Responsibility And Consequences: Where Did We Go Wrong?

Or does anyone respect deadlines or rules anymore?

Posted Nov 13, 2011

And so I've spent part of my weekend thinking about responsibility and the fact that many of the students I see are very unwilling to take responsibility for their own learning and performance (you also see it reflected in their difficulty to understand the concept of a deadline, the last possible time to turn something in). And I've been wondering where this came from, this lack of ownership of their own actions or failure to act. Talking with university friends who graduated and left academia for the workplace and/or parenting duties, they are often shocked by my stories because when they were undergraduates, if a paper was late, you got zero, end of story. There were real serious consequences and amazingly people actually admitted yes, it was their fault and accepted the cost of their mistakes.

The faculty themselves don't feel obligated to follow deadlines or accept the consequences or their actions (or lack of actions). If faculty don't respect deadlines (the ones they need to meet, for funding applications, IRB proposals, course paperwork, etc.) or accept consequences for themselves (such as accepting that you won't get what you want because you didn't request it when you needed to), it's hardly surprising that their lack of responsibility trickles down to the students. And this has a variety of consequences that largely don't make much impact on the faculty in general (other than make life harder for the few faculty who do toe the responsibility line) but it does impact the students and society at large. If there is no responsibility and accountability at university, why would the students suddenly develop it once they graduate? One of the biggest complaints from the recruiting office at a friend's firm is that they can't hire good people. They can hire smart ones, who are qualified to do the job. But they can't find ones willing to work hard and get the job done on schedule. And when those new workers are faced with consequences, they bail (it's too hard, it's not my fault, etc.) and (in a couple of cases I heard about personally) it's back to living in their parents' home. This is a very frustrating for a workplace that needs to hire hardworking well-educated staff. And it's not helpful for the former students either, who are in many ways not well equipped (despite some of their skills/knowledge) to do a job that has consequences when it's not done on the schedule required.


And I wish I knew how to solve the problem, but I don't.