Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sometimes No Means NOOOOOOO!

This past week, a student emailed me with a complaint about a grade he received in Spring 2015.

Apparently, he did not realize at that time, that a grade of "C-" would not allow him to take the next class in the sequence.  Now, he has attempted to take that next class, been denied because he did not receive a minimum grade of "C, " and decided to complain to both me and the Dean of Academics. 

I immediately wrote to him and told him that the deadline for contesting a grade had long passed, and that according to our written policy, not being able to register for the next class was not a reason a student could contest the grade anyway. (This student had actually written in his e-mail that while he knew he probably deserved the C-, he did not think such a grade should prevent him from registering for the next class.)  For the record, in our state, some colleges accept "C" and some accept "C-" as the barrier for registration into the next course.  My department faced intense scrutiny for demanding the grade of "C" rather than "C-."  And actually, at that time, I was in favor of "C-". (So sue me-----I just thought at the time that it would be better if we were in accordance with our cohorts throughout the state system…)  But here is the kicker, y'all:  in the end, my department succeeded in getting "C" as the standard for our college.  And I am the Department Chair.  I will die before I fail to uphold the written, fought for, and accepted standards we have all agreed upon (or at least accepted).

I wrote this student an unequivocal "NO" answer.  NO---your C- will not allow you to register for the next class.  SORRY you did not realize this, and contest your grade within the very reasonable time period stated in the student handbook.  The answer to your question is a simple NO!  You need to take this course again, and get a grade of "C" or higher.  Thank you and goodbye.

My Dean of Academics wrote him something different.  "Have the department chair check with your professor to see if the C- was a low C- or a high C-.  Perhaps we can change your grade, if it was a high C-, to a C, so you can take the next class."  When I protested, he insisted I meet with the student, contact the previous professor, and decide if the grade could be "tweaked." 

I'll tell you what.  I am fed up with this shit.  He can kiss my ass.  I did meet with the student, told him my academic dean was full of shit, and that a C- was a C-, and that was that.

The hopeful side of this equation is that this student was actually a sensible, intelligent person.  He himself thought the Dean's response was "strange" and that if what he said was okay, then grades as assigned had no real integrity.  I told this student that an alternative he had was to take a CLEP test  for the class in which he received a C-.  If he passed, he could then register for the next class.  The cost of a CLET test is much less than the cost of taking the course again.  The student was pleased to have an alternative that gave him the opportunity to see if he was actually qualified for the next class. 

And I am still quite upset at the absolute lack of integrity in our administration!  What a bunch of assholes we have, running the show!!

- Bella

19 comments:

  1. Bella, I am cheering for you (silently, at my desk). And that's an impressive insight from your student. What on *earth* is the deal with your Dean of Academics?

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  2. Yeah, one of these incidents is what killed my career about 10 years ago. 2 students, both earning poor grades, didn't want to have to take the course again. The "Grade Appeal Committee" overruled me and insulted me to my face. (I needed to "lighten up"). It has stuck in my craw for a decade because those 2 students were HORRIBLE -- one refused to do the assignment given (thus earning a C-) and the other always had something better to do on class day (and thus missed quizzes and paper deadlines to earn a D). The one grade was raised to a C; in retrospect, he deserved lower (I had already been kind in grading), and the second I put my foot down at a C-, thus possibly screwing her out of being able to major in that department.

    The whole thing was humiliating and I was made to feel like *I* did something wrong for having minimal standards. This was the 1st in a string of workplace bullying incidents that led to me quitting grad school.

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  3. Bella, thanks for keeping the standards. The good guys get a win once in a while.

    This whole grade appeal bullshit needs to vanish anyway. No one should be able to screw with a grade given. In my institution, that is the rule - I assign a grade, and I am the only one allowed to change it - not a Department Chair, a mindless Dean, the President, or St. Peter himself. That is one of the only reasons I am not batshit crazy - at least I know that a student will earn the grade he deserves, and not changed at the whim of an administrative "the customer is always right" asshat.

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  4. I keep seeing stories of monster administrators and deans on here. Fortunately I've not had that experience. I've been upbraided for being a bit untoward a couple of times, but 100% of my grading disputes taken to the chair or, rarely, the Dean or one of two committees have all been upheld.

    I dot my i's and cross my t's. If a student receives a failing grade on any assignment, they can do an essay to bring it up. In order for this work to count, they have to sign a statement saying that they understand why they received the original grade.

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  5. Congrats for winning an important battle. My dean does the same as yours. Thankfully, my school does not advertise grade appeals very well and I certainly don't mention it.

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  6. The thrill of victory is sweet, isn't it? All the more so because it is SO rare.

    I'd like to encourage you make a formal, written complaint to your university provost about the flagrant lack of integrity shown by your Dean of Academics. Very likely it will be like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting to hear the echo, but tenure does have its uses, especially since good universities such as the U. of Chicago are nowadays starting once again to take a stand on integrity. What are they going to do to you, tell you to step down as Department Chair? Considering what a thankless pain in the butt that job is, I'd consider that a great favor.

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    1. I agree and I may. There are some extenuating circumstances I cannot mention that make it....complicated.

