Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'm Not Baffled, Just Pissed Off.

I spent the better part of a semester pushing and pulling mid-year graduating senior Lucas through my class. We had at least three meetings about this during the semester, and each time he sort of blithely acknowledged that he'd do the work necessary.

He was a lazy shit, who did casual and careless C- work.

As the semester was closing down, he kept talking about his relocation to San Diego where he had lined up a job and a house, and where his girlfriend was already living. He was going to skip the final, too, if he could, I mean, if it was okay with me.

"Okay?" I said. "You NEED the final to pass. Your grades are on the borderline and the final is going to decide if you even pass."

"But I'm graduating," he said, smiling.

"You're not getting it, Lucas. You won't graduate unless you pass this class, and I've spent all semester trying to show that to you."

The final exam day came and Lucas showed up. He breezed through it in about 20 minutes. Nobody else left until after at least an hour, and most were there at the 2 hour finish.

I couldn't wait to see what he'd done. My calculations showed he needed to earn at least 75 points out of 100 to earn a C, 65 for a D. Both of those would have meant he'd graduate in December like he wanted. But 60 or below guaranteed an F, and he would not graduate at all.

I started to grade sections of the test, 5 in all, each worth 20 points. He did great on the first section, 18, okay on the second 15, and then there was nothing. He did 2 of the 5 sections. 33 points meant he was going to fail.

Before the final even let out I went to the hallway to look for him. Nothing. I emailed him from my phone. No reply.

That night I graded the rest of his class, average grade 85. (Of course those people ALL did ALL 5 sections.)

I waited 2 days for him to reply to a voicemail and an email, and then an email from the Dean's office requested my early grades on graduating seniors.

F. That's what it was. It wasn't even close.

24 hours later the Dean is on the phone with me. Can I come and see him.

I walk in and Lucas is sitting there with an older gentleman, who I learn is his father.

Everyone's polite. And then Dad goes off. "How come you couldn't give Luke a head's up? That's the least you can do. He's a great kid, with a bright future, and you've got something against him. There's no other explanation."

Despite my outward calm, I just want to punch a wall. I start to go through all of the times I'd tried to help Lucas get the class under control, and the kid sat there shaking his head.

"I want to see his final," Dad says after a while. "I want to see if I think his work is worthy of a grade."

I trudge over to my office and brought it back. The Dean and Dad stood on one side of the desk and turned pages.

"18 out of 20, right?" The Dean says. "That's a good solid B in any class."

"There are 5 sections," I say.

"You said we only had to do 2 sections," Lucas says suddenly.

The misery in his face is real. He wasn't the cocky graduating senior, anymore; he was grasping.

"No, I never said that," I say. "All of the other students did all 5 sections. There's nothing on the the test that says pick and choose." I pick the exam question sheet up and read, "Answer all questions; you have 2 hours."

"Well, you admit he passed the sections, he did, even a B on the first section. That's passing," Dad says.

"Sure, he passed one fifth or two fifths of the exam."

"How were his other grades," the Dean says, "during the semester."

"Between a C- and a D," I say.

Suddenly Dad looks over at the kid. "You said you were acing the class before the final."

Lucas sort of shrugs.

"I begged Lucas to work harder," I say. "We met outside of class a few times about this. I tried to get him to give more effort."

Everyone slumps. It feels like the worst is over.

Then Dad goes off again. "This is some kind of bullshit. This is a great kid. He's going to do great things and he's leaving this place behind, and he's leaving tomorrow. I am satisfied that he was confused by mixed messages on the final and he clearly passed, even got a B, on the part of the final he did. This is intolerable to be held up like this over a misunderstanding."

"I don't see how this is a misunderstanding; your son didn't do the work, didn't score enough, and took the class too casually. It's not fair to the other students if he were to get a pass with failing scores," I say.

The Dean asks us all to take a break. He's going to ask someone (I swear I don't know who) a question. I stay in the office and Lucas and his dad leave.

After ten minutes the Dean comes back.

"Honest mistake," he says. "I can't MAKE you do it, but I just talked to your chair and we're going to ask that you change the grade to a D. That way you win, because his work wasn't good, and they win, too. If he really was a bad student, then maybe he did misunderstand."

And I sat there, like a little man. I thought of all the things I should say, would say if I really had a backbone, but I couldn't make myself say them. I was over Lucas already. Lucas doesn't matter. It's this bullshit going on right in front of me that is the real problem. I wanted to say no. I wanted to fight it. I wanted to test out how secure my position was at the school.

And I also just wanted this to be over.

I'm a coward. I caved in. I let them change the grade. I went against what I believed. And I did it because I was afraid of what the Dean and the chair would do to me, or think of me. I didn't want the hassle or the headache.

