Students who complain that their college courses are too difficult may have found a new friend in one Purdue engineering professor who is claiming that the concept of academic rigor merely exists to discipline students and enforce white privilege.
Professor Donna Riley, the current Head of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, is calling for schools to get rid of the current concept of academic rigor, complaining that it exists to accomplish “dirty deeds” in engineering education.
In a recently published article titled “Rigor/Us: Building Boundaries and Disciplining Diversity with Standards of Merit,” Riley argues that despite serving as the “aspirational quality academics apply to disciplinary standards of quality,” rigor ultimately has become too disciplinarian in nature, to the extent that it selectively benefits white heterosexual males.
“Rigor accomplishes dirty deeds, however, serving three primary ends across engineering, engineering education, and engineering education research,” writes Riley. “ disciplining,  demarcating boundaries, and  demonstrating white male heterosexual privilege.”
According to Riley, the solution is not to reform or redesign the current concept or rigor, but instead to get rid of it completely, in order to prevent further inequality amongst students earning a college education.
“Understanding how rigor reproduces inequality, we cannot reinvent it but rather must relinquish it,” writes Riley. “Looking to alternative conceptualizations for evaluating knowledge, welcoming diverse ways of knowing, doing, and being, and moving from compliance to engagement, from rigor to vigor.”
While many students rightfully complain of unfair grading from professors for holding socially or economically conservative views, the idea of students complaining about a class (especially an engineering class) because it is too rigorous or difficult based on the curriculum is one that rarely deserves merit.
Some classes are hard, but most people would sleep better knowing that the engineer who designs the airplanes we fly in, or the doctor who is going to perform your surgery, took those hard, rigorous classes, and passed them.
John Patrick (@john_pat_rick) is a graduate of Canisius College and Georgia Southern University. He interned for Red Alert Politics during the summer of 2012 and has continued to contribute regularly.