Saturday, November 1, 2014

Snowflake Email!

I just love how awful and blurry
this graphic is. It's what
we've always been about.
My name is Defunct Adjunct. I'm pretty informal when it comes to the modes of address I expect from my students. Most of them call me Mr. Adjunct or Professor Adjunct or Dr. Adjunct, but I always sign my emails "Defunct," and some students respond to that and go with my first name when sending email to me, and even in person. I have no problem with that. As long as they're polite—and the vast majority of my students are very polite and respectful—I'm not a real stickler for the formality of titles.

I am not, however, interested in being addressed simply as "Adjunct." That's a step too far.

Having said all that, here is an email I received recently from a student. This was a student in an online class, so it was someone I had never met face to face. The email was in response to the grade the student had received for a mid-term exam. The exam basically asked the students to write a short essay discussing and analyzing the major themes and issues covered over the first seven weeks of the course, comparing and contrasting where appropriate.

The email is reproduced here exactly as it arrived in my inbox, including formatting, spelling, grammar, and sentence construction. Only the names have been changed.

I think you were quite harsh in your assessment of my midterm essay. I included 8 references from the readings in 4 pages. I wrote about those changes that I THOUGHT WERE IMPORTANT, according to my interpretation of the readings. I did read all of the articles and listened to the lectures, and I interpreted the information the way I wrote the essay. this was my opinion. are you arguing with my opinion? is it your position that my opinion is not good enough?
it ins my opinion that my disappointing grade for this essay should be changed to be more commensurate with my writing style.
thank you
Adorably Special Student.

My first impulse was to tell this particular student that his grade was, in fact, perfectly commensurate with his writing style. As it was, I wrote an extended email talking about the difference between opinion and analysis, and explaining that eight references might not be sufficient if those references all come from the same two sources, when we've covered a total of about 18 sources over the first half of the semester. Sheesh!


  1. Sheesh, indeed! If it makes you feel any better, I would have had more or less the same thoughts, and then written more or less the same email. I hope you're at least in a situation where you can be confident that your decision on the matter will stand, without interference from any chairs, deans, etc. the student tries to pull into the discussion.

  2. The student made no more noise about it after receiving my reply. The reply was considerably longer than my brief summary suggests, and outlined all the ways in which he had missed the point in his exam. I also made very clear to him that, while he was welcome to raise concerns about issues such as grades, I would appreciate it if he would be more polite about it in future.

    Even if he had taken it further, I'm lucky enough to have a very supportive department and a great Chair. I'm not discounting the possibility that some "customer-focused" Dean would have requested that I change the grade, but I know that my department would have had my back.

    There are some crappy things about being an adjunct on my campus, but my department isn't one of them. I really get treated like a colleague there, and not simply as some stranger who inhabits an office for three hours a week. They go out of their way to give me a good schedule, and make me feel like one of the team, especially in matters intellectual and pedagogical. It's really very nice, in terms of work environment.

  3. Not an office of my own, but there are a few offices in our department set aside specifically for the adjunct faculty. I have exclusive access to the office for my three hours of office hours per week, and while there are times when other adjuncts need to hold their own office hours, I can also often get in there to work even when I'm not scheduled. I have a key to the adjunct offices, just like the other adjuncts, and there is a good computer in each one, allowing us to do email, grading, LMS posting, etc.

    There are still times when I'm on campus and all the adjunct offices are taken, leaving me somewhat adrift. At those times, I go to the library or the campus cafe.


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