I wish I could go back in time. I would simply ignore the first request by the Dean to scramble over to talk to a student and a parent. That's not what I do this job for.

I know I did the wrong thing, and I'm ashamed of it.


  1. Hiram, it's beyond frustrating that your dean and chair didn't back you up. And that kid's father didn't do him any favors. Does he think he can rescue Lucas when he screws up this badly on the job?

    Don't kick yourself too much. I presume that Lucas is not heading into a field where his lack of knowledge and work ethic will put patients at risk.

    And hey -- your class average on the final exam was 85%? Congratulations! Most of your students did work hard and did learn plenty.

  2. I know how you feel Hiram, I've been there. It was a different situation, but I remember my chair just kept saying that he felt the outcome should be different, and he "wanted me to be OK with that". Captain Subtext: he wanted me to cave and say I agree.

    It was pre-tenure. It was obvious that holding out wouldn't make any difference to the decision. It was obvious it would only hurt myself. So I held my nose and said OK, figuring it didn't make any difference.

    But it did - I've hated ever since that I caved.

  3. If it's any consolation, Hiram, be sure to collect favors from that Dean and department Chair, when you need them.

  4. I've emailed with Hiram about his situation and I can attest to the fact that he feels awful about this. What I told him is even with his recent tenure decision, administrators and chairs still exert a good deal of power over us. It's a misnomer to think tenure still means what it once did. Hiram's college has a post-tenure review process, for example, like mine does. My college's process, if you read it carefully, almost entirely does away with tenure as it's known. We can be fired after tenure for reasons having to do with performance and budget, NOT just gross negligence.

    I have been in Hiram's shoes in a similar situation, and I feel for him. I just don't want the college actively working against me. And that's what his Dean did to him.

    Leslie K

    1. That sounds like what I had at the institution I used to teach at. Permanent status really meant that an instructor was legally allowed to show up after the end of each summer. How long that lasted depended on whether that person was liked by certain administrators. Bullying and harassment were widespread and witchhunts frequently occurred. We had a staff association but, for the most part, it didn't do a whole lot about it.

      I'm glad I'm not there any more.

    2. The tenure, it turns out, is just like what NLAA describes. It's just a guarantee that if you MAKE it through a semester, you can come back. And, yes, I have certain power and certain ability to run my classes as I see it, but this whole situation felt like it was out of my hands as soon as the Dean allowed the parent to dictate the terms of this post-grade meeting.

      I'm over it, I guess, and I know more about my college than I once did.

  5. Power is power and when it's exercised over you, there isn't too much you can do. Except feel bad, unfortunately. But I know if that were my parent sitting there, that conversation would have been SO different . . . which is why my parent would NEVER have been sitting there in the first place, of course. Ultimately Lucas is a product of his parents' attitudes and behaviors and there's not much anyone can have done about that. You tried, and for what little it's worth right now, that is meaningful. Maybe one day Lucas will remember when he (hopefully) runs up against an authority figure who won;t cave.

    1. Agree, Surly. And speaking as someone who works at a Fancy Pants College Prep School, brace yourselves for more of these students and parents. "Their numbers are like the stars in heaven." That's what a native American chieftan said just before his culture was destroyed, right? Because that's the analogy I was going for.

  6. Your Dean committed a FERPA violation by even allowing the dad to be present during the meeting.

    1. I bet Lucas was the type to already have all that paperwork signed so daddy could take a look.

    2. Yeah, Bison is right. At my new college students get a FERPA waiver in their enrollment pack. Parents can and do get involved here. Although I've not had the pleasure yet.

  7. Sorry to hear Hiram. It sounds like it was a moot point as soon as the Dean agreed to meet with the parent. Still, don't forget that a D is a poor grade too. It's not the F Lucas deserved, but that sucker is on his transcript. I'd take some heart from that.

  8. Hiram--next time this happens, what you need to do is say "Look, I've done my job, and Lucas got an "F". I will not condone changing the grade. But obviously I'm not the only one with the power to change it. If the dean feels that it is the right thing to overturn a fairly assigned grade to a student, that's his right. But I won't be any part of it."

    I've given out enough failing grades to expect a conversation like the one you endured, and this is what I'm going to say.

    If you go that route, again, you've done your job. If someone above you wants to come along and pander to a student, that's on their head, not yours. And of course as I have tenure I would file an official letter of protest and tell everyone I knew about the situation (not naming names, of course).

  9. Could this happen at state universities? I can't imagine a state agency ever doing this.

    1. The institution I used to teach at was government-funded and the sort of nonsense described by Hiram often happened there, though, perhaps not with any parents being present.

      We had a protocol regarding failures. Between 47 - 49%, the grades could be raised to a pass at the discretion of the instructor. (I remember doing that a few times at first, but, later, I submitted the grades as they were and let the department head worry about them.) Between (I think) 40 and 46%, the students qualified for supplemental exams, but they had to request them from the instructor. Below that range, they had to take the course again.

