Was This Professor Fired for Requiring Students to Think?
A Utah professor used the Socratic method in his college classroom. Now he's out of job.
College students claim they'll pay attention in class if professors cut the lectures and make class more engaging, but former Utah Valley University business professor Steven Maranville found out the hard way that's not always the case. Seniors in Maranville's "capstone" business strategies course complained because he didn't lecture enough. After a year on the job, citing negative student course evaluations, the university denied Maranville tenure. Now Maranville, who left a tenured faculty position at the University of Houston to teach at UVU, has filed suit against the school.
What was going on in Maranville's classroom that generated such a backlash? He says he simply required students to do what most employers wish colleges would do: connect academic concepts to the real world. To facilitate that process, Maranville used the Socratic method, creating classroom dialogue by asking students open-ended questions that necessitated creative thought and participation—even if they hadn't raised their hands. He also required them to work in teams and participate in small-group discussions during class time.
"I'm not in this business to just give degrees. I want students to learn," Maranville told the The Salt Lake Tribune. "Students told me they had never been asked to do this kind of work before and weren’t about to do it now. They have families and jobs and don’t have time to do this."
Michael Apple, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin, told Inside Higher Education that the Socratic method is increasingly unpopular on college campuses "because we are in a test-based education system." Students are no longer used to such a process-oriented way of learning, and are "increasingly impatient where the answer is not clear and when the professor is not giving it to them immediately," Apple told the website.
If students give negative course evaluations to professors who refuse to simply lecture and give multiple choice exams, professors won't take the risk of upping the intellectual ante. If that happens—or if Maranville's situation is more common than we know—colleges run the risk of becoming nothing more than diploma mills. And that won't be good for anyone.