Thursday, December 20, 2012

Update from Hiram

This afternoon I called the Dean to follow up. I told him I had changed my mind about allowing the F grade to be changed to a D, based on my review of the events and a further review of the student's work.

The Dean told me that he had been convinced the student's poor performance on the final was a result of a misunderstanding and he'd take the responsibility for the changed grade, and that if I changed the grade he was going to override it.

"He didn't earn a passing grade," I said.

"It's my call," the Dean said. "Have a good holiday."


45 comments:

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    1. That was my reaction exactly. I feel that this has taken the onus off of you Hiram and it is the Dean's fault now.

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    2. Does the Dean's name appear as the teacher of record?

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  2. And there you have it, the rare honest moment where the facade of integrity in higher education is simply laid bare.

    I had a similar incident. Admittedly, I got overwhelmed and fell behind schedule in getting student work returned. However, this was after several assignments -- with feedback -- had been returned. I felt students had been given ample opportunity to redirect their work.

    The term ended and a student appealed a grade claiming that the late return of assignments was the reason for her poor performance. Problem was, this student's work was hugely substandard. We're not talking a misunderstanding of a course concept but a student who didn't know the difference between "lose" and "loose" and couldn't string together a coherent sentence, never mind a paragraph.

    This was also a time in history when this program provided narrative grades.

    So, I knew I'd take a hit because of the late return. But I wasn't prepared to see the student's narrative was transformed into a glowing mass of manure. You'd think the student had produced the Great American Novel.

    Doing your dean one better, my pointing out that the narrative was utterly fictional and not representative of the student's ability was met with "YOU left me no choice."

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  3. My condolences. That Dean is a SAMFer.

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    1. Dr D, WTF is SAMFer?
      - PG

      (MF I get, but SA isn't showing up in searches.)

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    2. I am not sure, but I think the "S" signifies the lack of intelligence and "A" the place on the body where said lack of intelligence resides. When combined with MF, which I assume signifies a propensity to have sexual intercourse with one's female parent, the result is a phrase that is reasonably common, or at least "rings" nicely.

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    3. AdjunctSlave is correct. Several of my non-academic friends use this term often. When pronounced, the A word is emphasized.

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  4. Get the Dean's claim of responsibility in writing. Just in case the student and his Dad come back in a few years with a lawsuit because the student didn't get that high paying job he so deserved.

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  5. One of my former students lives in my apartment building. Sometimes we bump into each other and we swap stories about his alma mater and my former employer.

    Whenever I mention incidents like what Hiram described, my ex-student gets upset. He, quite rightly, feels that things like raising grades like that cheapened his education.

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    1. So true. It's completely unfair to any student who got a bad grade and didn't bitch and whine. In Hiram's situation, I'd be very very tempted to make this incident known to other students. Let the Dean deal with hundreds of students who did no work but still want a B.

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    2. I hope you don't do that, because some deans just might let them have it.

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  6. I might follow up with an email, reiterating your stance and acknowledging your Dean's response. You may not need it, but documenting this couldn't hurt. Your call, of course.

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    1. Totally agree with Academaniac's and CrayonEater's calls for documentation here. CYA is always a good MO, IMHO.

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  7. I truly feel for all of you who are at the mercy of Grade Appeal Boards and fucktarded, parent pleasing Deans. Our CC has not gone that route - I am the only one who can change a grade that I assigned. Students can (and do) try to get my chair or the Dean to change a grade, but if I say no, my grade sticks.

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    1. We have it written into our faculty contract that only faculty may assign grades, and grades will only be changed if an incorrect grade was entered. Student work will not be re-evaluated in order to assign a new grade.

      This came about because of previous administrators like Hiram's. Bastards.

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  8. This is one reason I was hesitant to raise an eyebrow against Hiram in the previous thread: I've had this done to me. The only recourse I had was to observe, "the chickens will come home to roost," although with the department chair who did this being an illiterate bumpkin, it glanced off harmlessly.

    Don't worry, I got my consolation eventually, when I became department chair. I assigned that class-from-hell to my former Chair, and said in complete sincerity, "I really do think you're genuinely better suited to teach this class than anyone else in the department." What made it especially delicious was that this was true, and everyone knew and acknowledged it, including the dean to which the former chair tried to appeal. So hang in there, Hiram.

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  9. Although it's probably moot, check your state's education code about grades. Are grades administered at the sole discretion of the instructor? What about changing them?

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    1. I suppose you could Google it.

      A colleague of mine had bookmarked a link to California's education code. It's funny because our Dean at the time often made claims about the education code that were simply not true.

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    2. Oh, I thought you knew what you were talking about.