      I know my department head raised one and possibly two of my students in the supplemental exam range to 50%. Before we went away for the summer, one of them stopped by my office and wondered what to do. I lent him some of my books, told them to read through them over the next 3 or 4 months, and see me before lectures started again after we returned. After the end of the summer, he came by in a joyous mood, returned the books, and told me he didn't need them because he "passed" when I knew very well he got below 47%. The other student didn't say peep.

      In a service course I taught during my last year, something similar happened, but no students made any formal requests. Many of the students who failed that course managed to graduate. Clearly, certain regulations were conveniently circumvented.

      Malarkey like that is why I'm No Longer An Academic. All my efforts to teach them something were completely futile.

    2. It happens at my state university all the time. I'm contantly told to look the other way on plagiarism, 15+ absences, late work, you name it. Just this past semester I was made to pass two cheaters, eight people who should have failed because of absences, and one guy who turned his work in late. And yes, the syllabus was explicit about ALL of these things.

    3. Of course, something like that is never referred to as academic fraud, is it?

  10. I am of two minds about this, Hiram, and you know I like you very much and enjoy your posts.

    On one hand, I understand what you did. The odds were stacked against you and you clearly saw that the Dean and the chair wanted this to happen. They wouldn't be satisfied any other way, and whatever risk - even if it was negligible - is not worth the hassle.

    On the other hand, we - all of us - have got to change the academy if we want it to be better.

    I hope that next time you feel more power and courage and stand up to the bastards. I know it's easy to say from the cheap seats, but one thing I've often gotten from reading RYS and CM is that sense of courage! Courage, mes amis. We need to stand up to bullshit like what got pulled on you.

    That having be said, it's over now. Let it go and enjoy the holiday.


    1. I think Darla's point above is unfair to Hiram and impractical in general. Hiram had no choice. People with power over his employment were ordering him to change the grade. The risk to Hiram was not "negligible." And if he had refused the Dean's request and then quit or been fired, what good would that do?

      This sort of corruption exists in the administrative ranks of institutions, and those administrators have real power over professors. To say that professors can "stand up to the bastards" is a fiery sentiment, but entirely impractical.

      My field of study, when I had one, was the late-medieval Catholic Church, as corrupt an institution as has ever existed. Reform of that financial and moral corruption came only when those in power became motivated to bring about reform. Centuries of criticism and protest from below had little practical result, and many of the critics ended up dead.

      Likewise, it is unreasonable to assert that professors, either individually or collectively, have the power to effect change in the sort of abuses that Hiram describes.

      I sympathize deeply with Hiram's anguish. It is humiliating and demoralizing to be forced to act against one's standards and conscience, and I've been there many times.

      I think we need a more effective strategy than that of calling upon those with little power or influence to risk their careers over discrete incidents.

    2. He does have tenure. It surely affords some protection. If we can't give grades when they are earned fairly, where is there any point in the profession at all.

    3. A tenured professor can say "No, I won't do that. If you want that done, you'll have to do it yourself."

      I think part of the problem resides with us thinking we have the ultimate final word to begin with. Administrators have the power to change grades. They have the power to change or ignore anything they like. But if they want a grade changed so badly, they need to change it themselves.

      Dirtbags. Hiram shouldn't be beating himself up about this, because if the dean actually called him into his office with the parent and student present, the dean was going to change that grade anyway. The only person that ends up feeling shitty is Hiram, and he has nothing to feel shitty about.

      All you do is say, "I've done the job I was paid to do, and assigned the grade the student earned. If you, Dean Scumbag, feel it needs to be changed anyway, I'm sure you have that power."

      Then, walk out. In that case all the heat is on the dean. If he doesn't change the grade, the father gives him grief, maybe threatens to sue. If he does, he faces the wrath of the faculty.

      Dean Scumbag has cleverly placed all the weight on Hiram, so he can come off as the nice guy and bear zero responsibility for the changed grade. This happens all the fucking time, and faculty end up doing exactly as Hiram did. But they don't really have to, not even the untenured ones. They just say "I did my job. If you feel like changing the grade is yours, I'm sure you'll do that."

      It's all an administrator mind-fuck.

      And if anyone out there reading this is an administrator, or a former administrator, and you have pulled shit like this, I say to you seriously that you should go fuck yourself. Go fuck yourself sideways, you asshole.

