Since a professor’s email failing an entire class at Texas A&M University Galveston went viral late last month, two distinct pictures have emerged of what it was like inside the classroom.
The professor, Irwin Horwitz, says widespread behavioural and academic problems in the course made him lose his love for teaching.
To get the full picture what it was like in Horwitz’s course “Maritime Administration 466: Strategic Management,” Business Insider spoke with former and current students, as well as the professor himself.
One TAMUG student who had previously taken the course told Business Insider that while coverage of Horwitz’s email has been fairly balanced, there has not been enough attention paid to “a lot of the very uncomfortable and inappropriate things the professor says in class.”
This environment made students’ misbehavior unsurprising, according to the TAMUG student.
“It’s the acts of five people in that class that have pulled down our entire campus with them … I know they have disrespected him, because I’ve seen it first-hand before, but he set that standard,” they said.
For example, even though TAMUG is a dry campus, according to this student, Horwitz sometimes pulls out a flask in class and brags about it.
“We spent an entire day on how to beat a polygraph test and how to not get fired if you show up to work drunk,” this student said. “What does that say to your students? It says, ‘Hey, let me show you how to get away with breaking the rules.'”
The topics covered that day fall under the banner of human resources and privacy in the workplace, according to Horwitz. And his flask use, Horwitz explained, is a joke he would play on students. The professor emphasised that he does not drink alcohol before or during class, and the flask is actually filled with SToK — a type of black coffee caffeine shot.
The prank usually comes out around the third or fourth class of the semester, he said, in response to students’ repeatedly using their mobile phones, even though he’s asked they be turned off. The flask itself is shaped like a mobile phone, as part of the shtick.
“When someone else’s mobile phone comes out, the 5th or 6th time, I bring out my fake mobile phone, pretend I’m scrolling on it, and then say, ‘Hey, it’s for you’ — whoever the culprit is — and then shake my head and pour that into my coffee,” he said.
Horwitz also received criticism for statements in class making light of a tragic 1999 bonfire that killed 12 TAMUG students.
In a video uploaded to YouTube after his email went viral, Horwitz participates in a TAMU tradition to prep for the annual football game against the University of Texas. Before students pour buckets of water over his head, Horwitz appears to drink from a flask and says, “You Aggies know all about bonfires, right?”
You can hear students responding with hisses and shouts of “too soon.”
In this video, Horwitz told Business Insider, the flask was filled with a caffeinated beverage when he pretends to take a drink. He explained that the bonfire comment was a response to students making a joke that they were going to light him on fire, before he had cold water poured on him for the ice bucket challenge.
“Maybe it was in bad taste … I’m not going to say every joke I tell is in good taste, or perfect,” he said.
“I am a professional professor. I’ve been teaching for 20 years, I’ve taught thousands and thousands of students at all levels, and this class was completely unique,” Horwitz told Business Insider. “This belief, this entitlement, has been so ingrained in these students … There was zero effort, there was nothing there, there was not even an attempt to try.”
Even though the Strategic Management class was the “capstone course” of the business administration program, according to Horwitz, more than half the students in the course couldn’t answer a question on the midterm about a break-even analysis. In business management, a break-even analysis determines how much product you would need to sell to cover costs.
“More than a handful of them couldn’t run a Kool-Aid stand,” he said.
A student shouldn’t be able to receive a degree in business administration and not be able to answer a “simple question” like a break-even analysis, he said. Horwitz expressed his exasperation when he emailed his entire class in April to say that none of them “deserve to pass.”
The notorious email, Horwitz said, “was sent to all the students to give them a big wake-up call, because most of them were failing the class.”
At least one student, though, says Horwitz made the class unreasonably difficult.
The TAMUG student who took Horwitz’s class last semester said that “it’s like he tries to fail you.” The professor doesn’t use the textbook, the student said, “out of spite for students who didn’t show up to class.”
