Happy 2017! I have a feeling it's going to be a doozy. But politics aside, today I'm writing about how to avoid any semblance that you, a college student with integrity, would engage in grade grubbing, an insidious, undignified practice that outta be outlawed.
In late December, Jeff and his parents came to see me after being referred to me by the Dean of the College’s office, and asked me to change a grade for an economics class. I had already printed out the student’s record, and a quick glance at his fall courses revealed no econ course. When I asked which course, they said it was Micro- and Macro-Economics from the spring term. I needed to find out why the grade should be changed – from their perspective – but I had to probe gently. They were in a pretty agitated state already. They said that the D was the student’s adviser’s fault. “How so?” I kindly inquired in a soft voice. Anyone who knows me knows that my voice isn’t exactly naturally soft, so I was really trying here. They said the adviser had not let their son drop the course when he wanted to. That sounded highly suspect, so I went into the advising system and read them the adviser’s notes regarding this course. She had suggested that Jeff petition to drop the course after the drop deadline because he was so worried about how he was faring in the course. The student refused and stomped out of the advising office. At that point, the parents really got a head of steam up and said they were going to the president’s office immediately. I worked with them for the next half hour to understand what kind of obstacle the D would pose in Jeff’s future and to explain the ins and outs of the straightforward grade appeals process. They calmed down a bit. But of course, I then called and emailed the president’s office to give them the low-down and followed the meeting up with an email to Jeff and his parents outlining the process, with a cc to the professor, the president’s office, and the adviser.
By now, all #CollegeStudents have received the semester’s final grades. If you are one of the many who is less than thrilled by the results of your work, read on. Here’s some advice I’ve come up with after watching students and professors (and parents!) agonize about grading issues for several decades now. We all know #GradeGrubbingIsUndignified, so it pays to approach grading issues respectfully and knowledgeably. Believe it or not, #GradeGrubbing is a huge conversation among college instructors. David Gooblar, a columnist for Vitae, wrote a great article directed to instructors on ways to reduce “grade challenges,” as he terms them.
Here are the steps you should take to embark on this process.
Is your result higher than the one on your transcript? If so, it is time to reach out to the grader(s). Craft a kind email, avoiding anything that even vaguely resembles grade-grubbing, which is an undignified and all-too-common practice. It only reflects badly on you. Professors can’t stand it. And it won’t get you anywhere good. And for goodness sakes, do not have your parents write or call the professor! You can write a respectful email inquiring in the gentlest possible terms whether you might meet with them to talk about the outcome of the course. (Note that some course instructors include a deadline for grading inquiries!)
What if you do not hear back from the TA or professor within a week? Every college approaches grade disputes differently. In most cases, the term “grade dispute” is pretty strong. In any case, look up “grade disputes” or “grade appeals” on your college’s website. Usually, you will find a step-by-step process.
Anyway, moving on. After that one-on-one conversation, if you haven’t gotten the outcome you believe you deserve, the next step might be the advising staff, the provost’s office, the dean of the college’s area, a department chair, a department’s director of undergraduate studies, a dean of the faculty, etc. etc. etc. That’s another reason it’s important to find the grade appeals info before you embark on the process.
I’ve left the most important part of this process to the end. Through the in-depth consideration of your work in the course, you hopefully had some take-aways about your work that you can bring with you into future coursework. Even if your grade dispute process leaves you with the same grade you had when you started it, if you’ve learned something beneficial for the future, it will all have been worth it.
Next semester, print out the grading rubrics for all of your courses before the first class and keep them available throughout so that you can determine how much time and energy to put into the various aspects of the class. Plus, go see the instructor of each course at least two or three times to talk over the coursework. If any of the grading seems unclear along the way, you can talk about that during those office hours as well.
Good luck this spring!
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.