Wednesday, June 1, 2016

UCLA Professor and Alleged Student Shot in a Murder and Suicide

Copyright TMZ
Here's another story on a shooting. UCLA shooting live updates: 2 dead in murder-suicide, note found I've been receiving heaps of emails on the gorilla shooting. About the UCLA shooting, here's my quick commentary.

I have an long and intimate relationship with UCLA. In fact, I was just there yesterday to have dinner with some friends.

I was an undergraduate, a teaching assistant, a law student, and now a visiting scholar there. I can imagine just what happened.

Right now is final's week for UCLA undergrads, which is a stressful time. Also, the professor was shot at Boelter Hall - which is the mathematics building of UCLA.

That most likely means that the student was in this professor's class. He was probably a science major, and it's likely (but doesn't have to be) a pre-medical student. Either that, or he was failing in this professor's class as a science major. The reason it makes a difference is because pre-meds consider themselves to be failing if they get B's or lower, in general, because that's not acceptable for a medical student applicant. If he was an engineer, a B is acceptable.

Being a teacher's assistant really showed me how much school changed. I graduated UCLA in the winter of 2004. I was also a science major, and I thought the pressure to achieve back then was unbearable. It was only when I taught in the fall of 2011, did I realize I was wrong. It seems like students are under so much more pressure to achieve, than when I was in school.

When I taught, every class, students lined up to ask me about their grades. Every class, students said I was too tough as a grader. Every class, students were worried about me making them do oral presentations or written essays. I just found that enjoying oneself no longer appeared part of the undergraduate experience.

A good number of my students were also from China and Korea. Because foreign students pay so much money to go to an American school, in general, their parents put so much pressure on them to achieve. (I have to admit, having two Korean tiger parents helps me sympathize.)

But it was taken to the extreme. Some of my students were studying every night until 01:00AM because they felt like their English wasn't good enough, or that they weren't going to make it. That in the end, changed the class dynamics and made everyone feel more stressed.

I get that we need to have a free market and great competition, but having a 4.0 doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be the best doctor or lawyer or engineer. Perhaps, the curve system needs to be rethought. In the end, something else I found in my class, was all the pressure just drove students to cheat more too. (And that made me wonder: is it the student's fault for cheating or is it the administrators' fault for creating an environment that demanded so much from students who were afraid of getting kicked out of school?)

According to one study, the best pre-university educations are in South Korea and Finland. In the former, however, junior high and high school students have a rather high suicide rate than the latter. I get that in the real working world, like in my job, that it can be really stressful. And although school should prepare everyone for the real world, school should still be a place to have a lot of fun. It should be a place where one can be free and discover him or herself.

What else is there left to say, except that this is a real tragedy.

Update: It looks like the whole incident was between a PhD student and a mechanical engineering professor. The student accused the professor of stealing his code, and then giving him bad grades (which I guess we can infer is because of retaliation). The school is claiming that the professor was a wonderful guy.

Let's see what else develops.

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