      When I google state education codes and grades, only K-12 school district mandates come through. I also researched WASC guidelines for higher ed, but that has nothing about grades, either.

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    3. Cynic,

      I'm not sure what your problem with me is, but I'm just trying to be supportive of Hiram.

      At any rate, I don't feel like feeding you today.

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    4. I don't have a problem with you., EMH. Based on your post, you sounded like you knew what you were talking about and I thought there actually WERE state codes for higher ed and that it would be helpful not only to Hiram, but to others of us dealing with the same issue.

      Then when I asked for further clarification about what those were (because I actually thought you were on to something), you were flippant and unhelpful, instructing me to 'google it,' as if I were a student who hadn't already researched it (which I had!) and then it turns out your suggestion turned out to be second-hand info (not helpful at all). I actually thought you were on to something and that I'd have support for my own issue, as well as Hiram's.

      And your insinuations that I'm a troll needing to be fed: now that's just unnecessary and hurtful.

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  10. I'm with EMH. Check that code and the faculty contract too. Kick this situation up over the dean's head to the VP of instruction and the college pres if you have to. File a grievance.

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    1. Filing a grievance would not be a good idea. In such settings, one can win the fight but still lose with the losing party continuing through harassment and bullying. Been there, suffered for it.

      My advice is for Hiram to leave well enough alone except, perhaps, to get the dean's decision in writing or in an e-mail message. Anything more than that would be asking for trouble. He should let sleeping dogs lie and move on.

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    2. I just wondered how accreditation fits in with this. My accrediting body puts authority for grading and curriculum with the faculty. Sadly, however, I have seen this kind of thing happen before. A colleague teaching in Large Urban Catholic University resigned her position over a situation similar to Hiram's. When Snottina showed up with her parents stating she should not have failed the final exam because it covered Concept X which was never gone over, my colleague demonstrated to the dean that in fact two class periods were devoted to the subject. The dean overrode the final exam grade and changed the student's grade from a D to a C.

      My friend now adjuncts at a local private high school and tutors a few days a week. He is much happier and was fortunate to be at an age where he could safely resign and call it "retirement."

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    3. Just because a department is accredited doesn't mean that it isn't playing a crooked game.

      During my last year of teaching, I contributed to the accreditation application for a department for which I taught a service course. The review committee came and all manner of hoops were jumped through. The department put on a good show, leading that committee that it had high standards and all that.

      After that committee had packed up and gone home, the department went back to running things the way they were before it applied for accreditation. Standards were lowered and failing marks raised to passes. It was as if the whole process hadn't occurred.

      Several months later, I seriously considered resigning and wrote a memo to that effect. When I read on the internal news net that the department had received its accreditation, I decided I'd had enough and submitted that memo. I wasn't going to be party to fraud.

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  11. Hiram, at least you can take comfort in the knowledge that you tried to make the situation right, and that it doing so you forced the dickish dean to show his true colors. Now you know where things stand. When this happens again, you can just defer to the dean and say, "Well, ultimately it's your call, as you're the one who has the power to change grades ..."

    Go have a drink and forget about it.

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  12. Something similar happened to me this quarter. I am so sorry to hear it's happening in other places because I really did think it was just a problem with our spineless dean.

    A student went home two weeks early and missed the last two weeks of class and the final exam. Then when he realized he would get a D-, and needed a C- to pass, he claimed he was sick. The dean asked me to give him an Incomplete. I refused. Then the dean said I had to average the student's score for the first two tests and give him that score for the final exam. I refused. Twelve hours of meetings later and 28 emails, and I notice that the student's grade is a C- on his final grade report. That is not the grade that I recorded.

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  13. Southern Bubba referenced "thinking outside the box" in the comments in the previous post.

    Revenge is a dish best served cold. Change the grade back on your way out the door, at what ever point in time that is. Odds are no one ever finds out (when was the last time you looked at your official transcript?) and you did the right thing for posterity.

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    1. It didn't quite work that way where I used to teach. We may have filled in the grade sheets ourselves, but the department head had to approve the results. Once he got them, we had no control over what happened after that.

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    2. Once the due date has passed, we can't change them without filling out paperwork that justifies a grade change (and this requires the dean's signature). But this pisses me off no end!

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    3. Grade changes require paperwork for us, too. In most cases, this protects us; when a student lobbies for a better grade, we can honestly say that we can't make a change without a valid reason, and the chair's signature. Of course, this only works if you have a chair with integrity; so far, I've been lucky in that regard.

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    4. At my alma mater, at least while I was an undergrad there, students could request a grade change, but there was a process for that. As I recall, the final exams were kept by the university and only those were reviewed as all other material and exams were returned to the students.