  11. You did what you could, Hiram, both to help the kid and to hold him accountable (which, of course, also helps him; he's clearly got some significant deficits in life skills and/or a psychological problem; either way, the problem *is* going to recur, in a situation where daddy and/or the dean won't be able to intercede). The D will send a pretty clear warning to potential employers -- not as clear as the F, but still clear enough (and he can, and probably will, make up a b.s. story about either). This absolutely isn't the way things should work, but I'm inclined to think about it the same way I do about plagiarism: of course we do what we can to hold the line, but ultimately we aren't responsible for preventing students (and their parents, and the administration) from robbing themselves of the education they paid for. It probably isn't entirely fair to the students who actually did the work, but those students actually learned something, and have the (much higher) grades to prove it, so the reward system isn't entirely broken. And if the administration is going to usurp more and more of the power that traditionally belonged to the faculty, it's going to have to take the responsibility for the consequences of the ways in which they exercise that power, too. If they do this too often, the reputation of the institution will suffer.

    You don't have to comment on this, but, like Kugel, I'm guessing that the school you work for is private (and that Daddy, and/or someone else in the family, is an alum and/or big donor, or at least has the funds to become one). Teaching as a TA at an Ivy at the height of affirmative action, I encountered very few students who really didn't belong at the school; those I did were all white, and legacies. At my current public university, I regularly fail students who just have to pass my required class (which they should have taken two years earlier) to graduate, and I've never gotten any pushback (well, except from the students themselves, but there's never been even a hint of it going further).

    The good news is that the long-term consequences will almost certainly fall on Daddy. I'm guessing that within 6 months he's either going to be subsidizing the rent on that house in San Diego (if he isn't already), or cohabiting with a very unhappy Lucas as he tries to do just what you did in your office-hours meetings: get Lucas to face reality, and take some responsibility for his own life.

    I hope that, despite this, you are able to have a relaxing and refreshing break, not too badly overshadowed by your newfound clarity about the realities of your institution (which, I suppose, is worth something, but it hardly counts as a Christmas present). Your students (including Lucas) are lucky to have you, and you will continue to give them your best, and that counts for a lot.

    1. P.S. It's worth remembering what we often tell our students: the point of the course is not to get a grade, but to learn something. Yes, we have a gate-keeping/certifying function, and your Dean is undermining that, but you gave all of your students what really counts: an education, including honest feedback on their progress.

    2. P.P.S. Now I'm baffled. The sidebar is hawking what appears to be a "natural" alternative to Viagra. I'll take that as a message to the Dean (and perhaps Dad), who apparently need some help in stiffening a crucial member: their backbones.

    3. CC:

      When I was an undergrad back in the Pleistocene Era (i. e., nearly 40 years ago), I equated a high grade with learning. After all, I earned my results largely from exams, during which I was called upon to demonstrate that I knew something related to the course material.

      Nowadays, that sentiment probably still exists, but, considering how diluted academic standards have become, it may no longer be valid.

  12. Hi Cassandra. (By the way, you're such a rock star on this website!)

    I teach a a regional state uni in Ohio. It's smallish, though, and there's a real "student-centered" vibe to it. I've heard of other parents getting involved at semester end, but it had just not happened to me.

    I do wish I'd have had a bit of warning about this weird Dean/Dad meeting. I could have brought all of my emails that I sent the kid urging him to put some more effort in. As it was I sent a pack of them to the Dean to show that I'd done my job of trying to give the kid a push. Maybe in the future he won't ambush a faculty member in a similar situation.

    1. Hiram:

      I had similar things happen to me while I was teaching. All the evidence in the world wouldn't have persuaded my superiors when they clearly knew what the outcome was going to be.

      Whenever something like that occurred, the word "corrupt" seemed an apt description.

    2. Sad as it is, NLAA is probably right that more documentation wouldn't have bolstered your case. Stella's approach -- if Admin wants it done, they'll have to do it themselves -- seems the best "compromise" position, and given your updated post that's exactly how it played out in the end.

      I am reasonably certain that similar grade-grubbing shenanigans go on at my institution, with the play-by-play unfolding at a level that flies completely over the heads of classroom instructors. It's dishonest, yes, but at least we can maintain our veneer of integrity to ourselves.

  13. (Oh, dear; now I'm blushing.) So I guess maybe it's a size rather than a private/public thing (or maybe they *want* an endowment? After all, state-supported institutions are increasingly less so, and students whose families can pay full freight, and maybe even contribute something above that, are valuable commodities).

    Yes, I think the Dean was remiss in not telling you what the meeting was about, and who would be there, and asking you to bring any and all relevant materials. Now that he has more info., maybe *he'll* spend part of his holiday ruminating on the whole thing.

    1. Recalling what I went through while I was an instructor, I don't think the dean would think about it more than 5 minutes after the meeting ended. I wouldn't be surprised if, instead, he'll celebrate his victory and congratulate himself at having taught his subordinate a lesson.

      The institution I taught at was publicly-funded and, over the years of its existence, had built the reputation that its graduates go on to get good jobs. That implied that whoever was accepted would leave with the magic piece of paper.

