A University Management School lecturer who sent an email mocking students’ exam scripts to his colleagues, has been deemed “disrespectful” and “unacceptable” by Union Education Officer, Holly Taylor.
Dr Jon Burchell, an exam marker and Strategic Management lecturer at the University, circulated the following comments by a Management staff email list on January 26, this year:
Having spent the last couple of days dismally working my way through the first bunch of truly uninspiring undergraduate exam scripts, I thought I’d just share with you some little known facts about Milton Friedman that two of our final year undergrads have provided which you may (or may not!) wish to include in your future lectures:
1) Milton Friedman was the founder of capitalism
2) Milton Friedman was a socialist
I am feeling truly depressed!!
Only another 200 to go!!
A source who received the email said that they were concerned by the way students were being mocked.
They were also concerned that Dr Burchell appeared to be absolving himself from responsibility for the exam performance of those he teaches.
Education Officer Holly Taylor said she finds it “really sad that somebody who works at a university, has such a negative and, quite frankly, disrespectful attitude towards students.”
She said: “This taps into a wider problem of how little teacher training academics have.
“To become a lecturer you have to prove yourself through your research ability not through your teaching ability or your passion for helping students on their academic journey,” she said.
Taylor added: “If an academic works at the University because of their love for their subject rather than the teaching of it, I imagine it’s quite easy to avoid buying into these values altogether,” she said.
Dr Burchell’s comments do not breach student confidentiality or examiner regulations, but Taylor said she would like to see staff training and refresher events enforced more rigorously so “negative attitudes towards students can be put to the test.
“It is unacceptable in this day and age to be faced with teaching staff who don’t have any time for students,” she said.
Dr Burchell’s University web profile states that his interests are in the “areas of corporate social responsibility”. The Management School’s webpage also states: “We take our responsibility for our students seriously.”
But the Management Society president, who has asked not to be named, said that in order for the Management School to progress, lecturers need to discuss students’ progression and work – including exam papers.
“Jon has every right to be annoyed at the students who have not grasped the simple concepts mentioned in the email as they are the backbone to the entire module.
“I can only assume this is why he felt the need to discuss the matter with others,” he said.
The Union Link for the Management School, who also asked not to be named, said the comments only reflect some students’ work and were likely to have been meant in a “jokey sense” rather than representing a “serious opinion”.
She said: “Lecturers often have public sites erected on social networks displaying much harsher comments. These are in a sense much more offensive and derogatory than this email and achieve very little if anything at all.
“Many people will, and should, understand that lecturers often have hundreds of exam papers to mark. This is a lengthy and monotonous task, regardless of the quality of scripts, and that is all this email was expressing.”
The University Executive Board has recently released a paper titled ‘The Sheffield Academic’, to outline the values and work ethics that an academic at the University should possess.
It states: “Sheffield Academics are passionate about their subject and ambitious to make a difference in their field and to the University´s achievements as a whole.”
Taylor said it demonstrates how seriously the Vice-Chancellor and University Executive Board (UEB) take issues of teaching standards and professionalism.
Dr Burchell and the University declined to comment.