      But we were warned, however. Whatever grade resulted from that review, even if it was lower, would be permanent. Maybe that's why I never heard of anyone I knew challenging their grades.

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  14. Hiram, everybody else has been far more articulate than I was about this, but I'd like to join the chorus again and say:
    1. What an asshole! "Have a happy holiday."
    2. You did what you could given Dean Asshole's power.
    3. As frustrating as the Lucas situation is, you held your students to high standards, and enough of them rose to the occasion that the class average on the final was 85%. I know we wouldn't be where we are if the failures didn't bother us far more than our successes, but those final results are worth savoring. My final exams average in the high 60s.
    4. Life will kick Lucas' butt, and Daddy won't be able to fix it.

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    1. Perhaps Lucas is an only child, and will therefore be the one responsible for Daddy's care in his declining years.

      Then Dad will reap what he's sown.

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  15. Hi Hirram! I am late to this party, having been out all day yesterday and distracted the day before.

    But I'd just like to add that we are all the sum of our experiences. This happened, and next time it happens (and it probably will happen again) you can do things differently. Like you said, you were taken off guard. You did not know the Dean would act this way. I like what Stella has said, because I know it would work at my college, too. The Dean can change a grade. The Dean knows this and I know it. So, in a situation like this, you can tell the Dean to go ahead and do what (s)he needs to do, but that because your professional integrity is important to you, you will not change the grade yourself. That would sting, my Dean would not like it. But would it get me sent to the review board (we have something like that too for tenured folks)? I doubt it. But who knows what the fallout would be for you?

    I think Proffie Galore nailed it, just above. Life will kick Lucas' butt.

    I hope you don't let this get you down, Hirram! Have a great break!

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  16. Ah, Hiram; you're a better and more courageous person than I am. I probably would have dropped it (but continued to stew internally -- not a good combination). At least you got the Dean to say the magic words: "it's my responsibility." The situation still sucks, but the responsibility is clear. You did your best by both your students and your institution; take a well-earned break.

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  17. I am suprised by this, is this not grade fixing? Isn't there someone outside the university to whom this can be reported?

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  18. In a similar vein to Bella, if I'd been dealt a situation like this, my parting words to the Chair/Dean (mind you, where I am, tenure is ACTUALLY tenure...) would be something to the effect of "Next time, just change the grade and don't bother getting me involved, because I'm going to disagree with the grade change if it is undeserved, and you're going to override my objection, so let's both save ourselves from an unnecessary meeting whose outcome you've already decided upon."

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  20. "The lie may come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me."
    - Solzhenitsyn

    Good on ya Hiram!

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  21. Hiram, I've been away from civilization for the week (there's no internet connection at the bottom of this bottle) so I didn't get a chance to weigh in with my mighty, mighty words of wisdom. I'll take this opportunity to update everybody. (Still pretty drunk, so I want to make it clear that I'm just kidding.)

    I have not been in your situation think you made the poorer but still very reasonable choice among two very bad options. There's no shame in saying, "the hell with it" when your actions don't matter.

    The Dean's comments you report in this post confirm that you had no power to wield. That can be liberating. It's not your fault. You did your best. Move on.

    Here's where I have some experience. What to do now? Continue to interact with your dean as if nothing happened. This farcical theory that the student misunderstood the directions is preposterous - you know it and the dean knows it. He knows that you know that he is full of shit. It's good to have that out in the open.

    Don't make the mistake that your dean handles all decisions so poorly. Maybe he had a moment (albeit of an extended duration) of weakness too. Maybe he will reflect on this episode and grow a spine in time for the next occurrence. He has more power than you every single day so don't hold this against him. Consider that out of the many students you teach, he only fucked up the grade on just one of them, just this one time.

    I would give more thought to why the rest of your class got an average of 85%, you big softy.

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  22. In my final year as an undergraduate I did not hand in either paper for a full-year course. I tried to finish them before the exam - they had been due months before, of course, but the prof was willing to let me hand them in at the exam - but didn't. Then I tried to finish them, or even one, before he handed in the grades. I got partway through one and phoned him 4 days after the exam to find out how much more time I had. None, he answered; he had handed in the grades that morning. You failed the class.

    "Oh," I said. "This was the last class I needed to graduate."

    "I'm sorry," he said.

    And that was that. I took another year to graduate, and worked part time to support myself. I remained on good terms with the prof, except that I was (naturally) a little embarrassed when I ran into him. We are still in touch.

    I was a snowflake, absolutely: but when I earned an F I knew it and accepted it. What the hell is wrong with students now? Or maybe there were always students like this.

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