      Since its public image was sacred, we were expected to do whatever was necessary to maintain it. So what if we had to lower standards to keep the graduation rates high? Add to that the student-as-customer doctrine. The customer pays to be there and the customer is always right, so if the customer wants go graduate, guess what we were expected to do?

  14. For what it's worth, I know of a lawyer that started video taping real estate closings because people wouldn't pay their mortgage and then say they were never told that would cause them to lose their house, even though he specifically stressed that point during closing.

    If it wouldn't violate any rules, perhaps you should start the same thing with students in your office. That, and keeping files on the problem students that you have to prod to do what they're supposed to. They seem to out themselves early in the term.

    Even had you done all that, though, I'm afraid the outcome would have been the same. Dad and Lucas are both reality-challenged.

    I'm sad that Hiram caved. I'm sadder still that I probably would have done the same thing.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Hiram. The administration is only shooting itself in the foot. Employers don't look at grades, but they can see trends. Word will get around that graduates from your university aren't worth hiring. Of course, the administration will lay the blame on the proffies.

    Perhaps it's time to start another file, labeled "Students The Administration Made Me Pass."

    1. The professors in my graduate program are unimpressed by high undergraduate GPAs from students at my school, because they gave the grades and know how meaningless they are.

  15. This story is incredibly depressing. If someone with tenure won't even stand up to bullshit like this, where the hell is the academy headed?

    I'm an adjunct, and I've often thought about scenarios like this, and what I would do in in a similar situation. Some time back I made a commitment to myself that, if this ever happens to me, I will do pretty much exactly what Stella suggests in this thread: I will inform the Dean, my Chair, and the student that I am not changing the grade, and that if they want the grade changed, they will have to exercise their own authority and do it themselves.

    The end result for the student might not be any different, but I'm not willing to absolve the higher-ups of their responsibility in cases like this. If they want to cave in to overbearing parents and whining students, that's their prerogative, but I'm not going to give a student a grade s/he doesn't deserve just so the Dean can look like the good guy.

    1. During my first few years of teaching, I tended to yield in such situations. Later, I did what was required of me and I made my superiors do their jobs and exercise their executive privilege.

      Twerps like the one Hiram had to deal with come out of these situations thinking they outsmarted their prof or instructor, and they probably did. While I was a student, I preferred to believe that whatever grades I got, even bad ones, I earned myself. If someone decided to bump my result to a higher level, I didn't want to know about it and I still don't.

  16. This is depressing. Something similar has happened to me. There's no tenure at my institution and I did not stand up for what I know is right for fear of losing my job. Each time I recall my situation and when I read posts like these, I think of that famous rys post: A Call to Action: Not in My Class:

    Lately, idealistic professor of the humanities that I am, I have felt beset on all sides. On one side is an administration that sees students as a clientele, programs as products to be marketed, and academic standards subject to modification if students find them too difficult.

    On another side are students who refuse to take their work seriously. At present, those students count for about two thirds of the students in my courses, and the trend does not look promising. On still another side is my own faculty association which cares only about how much faculty are paid, all the while fighting for the rights of the underqualified instructor and the abusive full professor alike.

    And so I have made a resolution, a statement of non-compromise. A line in the sand, if you will excuse the cliche. Simply, it is this: Not in my class.

    I have tenure and I'm going to use it. I will not lower my standards no matter how much my colleagues do. I will not compromise what I know to be fair and reasonable expectations because students complain. I will not turn my back on the grand tradition of university education to embrace petty division and adversarial politics. If my class is the last real university class in the English-speaking world, so be it. I will go down with this ship if I have to.

    So, Deans and Vice Presidents take note. Say all you want about niche markets and the need to make things easier for our recruiters. That's fine. Do what you have to do. But not in my class.

    Students, there is no one who will spend more time helping you learn to be a broad-minded, educated person than me. I know some of you want to work hard, and I have faith that the power of literature and the pleasure of honest, hard, intellectual effort will continue to attract at least a few of you every year. But if you want something for nothing, if you want less reading because you don't have time to do it, if you want a different kind of course because you think it's more relevant to your chosen career, I have to tell you, it's not going to happen. Not in my class.

    Union bosses, take note too. I'll cash my paycheck because I need to live, but I'm not here for the money, and I will gladly give up a raise if it means higher standards, better access to research materials, and money to fix the crumbling plaster on the walls. I am not a worker; I am a scholar. And if you want me to be anything else, you've got the wrong guy. That's not how I do things. Not in my class.

    And the thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. I'm pretty sure there are lots of others out there, idealists just like me who are tired of constant concession and are ready to say enough is enough. To all of you I say this: you can't change them, but you can decide not to change.

    So say it with me: Not in my class.

