Dear Dalhousie students: it's not Facebook's fault you failed -

Dear Dalhousie students: it’s not Facebook’s fault you failed

Prof. Pettigrew on digital scapegoats


Jessica Darmanin

When you teach at Cape Breton University, as I do, you get used to a certain amount of (mostly undeserved) sneering from those at other larger or richer or older Nova Scotia universities—which is more or less all of them. So it is always a bit of a guilty pleasure for me to see those same universities embarrassed by their students.

I must confess to feeling a little bit of Freude at the Schaden suffered by Dalhousie University this week when a report emerged that not only were many of Dalhousie’s engineering students failing their courses, but that they had determined the nefarious cause behind the failures.


Yes, according to the CBC, “dozens” of such students are in danger of failing out of the program because, say the students, they have been unable to resist the siren song of social media. At least one student quoted in the story is trying to solve the problem by cancelling his Facebook account.

Fine. But the problem isn’t Facebook.

Why not? Because there will always be, and have always been, distractions. I remembering visiting Cambridge and hearing that authorities in the 19th century didn’t want the railway to run through town because it would present too much of a temptation to students who might seek to abandon their studies.  When I was an undergraduate I had to pull myself away from episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to get my reading done (and now I still do—thanks for nothing, Netflix). Then, of course, came email, then the internet generally, now social media, and who-knows-what next.

My point is that the problem isn’t the latest technology. It’s the failure to understand that genuine success at university can only come through hard work. Distractions will always be available, and scapegoating Facebook or other social media lets students off the hook by telling them that it is not really their fault.

Don’t get me wrong: I too often spend more time on frivolous web pursuits than I should. But I don’t blame The Onion or The Daily Show for distracting me. If I don’t get my stuff done, that’s on me.

And Dal Engineering students, it’s on you too.

Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.


Dear Dalhousie students: it’s not Facebook’s fault you failed

  1. Sooo… Apparently, Dalhousie students are the only students in the WORLD that have access to facebook, hence representing a drop in only their grades, but not the grades of hundreds of millions of other students. Seems plausable.

  2. From what I’ve heard the Engineering course at Dal isn’t a cake walk and unless your fully dedicated to it and abandon for a large part your social activities (and I don’t mean just your online social presence) then your in for a world of hurt.

    This comes from a friend who’s son went through the program a couple of years ago. He didn’t make excuses though, he sucked it up and then re-connected with the world once it was all over.

    End of the day, do the work and you pass. Tweet, Like, +1 with your friends and your in trouble unless maybe your god.

    • Do you have any idea what “your” means?

  3. It’s kind of insane that this article even had to be written. It should be pretty obvious to any human; let alone humans smart enough to be accepted into an Engineering program, that they are in control of how well they do in their studies and in life; and blaming their failure on social media, television, whatever is just about the stupidest load of crap imaginable.

  4. I cannot help noticing that some of the most critical comments on education come from people who seem to have great difficulty with correct English usage.

  5. Typical; engineering students on the campus down the street from us making the rest of the Dalhousie students and community look bad. They walk around as if they’re better and smarter than us, act obnoxious, and then when they fail they blame it on Facebook!? There are many of us in the (arguably) (three) harder programs than engineering, go on Facebook just as much as they do, and still don’t fail because of it; and those of us who do fail wouldn’t dare blame it on our own stupidity of dedicating too much time to meaningless social networking. Stop trolling in “Cuba ’08” albums and read your damn books.

  6. Blaming Facebook and saying that social media is a huge distraction (which it is for many students at all schools) are two different things. It really does look like Pettigrew was just waiting to write an article about how some other school does not deserve their snobbery. Being snobby is a poor attitude choice, can’t we stop trying to prove this school’s and that school’s supremacy above another? That is a snobbery of its own that does no one any good, and Pettigrew’s tone here bleeds of it.