Four students who failed their required courses in mathematics are scheduled to graduate Thursday from D.C. Teachers College despite strong protests from the college faculty.
Joseph B. Thornton Jr., the head of the faculty association, said college president Wendell P. Russell granted waivers to the four last week exempting them from the academic regulations.
"Our students become teachers," Thornton said, "most of them in the D.C. school system. How in the world are they going to teach what they themselves haven't mastered?
"When nurses make a mistake their patients might die. When teachers make a mistake their mistakes live on to multipy. That's one of the problems of the D.C. public schools."
Russell, who is also president of Federal City College, was absent from his office yesterday on sick leave and could not be reached for comment.
Ethel Tyree, an assistant professor of mathematics, said one of the four students who failed but has been certified for graduation, is so weak in mathematics that she cannot correctly add simple fractions, such as 1/2 plus 1/4.
She said the woman already is working as an aide in a Washington elementary school and expects to get a teaching job there next fall.
Thornton said another student now certified to graduate had failed a general math course this spring that she had already taken and failed three times previously.
Mrs. Tyree said another one of the students was absent nearly all the time until almost the end of the semester. She said the woman acknowledged to her that she did not understand the work.
"We have a lot of weak students," Mrs. Tyree said, "and I really try to teach them. Sometimes we back up so far in the material that when people take their children to a class the children say they're taking the same thing in school."
"One of those students I had over to my house over Easter vacation." Mrs. Tyree continued. Then I wrote a special final for her, she flunked that, too. When I found out she was being allowed to graduate, it really burned me up. . .
"Now they're going to become teachers, and they'll cripple another whole generation like they've been crippled. Sometimes I wish that when their kids go to school they have teachers like them. That would be retribution."
According to Thornton and several other college officials, president Russell last year allowed a student to graduate from D.C. Teachers College even though she failed her practice teaching assignment, which is also a graduation requirement.
Estelle Taylor, a former dean at D.C. Teachers who now is head of the English department at Howard University, said she strongly objected, but that Russell "gave no reason" for his decision.
"A college has to have its requirements," said Taylor, "especially for people who are going to teach other people's children."
Since last summer, D.C. Teachers College has been part of the new University of the District of Columbia, along with Federal City College and Washington Technical Institute. But the Three low-tuition public colleges still operate as separate institutions with their own courses, catalogues and graduation requirements.
A complete merger is scheduled to take place in the fall, and D.C. Teachers' graduation Thursday is planned to be its last. About 190 students have been certified to graduate, according to the registrar's office.
Yesterday a spokesman for Ronald H. Brown, the chairman of the university trustees, said the board would not step in to stop the four students with waivers from graduating, despite appeals from the faculty association and from the chairman of the DCTC mathematics department, Michael Hall.
The spokesman said Brown feels the waivers are "totally with in the discretion of the president."
D.C. Teachers College, which dates back to 1851, has been losing students and faculty members recently. Its enrollment now is down to about 1,300, about half of what it was five years ago.
Mrs. Tyree and other faculty members aid the general academic quality of students also has fallen, as the college has abandoned its traditional admissions standards and become an "open admissions" school, like Federal City and Washington Technical Institute, accepting any high school graduate regardless of previous grades or test scores.
Hall said that this year more than 80 per cent of the incoming freshmen scored so low on a placement exam that they were required to take remedial math courses, without credit.
A few of the students, he said, "literally do not know their multiplication tables," even though they are high school graduates. Many others, he said, multiply and divide so slowly that "the calculations take too long to be useful."
However, in order to graduate, the college catalogue requires that all students pass at least a one-year course in college-level mathematics, including sets, logic, elementary functions, and statistics. It is this requirement that Russell waived for three students. For the fourth student he waived a course in the basic structure of arithmetic, which is required for students majoring in elementary education."It's a lowering of academic standards,' Thornton said, "that lowers the prestige of the college in the eyes of the community. Some people will say they don't want to come to the college because this goes on. But others will want to come because it's so easy."