      But yes, I have the ability to complain, and no, they can't really do anything to me at all! Even take the Chair away (we have a union.....there are policies in place they have to follow even about that!). So circumstances be damned, it does seem like this schmuck deserves to have this shoved in his face and made a part of a written record!

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  7. This, all of this, has been my experience over the past few years in my own institution. It's completely changed the way I view the profession. I'm sure I would have taken a different path years ago had I known it was going this way.

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  8. WTF is a "low" or "high" C-? It's a C-. Period. The policy is what it is. I certainly see the same thing here and we don't lack for spineless administrators who make exceptions and undermine those of us who actually have integrity. We have rules for a reason. If the rule is bad, get rid of it. If it's a valid rule, enforce it.

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    1. Exactly. At my joint, the lowest C- is two percent below the highest, effectively saying that the confidence band is 3%. If you bump one "high C-" to a straight C, then in fairless you should also bump every high F to a D-, every high A to A+, etc. That way lies madness.

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  9. I had to read the Original Post in two sittings. The first time through, I got as far as "Perhaps we can change your grade," and then I had to get up from the table to go drink.

    No, Dean Deanie Fuckface. You don't suggest a grade change as an end-run around a prerequisite rule. And you sure as hell don't put that idea in the student's head without checking with the Chair and the instructor of record. Just no. (You already know you're wrong, so you're using the student to do your dirty work, which is wrong. Or you don't know you're wrong, which is wrong on another level. All of it, WRONG.)

    If anything, what you DO is consider the spirit of the rule: it's (in part) to prevent students from bombing out of the follow-on course. They need to know some stuff before they can learn other new stuff. That's why we call some courses "prerequisites," you see?

    So if the student's retaking the prerequisite is such a fucking hardship, you find some other way to determine if the student has since filled the competency gaps, such that success in the follow-on is less of a gamble. And you grant a one-time waiver, and you wait and see if it works out before you do it again or tweak the rule. But alter the transcript? Oh, HELL no.

    Something similar happened to me, involving a colleague teaching another section, a student who failed, the Dean, and then me. Hence the drinking. I'd tried to forget the incident as something never to be repeated, but now I remember it again. Add it to the list of things I should write up for presentation here.

    Second reading of the OP, I see that the sensible student and Bella and I are of similar minds, and I don't feel quite as much like emptying the Irish Creme bottle into my coffee this morning.

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    1. OPH, I think I love you.

      But I think I've told you that before!

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  10. You know it's really getting bad when the students are more sensible than the deans, don't you? It sounds like the student was mostly upset about not having understood the significance of the C- at the time (which could be his fault for not reading the syllabus/catalogue, or others' fault for not making the information as prominent as it needed to be, or a bit of both).

    We don't really have this problem. If anything, we seem to have the opposite one: a bit too much complacency about the number of students who take and retake the required-for-graduation class that is not only my, but my department's, bread and butter (and in which students need to get, yes, a C, to graduate, and in some departments to take the capstone course that is also required for graduation). It's not quite clear what the problem(s) are -- mostly likely some combination of lack of preparation, psychological issues surrounding writing, and/or simply trying to take too many classes at once and assuming an English class will/should be easy -- but the bottom line seems to be that no one's terribly disturbed that some students are taking and retaking (and paying full tuition for) a class that's taught by relatively cheap labor (probably c. 90% contingent, though some of us are of the somewhat more expensive full-time contingent sort). There is a way to gain exemption, but it involves a lot of gathering writing samples and writing rationales, and, not surprisingly, doesn't seem to be very popular with the serial earners of C-s and below.

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  11. Hard to believe the student was more sensible than the dean, who sounds like a flaming a-hole, to be honest. Grades are meaningless - just ask for a better grade and "we" will give you one! Standards are meaningless - just ask, and we will retcon your academic history to "meet" those standards! What a tool.

    But having informed a great many students of the CLEP option, in my experience, few actually manage to take it, much less pass it. Students who fail the class generally don't have the motivation to self-study for the CLEP, which is apparently a lot tougher than, say, a final exam for the same course. But it is an option, and many students feel reassured by it, but they're mostly the types who secretly believe they deserved a much higher grade.

    I can't help but root for this C- student simply because, against all odds, he wasn't a huge whiny baby about it.

    (BTW I re-posted this with my alias for this site even though I don't really care about my true name being revealed, it's a pretty common given name)

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    1. Yes, your experience with CLEP tests mirrors my own. But sometimes it is nice to be able to let them know there is an option. And YES---this kid was impressive! I was not expecting that. Not your typical "complainer" at all!

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  12. "I am still quite upset at the absolute lack of integrity in our administration!"

    Gravity pisses me off too sometimes. Fucking Gravity! And seasons - don't get me started about the fucking seasons! I am often incensed by the second law of thermodynamics.

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    1. Sigh. And the fact that good beer makes you fat!

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  13. This is why I think it should be mandatory that Academic Deans also teach a lower-level course from time to time. This kind of BS wouldn't happen as often if THEY were the ones being asked to lower their own standards and flout university policy.

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