Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear undergrads,

Many of you are or soon will be lining-up outside a office doors and sending emails to your professors and TAs about your grades on various exams, term papers, and assigments. Some of you will rudely or politely demand an improved grade "because I need good grades," or "worked hard so I deserve one," or whatever other entitlement fantasy you've come up with.

You are not entitled to an A, B or C-.

What you are entitled to, however, is a fair assessment of your work and the corresponding grade.

You pay several hundred dollars for each course you take, plus the assortment of fees that push your tuition costs higher every year. In Canada, the taxes paid by you, your family members, and the people of Canada cover much of the cost of running the university you attend and comprise the research budgets of many of your professors. These tax dollars also pay the wages of the graduate students who quite often are the ones assessing your work.

You have more than enough grounds to openly question the method and rationale behind any assessment you receive. You and the rest of the country have paid for it.
You might find out, for example, that the Teaching Assistant  marker (lower pay category: all the work, but half the cost of a TA) was erroneously informed in writing by your instructor, more than once, that the number of hours they were allowed to work were fully half the amount allotted to the course. This means that 5000 words you spent time and effort putting to page were only given half the grading-time they ought to have been, which was barely enough time to read your paper, let alone grade it. 

More to the point, this means that you did not get the full suite of detailed comments and grading notes that that were potentially available for your work. In other words, your work was not as rigorously assessed as it could have been. Some of you benefit from this because your mark is higher than it could have been, and some of you suffered because your mark is lower than it could have been. In either case, you were screwed, and so was your assessor.

And that is something you can line up in front of your professor's door and clog their inbox about.

You're entitled to it.


kirbycairo said...

Unfortunately entitlement in never a guarantee. Too often, in the Humanities at least, the ideological stance inherent in one's work is what the Professors judge rather than competence or understanding. And contesting a grade is less than useless in these matters because very very few professors who do the second readings in these cases are willing to cast doubt on their fellow teachers.

Boris said...

I might add that too often professors won't change their own assigned grades despite evidence to the contrary, and despite mentioning to the students that they may consult on their grades. IF they aren't seriously open to idea they may have mis-graded an assignment or exam and willing to change marks, and tell the students otherwise, they are being dishonest.

In the era of rising fees, class sizes, teaching loads, etc students have more right than ever to contest every aspect of their education they find wanting. Most will rack up 10s of 000s in debt and live well below the poverty line for four years to get a piece of paper worth less every year and if that means calling out incompetent or dishonest professors wherever they find them, then let that happen.

Fat Arse said...

A T.A./Marker in the late 80s here in Winnipeg, I still have guilty nightmares over the shoddy job I did on two groups of end of term history essays. Totaling about 20-30pps. each, the Prof. called me on a Thursday afternoon handed me 75 papers from his two classes & said he needed me to mark them all by the following Monday because he needed to get the marks early cause he wanted to get a "head start" on his upcoming sabbatical.

Pressed for time, I know I did not do justice tho those papers. When I remitted both the marked papers and attendant grading sheet to the Prof. he barely looked at them. Within 1/2 an hour he had finished the end-term grading sheet, dropped it off at Departmental office & then asked me to join him for a 'quick-beer' before he left town that night.

It haunts me still.

Boris said...

Fat Arse,
If I was to folk-typologise profs, I'd say there are some who care and put in the effort, and some who just don't and take the easy way out. There some who take a pedagogical approach to grading, and others who take a punitive powertrip approach. Do you correct and critically comment, or just tell the students what they fucked up and look for reasons to fail them.

It is funny though. The don't mind low class averages here, but go forbid your class average is high or your students learn something.

Fat Arse said...


As I think we both know, there are far too many Prof.'s who have the "Ivory Tower" untouchable syndrome that relishes the punitive rather than the instructive approach to pedagogy. Thankfully, I also had my share of true and committed educators!

Ian Welsh said...

My experience in grading was far worse with TA's than with the few profs who graded their own papers and exams. I guess if a prof cares enough to grade, he or she usually cares enough to do it right.