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Blair sighed as he watched the last students shuffle out of the room. He had never, he thought, had a class of freshmen as apathetic as this one. Even the way they left the room... It was Friday, this had been their last lecture of the day, and he would have expected them to rush out - but they didn't. It seemed that they weren't even interested in the prospect of socializing on the weekend (starting with that evening).
It wasn't even just Blair, he knew. In the month since the semester started, all the lecturers, whether tenured professors or lowly TAs, had had the same reaction - or lack or reaction - from this class. It didn't matter what the subject was. They gave nothing back, merely sitting listening - with luck, absorbing some of the material. A few of the more conscientious ones did take spasmodic notes, but they were very much in the minority and the notes they took certainly didn't cover all of the material.
Blair knew that his presentation was interesting, even entertaining. Oh, there had always been one or two students in any class who were there for all the wrong reasons, but never more than one or two. He had reacted by trying to make his lectures even more interesting, but without any obvious result.
It was so depressing. It was the entire class! Why couldn't he interest any of them? Was apathy contagious?
He raised his head as Jim walked in. "Jim! What brings you here?"
Jim grinned. "You've been complaining so much about this class I thought I'd come and have a look at it. I've been here most of the day, following them around."
"You're being had, Chief."
"You and everyone who teaches this group. Turns out they're not students here."
"Not? But - "
"It's a group of sophomore psychology students from Washington State University. Their lecturer is with Chancellor Edwards right now, discussing the results, at the halfway point, of what is meant as a study for them - but for it to be successful, none of the lecturers here could know about it. Only Edwards knows. Had to know, really, because obviously she helped set it up. The students' assignment is to write a paper on the reaction of everyone who interacts with them, given their apparent total lack of interest in everything." Jim chuckled. "Apparently you're skewing the results."
"I am?" Blair asked disbelievingly.
"Several of the other lecturers have already given up, and are just going through the motions of teaching the group. Giving the lectures but only because they have to. It's the whole point of the study, apparently - to show that in the face of total apathy, people give up and respond with apathy. You, on the other hand, are still trying to get them interested despite the odds. It's a study this guy has done two or three times in different universities, and you're the first lecturer anywhere who's kept on trying to motivate the group, kept on trying to make the lectures more and more interesting.
"Apparently, too, there are one or two ringers in other classes, there to see if the reaction to this class affects the way the lecturers treat their other classes."
"It probably does, at least with some of the other TAs" Blair said. "This lot is so depressing that it's bound to impact on self-confidence. It could be quite damaging to someone's future. I'm really tempted to spill the beans... but I do understand that it's a study, part of those students' training. But after it's over, I'm going to kick up a fair stink about it!"
"As well as skewing the results," Jim chuckled. "Anyway, it's Friday - I've got the camping gear in the truck. How does a weekend away from all this sound?"
"It sounds perfect," Blair said happily.