Class attendance and textbook use is a problem across many of his classes, according to Horwitz. In one course with 120 students, the professor said, he did a “textbook check” after the students kept missing easy questions. Out of the students who showed up, only about 65% brought in their textbooks — although Horwitz guesses it would be even lower than that for the entire class.
“In general, the way I teach most upper level classes is that I use the textbook as a reference, but my job is not to read the textbook for them,” Horwitz said. “About 80% of the lectures are extending upon the material in the textbook.”
However, even studying Horwitz’s class notes may not be enough to excel in the course, according to this student.
“I would study my notes so hard for his class, and even I was making C’s and low B’s on his tests,” the TAMUG student said. “I would even get to his class, having all the notes and having been to all his classes, and he would pull information out of nowhere.”
In his email to the Strategic Management course, Horwitz outlined several alleged instances of supposed student misconduct during the semester that led to his decision to fail the class:
Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to “chill out,” “get out of my space,” “go back and teach,” [been] called a “f—ing moron” to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumours about myself and others, been caught between fights between students …
Speaking with Business Insider, the professor explained that the majority of the students in the course contributed to the overall misbehavior.
“It was much more than two or three students,” Horwitz said. “Was it every single student in the class? No it wasn’t. But there were pockets and groups of students.”
However, a comment left on Business Insider’s original story about Horwitz — which we have been able to verify was left by a TAMUG student — claims the professor’s email mischaracterizes the class and unfairly implicates all of his students based on the inappropriate actions of a few:
The “Chill out” and “Get out of my space” was said by one person, in class, who was accused of cheating. Things got out of hand, and she eventually left class. The person who called him a “f—ing moron” happened ONCE. Not multiple times. And it was outside of class time. The person who called him that is a close friend of mine and told me exactly what happened. There was ONE OTHER PERSON in particular who constantly refuted their grade to the department head. All of these horrible actions were the actions of literally only 3 people.
Others in the class also disagreed with the professor’s blanket denunciation of the class.
“Just ridiculous, I had never had a problem in the class. I thought I had done pretty well, done pretty well on the first test and then I get an email saying I am going to get an F in the class, it was overwhelming,” John Shaw, a TAMUG senior in Horwitz’s course, told Houston NBC affiliate KPRC.
A TAMUG spokesperson confirmed to Inside Higher Ed that one student accused of cheating by Horwitz has been cleared following a university investigation.
However, speaking to Business Insider, Horwitz called that case a “kangaroo court.”
“It was clear that this person cheated. I saw it, it wasn’t like maybe they cheated — they cheated,” Horwitz said. “They admitted looking at the paper next to them. They admitted trying to talk to them.”
The professor said the alleged cheater was cleared because the university couldn’t determine what they were asking their classmate during the exam.
Students also dispute Horwitz’s claim that he quit teaching the class because of the students’ behaviour.
A TAMUG student enrolled in another one of Horwitz’ classes this semester forwarded the below email to Business Insider, saying that this proves the professor is “lying” about the real reasons he stopped teaching the Strategic Management course:
I have received several emails claiming they have been told I have “resigned.” This is untrue. To be very clear, I was and am still unable to teach because of an ongoing back problem that worsened which I need to seek medical care. In the past, when I asked the school for reasonable accommodation, they were planning to set up a lounge chair and office for me in the Men’s bathroom, so asking them for anything would be of no use. If it has been told to you that I have resigned, that is absolutely untrue. I have not resigned. This is what organisations do to avoid unemployment benefits and lawsuits.
Our department administrator, Dr. Joan Mileski, did not like the grades I gave out in another class, so took over our class and will be teaching it from now on.
Good luck to all of you.
In this email, the student points out, Horwitz states he is “still unable to teach because of an ongoing back problem.” However, the professor maintained while speaking to Business Insider that he chose to stop teaching because of his issues with the class.
“I think there’s truth with [the claims about the back pain], but there’s also politics behind that as well,” Horwitz said. “When you get the administration not supporting you, when I need armed guards to go to my classroom, I’m not going to go through that back pain for those students.”
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