I think there are some issues that could/should be discussed. I have
witnessed many of the incidents described, except I have not witnessed
them compressed into one institution nor compressed into a time period
of a couple years. However, after teaching at the college level for 26
years (at one institution), having "survived" seven deans, having taught
as an adjunct at several other institutions within reasonable driving
distance, etc., I can say that I have pretty much observed or even been
involved in many of the incidents described.
I would expect to find most of these things occurring at one time or
another at any institution. If I were changing jobs and were visiting
an institution on an interview trip, I would hope to discern if these
things were problems by talking to faculty and students. Given the fact
that an interview visit is pretty short, I would also try to have a
phone or e-mail conversion with people who might have knowledge about
the institution. Receiving an anonymous "heads-up" from a person who
thinks a particular institution has serious problems has good aspects as
well as bad aspects. Beyond good and bad, I think it is mostly sad.
The above comments are my overall initial reaction to the e-mail. Below
are some specific issues that you can read if you are interested.
* * Changing Grades * *
At my institution the dean and registrar are not allowed to change
grades. Only professors can do that. However, if the student brings a
grade complaint to the dean, and the complaint seems legitimate, the
dean can form a panel of faculty peers to evaluate the situation. The
panel can recommend that the professor change the grade. If the faculty
member refuses, the panel can decide if an override of the faculty
member's grade is warranted. If so, the grade can be changed by order
of the dean acting on the order of the faculty panel.
I once was on a faculty panel that eventually overturned the grade of a
fellow faculty member. A student had completed all the work, taken all
the exams, and had earned a grade of B, but the student only attended
about 10% of the classes. The professor failed the student for poor
attendance. However, the faculty member did not list attendance as a
requirement in the syllabus, and grading formula (printed in the
syllabus) did not include attendance. The professor argued that
attendance is assumed and everyone knows that a student can be failed if
the student does not attend class. The panel acknowledged that
attendance is assumed, but did not agree with the notion that the grade
could be lowered for poor attendance unless that was explicitly stated
in the course syllabus.
I would hope my experience is more common that that described in the
original e-mail. If a dean or registrar acting alone can change a
grade, it seems the institution has some problems. I would not want to
teach there in principle, and certainly would be shouting to someone if
the dean were making a habit of changing the grades I assign.
* * Too Easy Grading * *
I once taught a "science course" in a master of education program at
another institution. After accepting the job, I got a phone call from
the department chair of the education department of that institution.
He said something like this. "I just want to make sure you understand
that you are not allowed to give any exams or any homework. All
students who attend your classes are to be given grades of A. It is our
policy that in-service teachers working on a masters degrees have enough
things to worry about, and we don't want to jeopardize the enrollment in
our masters program. If you do not agree with this, turn down the job
I accepted the job because at the time I wanted the experience and the
money. Overall it was a good experience because the students were well
behaved and we had some good discussions. I think they did learn some
useful science. But there is no way I would call this a masters-level
science course. It was very clear to me that this was a "diploma mill."
Anyone who paid the tuition and showed up for class eventually walked
away with a master of education degree. I have not taught there since.
* * Prerequisites * *
Before computers, making sure everyone in class had the proper
prerequisites was the job of the student's advisor. There was no way
the registrar could check this for all students. We did have lots of
students who "slipped in." With the advent of computerized
registration, the computer will not allow a student to enroll in the
course unless the student shows a passing grade in all prerequisite
courses. The only way for a student to get around this is to obtain a
signed waiver from the professor of the course. Not even the dean or
department chair can force me to accept a student without the
I have had students petition for a prerequisite waiver for my courses.
I bat about 50% on these. I interview the student and try to decide if
there is any chance for success. If I decide to go ahead and let the
student in, I make them sign a statement that says they understand they
have not met the prerequisites, that I will grade them the same as
everyone else, and I personally will not tutor them on the prerequisite
* * That's enough for now. There are many more things we could discuss
here. * *
Michael D. Edmiston, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry and Physics
Bluffton, OH 45817