Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oh goody. They're suing for As now.

According to the Toronto Star, a snowflake at Concordia University in Montreal is suing for a tuition refund because his A- got curved down to a B+. Suing. For. A. Tuition. Refund. Over. A. Final. Grade.


He hasn't filed for a grade appeal...and, I'd wager, he hasn't RTFS...or the handbook, or the website, or wherever else the department's "grades may be adjusted to fit distribution profiles" disclaimer appears.  Why would he, when he can get so much attention this way?  And maybe the university will be pressured into giving him the A he "deserves".

While I'm very slightly sympathetic to his "but my marks added up to 81" argument, YOU DON'T GET A REFUND AFTER YOU COMPLETE A COURSE BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T LIKE YOUR GRADE.  (Because could you imagine that precedent?! Sweet mother of fuck on a cracker.)

Look, I'm not a fan of grade distribution policies, or "norms", or however-the-fuck the adminflakes are expressing the concept these days...unless they are ones that say "make your class challenging enough so that only the handful of honest-to-Foucault A-students get As, all those who can't do the work at a post-secondary level fail, and everyone else ekes out their Ds, Cs, or Bs, depending on what they put into it."  THAT is a policy I can get behind.  The customers, not so much, so we all know those good old days are over. (Cue violins/nostalgic montage.)

I don't inflate grades, but I will stand my ground with admin if I have a particularly exceptional class where a high number of students earn As and I don't "conform" to the "profile".  That happens most often when I have a large proportion of upper year students taking an intro class as a breadth requirement or to fill in a missing major/minor gap. These are the students who, by the example of their presence and participation, teach the first and second years how it's done, generally raising everyone's game and grades in the process.  I LOVE winning that particular battle.

I'll also stand my ground if my grades don't "conform" because my students aren't working at a post-secondary level.  I both love and hate winning that one, for reasons that should be obvious.

But suing?! Over 2%?! And for a REFUND?! Dude. Just...no.


  1. Having read the article, I have no major problem with this. To say he's suing because he "didn't like his grade" is off the mark. *If* the end result is at odds with the policies stated on the syllabus and by the department (and neither of us knows whether that is the case), then he has every reason to complain. A grade appeal would make more sense to me, but maybe he's genuinely bothered by the principle of it. Grading to a curve has always bothered me philosophically, too.

    The amount sued for is obviously ridiculous, but since when was the starting point when suing for damages ever sensible?

  2. I dunno, I read the article and didn't find the student to be such a snowflake. Basically, the prof performed an AD HOC modification to the grade distribution so that it would meet the uni's policies. The student knew he had a 81% (an A minus), but got a B plus instead, and wanted a clear and straightforward answer as to how and why he and a couple of other students were chosen for the downgrade, and didn't get one, despite several months of trying. While he's suing for a refund, he clearly states that he knows he can't sue to get the grade changed. If I order the 12 oz sirloin and get the 8 oz round steak instead, and get a couple of shrugs in response to asking why, I'm not going to also shrug and think 'well, it is what it is.'

  3. As far as the larger issue(s) go(es), I think we're going to end up going in one of two directions: Pass/Fail for all, or some sort of more or less rigid grade distribution for all classes. I know I give too many Bs of various flavors (I do try to hold the line on As), but I also just don't have the energy to talk down students upset over Cs (so I end up using it to talk down students upset over B+s instead; I'm not sure that's better). Nor do I have the confidence that, if my grading harder than colleagues led to lower evals, anyone would acknowledge and make allowances for the connection.

    I could live with the pass/fail option. Students who actually cared about education (as opposed to a grade) would still presumably pay attention to my comments, and learn something. Those who just wanted a grade they considered satisfactory would probably be frustrated at first, but would, I think, adjust. Some would lament the loss of "their" 4.0s, I'm sure, but what does a 4.0 mean other than "pass" when half the class has one?

    I could also probably live with a uniform distribution, especially if there were some flexibility, and it were an initiative proposed and approved by the faculty. If it were an inflexible fiat imposed by an otherwise student-as-customer-oriented administration, I'd be outraged, and inclined to join any protest/resistance that developed.

  4. "Nor do I have the confidence that, if my grading harder than colleagues led to lower evals, anyone would acknowledge and make allowances for the connection. "

    I find it curious there's so often little to no departmental oversight within American universities. A B with one professor shouldn't be a C with another for the same course, yet that clearly happens at many institutions, including my own.

    What's the argument against exam preparation and grading being a collaborative effort, at the very least for the lower level classes? When I raised the issue here, I was told they'd considered it in the past, but decided it would cause too much disagreement and consume too much time. Those don't strike me as good reasons.

    1. We have nearly 80 sections of Basket Weaving 101 over several campuses as well as on-line. Totally impossible to collaborate. We also are very much against a "common exam" because we fear people will just "teach to the test" rather than educate. We also value academic freedom so we choose to live with some inconsistencies so that we can have some flexibility. The reality is, whether you have a small department or a large one, there will always be "easy" profs and "tough" profs. I'm a toughie, one of my colleagues has a terrible reputation of being "super easy" with "tons of extra credit" His/Her classes fill up and s/he rarely has a student complaint!

  5. “The only thing I can really ask them for is a refund,” he said. “I can’t sue them to change my grade.”

    Well, he could sue to get the grade changed, but he wouldn't win. The courts (thankfully) just won't go there.

    Maybe he'll get assigned to a judge like the disguised Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" who will grant him his refund on the condition that he give back all the knowledge he gained in the class, since he won't have paid for it.

  6. I'm divided (no math-pun intended).

    I hate grade-grubbing and I hate re-explaining the syllabus to students. I have since stopped trying to talk students down over being unsatisfied with their grade. I will add up the points again for them, and if the points add up to a C then that's what they get, like it or not. I will not attempt to make them like it. It's their job to get the grade they like, and not mine to negotiate a hostage situation.

    If the syllabus so stated that grades may adjusted to fit a distribution (hopefully not a random distribution dear God), then the time to worry about that was before the drop date.

    On the other hand, my snarky side kind of sees where this student is coming from. If he's doing it for attention, is that not what we and the institution thrive off of? Perhaps he/she learned it from the best?

  7. If the prof/department did this ad hoc and against the syllabus, then they brought the misery on themselves. One of the profs I knew in grad school used to be quite up front about grading to a curve. On day one he told the class what proportion of the class would get A, B or C, and set the numerical cutoffs appropriately. Thing was, he had already learned the hard way to make sure the tests weren't too easy. Hell hath no fury like a student getting a 'curved' down.

    What has always struck me though is how students only see the argument one way. If the class average comes out low it's "Aren't you going to curve the grades?" If the class average is a little high, it's "Don't you dare curve the grades!". When they get 79.5% it's "Can't you bump me up?" When they get 80.1% it's ...crickets...

    And the grade inflation bullshit ratchet turns another click.


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