Monday, December 24, 2007

Rao Yi: Professors Should Write Recommendation Letters Themselves

The fallout of Professor Stearns' letter continues. Peking University reports that Professor and Dean Rao Yi and a vice president of the university met with Stearns to discuss the issues raised in his letter.

Professor Stearns is happy with the progress and suggested that the school should their actions from two aspects:
  1. When professors are asked to provide recommendation letters for their students, they should not just let the students write the letters for them to sign.
  2. The school should require professors to teach with their own understandings of their class material, not just read out existing textbooks. If the professors are lazy in such a way, the students would learn to cheat by copying as well.
For many years, it has been a well known and common practice that most professors in China don't write recommendations for their students. They just ask the students to have them written and then sign whatever that were presented to them. Some do this out of lack of confidence in their English language skills, but most do it simply because they are not interested in investing the time and effort in this "mundane" task.

Rao Yi acknowledges this problem. He said that he was well aware of it when he was in charge of admitting graduate students at his institutes in the United States. Rao Yi agrees that there should be no reason for professors asking their students to write their own recommendation letters. They should write themselves, or at least ask their secretaries or assistants for help.

1 comment:

Todd Platek said...

Sadly, this happens a fair amount in the USA too, and we have to be vigilant in preventing it. As an attorney with some appreciation for the English language, it is disturbing to see the widening extent to which American teachers on every level, from elementary through college, simply refuse to spend the requisite time and energy to correct students' papers. Grammatical and spelling errors are consistently overlooked. When I correct them in red ink and show my children what their teachers failed to correct, they are appreciative but surprisingly indicate that if their teachers neglected to make the corrections, perhaps the errors were not so egregious. Unfortunately, it seems most of their teachers in their 20's and 30's simply never paid attention to English grammar and spelling during their own schooling and/or lack the dedication to spend large amounts of time correcting errors.

With respect to Prof. Stearns' observations of students and faculty in China, a portion of blame can be laid on the rote-learning system, which aggressively discounts the need for creative and responsible learning and thinking. With respect to his society-wide impressions, I observed the same problems in Taiwan in the 1970's, when books were photoreproduced and available to college students at locally-affordable prices based on the same reasoning, i.e. a poor country trying to raise itself by the bootstraps. I am afraid I cannot agree with Prof. Stearns in this respect, and my sympathies fall on the side of the students, not the authors. There may be an acceptable middle-ground, but simply arguing the loss of originally-calculated revenue is unpersuasive in this context. However, with respect to translators or local professors claiming themselves as the authors in their translated texts, this is despicable, and worthy of the harshest condemnation and punishment available in the academic world. Teachers without honor only produce students of dishonorable repute.