    1. I will gladly give up a raise if it means higher standards, better access to research materials, and money to fix the crumbling plaster on the walls.

      Yes! But how about new athletic facilities, remodeling the dorms, caviar in the cafeteria, and higher salaries for the administration?!

  17. At my institution they don't even ask. They just change the grade.

    I had a retired lawyer in my class and when I caught him plagiarizing, he didn't even respond to my communication asking him to explain what happened, but went straight to the hierarchy, who then came down on me to ignore the plagiarism in this case. The student then complained to me about the time he had lost because of dealing with this problem. He was condescending and self-righteous.

  18. I caved twice regarding a whining graduating senior while a Visiting Assistant Professor – once at a large state university in the West and once at a medium state university in the East. In the first case, I caved to the Department Chair, and in the second, to the Provost. I was mightily pissed off, but, as my wife reminded me, “Why should I as a Visitor care more than the people with tenure?”

    1. Why? Should the proverbial ever hit the fan because of those decisions, guess who's going to get most, if not all, of it? (Hint: it's never the ones that overruled you.)

  19. As an adjunct teaching at the school I was attending to earn a PhD, I had one demoralizing meeting regarding 2 similar students who failed to do the required work and then blamed me for their low grades.

    The part that killed me then --and still haunts me now-- was how another adjunct faulty member belittled me in the grade appeal meeting. (How he acquired this authority, was given it or assumed it, is beyond me! I thought he was a full prof for months afterwards!) Instead of discussing what the students had done (or not done) to earn their grades, he spent over an hour picking apart my syllabus and criticizing each policy...most of which he personally disapproved of (yet none violated any formal university policy).

    H even did this AFTER I agreed to raise one student's grade (because I knew the student was a whiny little bitch). For some reason he felt compelled to express his superiority over me in that meeting. I'm still not sure why I never just stood up and walked out. Oh, that's right ....I wanted to work there again!

    All it really made me do was quit in disgust the following year after even more students started doing the same crap en masse. All I could see were more uncomfortable meetings with lazy-ass instructors who would demand I claim to fight grade inflation while inflating grades of the ones who whined the loudest.

    1. He sounds like a department brown-noser. I encountered a few of those, people who had less seniority than me but managed to get on the good side of the administrators. That cozy relationship gave them a sense of invincibility.

  20. Hiram, you made a wrong decision. Nobody else to blame. Yes, they put you on the spot. Yes, the economy sucks. Yes, this. Yes, that.

    But you chose the wrong path. You acknowledged as much: "I know I did the wrong thing, and I'm ashamed of it."

    I agree with you that you did the wrong thing, but I disagree about you being ashamed of it. There's no point in being ashamed now. They made you their bitch, and now you need to decide what to do about it. Just get your bearings and figure out how you'll move on.

    You could even go into the registrar's office (or dean's office) tomorrow morning and tell them that you made a mistake and are changing the grade back to an "F". They might say, "You can't do that." They'll be wrong. Of course you can do it. And if you do, then you might not have a job there in August. But that's your choice.

    Why wait until tomorrow morning? Pick up the phone and call the dean right now and say, "I made a mistake today. I'm changing that student's grade back to the failing grade he earned. I just wanted to let you know tonight instead of catching you by surprise tomorrow morning." Will the dean be happy? No, but that's the life of a dean. He's dealt with much worse. It's not like you raped the student and told him you'd fail him if he told anybody. All you did was your job. And then you made a mistake when they put you on the spot.

    Don't be trapped by their binary shit. It's not either this or that. It's not either you ruin this poor child's life or you compromise your integrity. Think outside the box, as those business school people say. Call up the dean and tell him you made a mistake today, you're changing the student's grade back, you're keeping your integrity for the sake of the school because you value the school and your colleagues so much, and you will pay for the student to take the class over next semester (preferably with some other proffie).

    The dean might change the grade anyway. You don't know what he'll do. But if he holds an everlasting grudge against you because you made a poor decision a few hours ago and you want to make things right, then is that really a dean you want to work for?

    1. Oh, I'm assuming this meeting was earlier today. I don't know why I have that impression.

      Regardless, good luck, Hiram!

    2. I think Bubba is way, way out of line on this. None of us can know specifically what Hiram has at stake.

      I'll give you an example. I need about $10,000 a year to run a small program on my campus. To get that, I need to be friendly with a Dean in another college, a famously insane and unpredictable person.

      This person does all sorts of crazy shit that I think actually damages the school, yet, when called on it one day, the Dean turned to me for my perspective.

      I knew my program rested on the answer. I'm ashamed that I didn't do the right thing for the college by pointing out the Dean was wrong, because I KNEW I'd lose my funding.

