Ignoring a problem is not a route to resolution

Silence is a very poor rebuttal.

According to an article in Wednesday’s St. Petersburg Times, students at Florida A&M University are criticizing Professor Victoria Dawson, claiming that she is unqualified to hold her positions as instructor and legal writing director. At the core of this claim is a legal working paper Dawson submitted to an online service in an attempt to get it published in a law journal. The paper, reviewed by an English education professor at the request of the Times, was discovered to be riddled with grammatical errors and severely lacking in cohesiveness.

Among the telling quotes pulled from the paper are gems like, “He consulted with government officials and he sent his general manager of asset management representative repeatedly crossed the creek…” and “…conflict between economic development and environmental protection needs and interest and the focus of managing environmental disputes for sustainable results is the cause of a 10-day delay…”

Neither the poor quality of this paper nor Dawson’s ability to fulfill her duties is the central issue, however. The real problem is FAMU’s response to student concerns. In response to several written complaints by students and questions from the Times regarding the situation, FAMU officials had the following to say – absolutely nothing.

Granted, this is certainly not a cut and dry situation for the university. Whether Dawson is in fact unqualified to hold her position or is merely the subject of unwarranted criticism centered on a single aberration is a question that will require significant investigation to answer. However, FAMU’s lack of comment leaves one uncertain if the answer is actually being sought.

A university has an obligation to provide qualified instructors to their students, as well as a responsibility to address the concerns its students communicate to it regarding those instructors. FAMU’s failure to even state that they are looking into the concerns and will make a definitive statement when they have sufficient information is a betrayal of the trust students place in a university when they fork over their hard-earned dollars to the tuition office.

Should Dawson have been hired incorrectly, it would certainly reflect poorly on the university. Dealing with a problem, however, requires the responsibility to admit the possibility of error and assess the situation accordingly. Ignoring a problem is a poor example for a university to set for its students – far worse than making a mistake in the first place.

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