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Ratener’s Situation Not So Novel

Instead of ascribing racist or politically biased motivations to Peter Ratener’s test question, we should realize that professors include interesting content in tests all the time. On Ratener’s exam, the very next question after the one mentioning Condoleezza features a “Professor Flunkem,” obviously in an attempt to introduce some levity into the test-taking scenario. And when I was a student at Colby College, I had a math professor who routinely included names of other professors, cultural events from nearby Maine towns, and other feeble attempts at jokes in order to make the test more interesting.

Long-time FIRE supporter Rich Zeller just sent us a summary of his own test-writing experiences, to show that Ratener is by no means alone:

When I taught a statistical analysis class, I used Major League Baseball statistics for an assignment. I was subject to professional criticism because baseball is a “boys” sport which discriminated against the female students in my class. In my defense, I presented data which showed that the female students did better on the assignment than the male students did! That did not satisfy the critics. They admonished me to “balance” that assignment with another assignment that discriminated against boys. But they bristled at the suggestion that I provide an assignment focused on cooking! Suggesting that “cooking” was a female activity was “stereotypical” was prohibited, but suggesting that “baseball” was a male activity was not a stereotype. Keep up the good fight.

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