      Hiram has tenure. Big whoop. Lots of us know tenure is an empty little wisp of what it used to be. If Hiram didn't want to fight this battle to the death - and he probably would have lost anyway - it's because there are bigger and more important battles to win, for him anyway.

      And yes, we should be free to say you're right and you're wrong, but we can't possibly know what we'd do, because none of us is in the exact situation Hiram's in.

      Of course, Darla's right, too. We should try to make the academy better, and if Hiram gives up on this battle, it could make it harder on the next faculty member and so on.

      But I treasure that Hiram shared his shame here, and I send him my best.

    3. Fab, it hurts to disagree with you. But alas.

      I based my comment on Hiram's own conclusion that he had made a mistake and felt ashamed because of it. His words, not mine. To a great extent here, we have to rely on the integrity of people who post. I relied on Hiram's.

      I'm inclined to stick with my comment: If the situation Hiram described is as it actually is--and if he truly feels ashamed because he did something wrong--then part of the usefulness of CM is to explore ways to improve Hiram's lot. It's a horrible thing to live with shame, and to see no end to it. Better to find a creative, productive way to deal with it.

      I hardly think I was being unkind or out of line. If I had wanted to be unkind, then I could have written, "Yes, shame shame shame on you, Hiram". On the contrary, I wish him well, hope he can own his mistake, see it for what it is, take control of the situation, and ameliorate it somehow--and NOT be ashamed. There are lots of times when we like to roll around in the Misery here and cry about how awful life is--and it is indeed great to be able to commiserate with fellow CMers (THANKS, FAB). But I felt that this one stung a little too much for Hiram, and that he might be better served by something other than commiseration.

      Part of Darla's comment was as follows: "I hope that next time you feel more power and courage and stand up to the bastards. I know it's easy to say from the cheap seats, but one thing I've often gotten from reading RYS and CM is that sense of courage!

      Much as I adore Darla--and I actually agree with her--this was one of those rare times when I thought something more needed to be said. She's right that it's easy to say such things from the cheap seats. I fear, however, that the imploration to have courage in the future will end up being even more heart-breaking. Once the administrators have broken Hiram (as they have), then he will be even more easily manipulated in the future. Someone in his position will be even less likely to be able to simply summon some vague willpower to overcome adversity and stand up to the man.

      The way to make things better in the future oftentimes is to understand our mistakes and learn from them. In the case of Hiram's current situation, isn't it possible that he might be better off if he found a way to productively address the issues NOW. Isn't it possible that the dean heaved a HUGE sigh of relief when Hiram acquiesced, that Hiram had more leverage than he realized, and that Hiram might lose much more of his political capital if he doesn't find a way to make the current situation better?

      I'm reminded of a Chrampicle piece about academics making decisions amidst uncertainty that was published this week. Some parts of it are right and some are wrong, but it's in the same ballpark as Hiram's issues--and it is consistent with Fab's declaration that, "None of us can know specifically what Hiram has at stake."

      Three things I wish to emphasize:

      1. Hiram's administrators may have far less power than Hiram believes (or may have the power in different ways than he believes, or may have weaknesses he isn't aware of yet).

      2. It is possible to find nonobvious synergies or efficiencies, rather than be trapped by the idea that Hiram's only choice is whether to forfeit or not in an Us vs. Them scenario.

      3. I really do wish Hiram well. REALLY. Hiram, I felt it before, and I still feel it: Good luck!

    4. Bubba, not to worry. I have no problem being disagreed with. I agree with you that Hiram's admitted he feels like it's a mistake he's made.

      But the thing that really caught me was that clearly some part of him knew that he had to capitulate, for SOME reason. He knew it was a mistake, perhaps, in the sense that it was wrong for his class, those students. But as I extrapolate the story, he just knew that the die was cast. His updated note suggests that he did sort of what you were suggesting in your comment about this.

      I swear, I think that's a mistake. Hiram, if you're reading, I'm not saying you shouldn't have done it; I can't know your situation fully. But the Dean has made his mind up, clearly, and Hiram's role in this whole charade was merely as an observer. Now Hiram risks judgment from the Dean about waffling and standing up to a decision the Dean had every intention of making with or without him.

      I believe Hiram knew that the grade he had given to that kid was going to get overturned at some point in that meeting, and he did the smart thing by capitulating.

      Of course he felt like shit afterwards. I remember when my naivete about college got smacked the first time.

      I guess in the end I say, Hiram, I understand it, brother. I am grateful you shared your story with us. It sucks what that fucking Dean did to you.

      I respect Darla and Bubba's point of view on this as well.

    5. I really appreciate all the comments and thoughts.

      You want to know the truth? I was just so distracted and confused during this whole episode. I know I would have done things differently had there not been this graduating senior clock running on it all.

      I know I didn't think things through. I know that given a couple of days I'd have done 10 different things.

