than you did in everything involved in this situation you’re in. That’s how little you really care about what it is you think you’re doing.
When all is said and done, whenever you actually get this precious degree of yours, you’re going to have a hard time making good use of it. Not because you are less than capable of being an effective artist, but because you have yet to see the bigger picture. Your actions count. Your character counts. Doing the right thing is hard. Making excuses and justifying all your fuck-ups is easy.
You owe ADVISOR an incredibly heartfelt apology…and if you want the faculty’s blessing you better “reply all” and grovel. The fact that ADVISOR is providing you the opportunity to make up these credits post-graduation is a gift…the fact that ADVISOR is providing you options in how to do that (on AND off campus) is a real token of generosity, too. You owe ADVISOR big time. You owe the undergraduate coordinator a big thank-you for permitting this, too. And, lastly, you owe us faculty a note of appreciation for allowing you second-chances left and right.
The sooner you do these things the better. I won’t sign any paperwork to allow this to move forward until you make things right with the people on this email thread who are desperately trying to lead you to a better version of yourself.