      But you surely know what it's like to be caught so thoroughly off guard. And, I think when it / shit happens in your own world, it's never possible to have a clear perspective on it.

      For example, this Dean, I mean I've got 40 other interactions with him over the years. I wasn't fair to the story, to him, or me, or even poor fucking Lucas and his dad, because the Dean and I have a history. Not a bad history, just shit that's between us. I believe I KNEW that as soon as I saw the tableau that it made not one bit of difference what I said or did. The shit was done. I know this guy, from personal experience and through how he's handled other situations.

      I believe I panicked at first, wanting to be on the "winning" side of this particular foregone conclusion, and then when I got some distance I wanted to stand up for how my other students got fucked.

      I did that ineffectually as well.

      My response? I fucked up. I'd do it differently if given more time and more wisdom! I feel the notion that I was "ashamed" is wrong, too, but I don't know how to explain it better than that. It's not just disenchanted with my particular college, it's like the fact that I'm a part of it, even in this tangential way.

      I don't know if this explains anything more or better, but I really wanted to say how much I enjoyed hearing folks' perspective on it all.

    6. I agree with Fab here. Hiram has more important battles to fight, and the dean's mind was made up--and what do you do, burn your bridges with a dean? Well, maybe you do, but I don't know if this is the student you burn them over. Look at it this way: this student is a pain in the ass who didn't deserve to pass--but he didn't plagiarize or cheat. He didn't do anything unethical. He just bumbled through his last semester. He's obviously an entitled little shit, but letting him squeak by with a D ... it's not "justice," but it's not the worst thing that could happen.

    7. It's like when your child falls and starts crying in the middle of a Little League game. Sometimes you rush out there and cry with hir, but other times you shout at hir to get up and strive for victory. It's a judgment call based on numerous factors. Either way, you're often crying inside and always are wanting the best for the child. I think those are the two perspectives Fab and I are coming from now?

      Sorry, Hiram, to equate you with the child. It's only an analogy. For what it's worth, I sympathize. More than you know. I have been there. It is hard. And it is because of these things that I wish I could find a good way to instill in you an understanding that you are writing your history now and setting the course for your future. I think you have more power than you realize. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Replies
    1. At the place where I used to teach, no forgery was necessary. If a department head or dean decided to overrule the grades submitted by an instructor, they had full authority to do so and nobody, as far as I knew, ever challenged that.

      I heard a story about an instructor who taught a service course to students in our department. He gave my department head his grade sheet and stood by. He apparently watched as the DH looked over the sheet and raised the results of students who had clearly failed to 50%. The instructor never said anything because it wasn't his place to do so and the matter was out of his hands anyway.

  22. I feel terrible for you Hiram; it seems like the dean turned the whole episode into a farce, in which case your options become a choice between bad or worse.

    Under those conditions, sometimes the best choice is to subvert the whole process just to reveal what a farce it is. If grades mean so little to the school, the dean, the parent and the student, you could:

    1. Agree to change the grade; but instead of a "D", tell the dean to make it an "A", so that if he wants to change the grade you assign, he'll have to lower it.

    2. Just fill out the form, then hand it to the student and say "Here, fill in the grade YOU think YOU deserve:"

    I don't think irony and sarcasm are always appropriate, but in absurd situations, they sometimes are.

  23. I don't know if this would have worked in your context, but I would have torn off the last three parts of the exam, placed them in front of Lucas with a pen, and given him an hour 40 to finish his exam right there in the Dean's office. Seems like a reasonable compromise.

  24. Having been involved in similar situations, I was affected by Hiram's post. I was glad to see Johnathan's suggestion; had he not made it, I would have made a similar one, as his solution is close to what transpired in my cases.

    If I've read Hiram's case correctly, as the facts were emerging, the dispute boiled down to simply that the instructions were not clear to the student. Well, dear snowflake (and Snow Senior), now that we've cleared it up and you know what you should have done, what's to stop you from doing it?

    The student should not get a free pass on assessments for which the rest of the class was held responsible. Nor should he get a free pass to go on believing that in a dispute with a superior over misinterpreted expectations, the outcome goes in favor of the subordinate. (Oh, you didn't 'know' that you had more work to do, so you punched out and left the jobsite early? Here's your full paycheck anyway!) If Snowy wants the "payoff" of the grade, he should make up the work. Willingly.

    I will slightly disagree about finishing the test then and there in the dean's office. It is reasonable to allow the student a few minutes (or tens of minutes) to grab a snack, collect his thoughts, take a dump, whatever he does to get 'in the zone' for an exam, while a better test room is found. That way, if he fails, the case is substantially weaker that he was 'blindsided' and/or 'intimidated' by the test conditions, and the probability of appeal is (hopefully) lessened.


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