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Best Student Request Ever?:
Crooked Timber has the details. Too bad the student couldn't just go to the Registrar and fill out a "grade change" form.
Dave N (mail):
Given that one assignment was not turned in AT ALL, a C seems like a very generous grade. What a sad state higher education has become when all students want to be treated like they are above average.
5.10.2007 5:29pm
New World Dan (www):
Not to defend the request, but professors have a tendancy to forget that their students are also their customers. I wouldn't tolerate that level of service from any other outfit that I do business with. That's one of many reasons I never finished my degree. I'm a mere 7 credits shy of a BS in chemistry from the U of MN, and have no intention of ever going back to finish it. Actually, the Chem department was pretty good, but Math and CSci were horrible and the general administration of the U was even worse.
5.10.2007 5:48pm
FantasiaWHT:
I can't recall a single college course I could have still passed if I simply did not turn in an assignment, sheesh.
5.10.2007 5:49pm
Ubu Walker (mail):
This student had four potential grades, an 86 on a paper, a 0 on the uncompleted assignment, and two unknown grades on a two part final. In order to receive a C (74), the student must have scored 105 on each!

If the professor generously calculated the uncompleted assignment as a 50, she would have needed at least an 80, or a B-, on the final exam and essay, to get a final grade of a C.

If the assignment wasn't completed due to circumstances beyond the students control (sickness, death in the family) I would let her rewrite the paper or redo the assignment, since she seems to have a decent mastery of the material.
5.10.2007 5:51pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
but professors have a tendancy to forget that their students are also their customers

Um, no. They are their "students." You do not get a B by paying for it.
5.10.2007 5:51pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
In order to receive a C (74), the student must have scored 105 on each!

You assume equal weighting of the grades, which is unlikely.
5.10.2007 5:53pm
OrinKerr:
New World Dan,

If students are customers, and professors' jobs are to keep them happy, does that mean every student should receive an A? After all, most students really want A's; if that's what students want, what kind of a business would deny them what they want?
5.10.2007 5:57pm
Mithras The Prophet (mail) (www):
Indeed AWB notes in the comments that the paper was 15% of the total grade.
5.10.2007 6:17pm
New World Dan (www):
I'm not saying that every student should be given an A. Grade inflation deflates the value of a degree. In my extensive career as an undergrad I encountered a wide range of professors. Some were very acommodating to the practical realities of life and some were real hard asses.

For example, my Organics 2 professor pulled me aside after the mid-term because she thought I could be doing better. We changed my approach to studying organic chem and turned my C into a B.

At another time, I was going through some personal problems. I only had 2 classes at the time. One professor worked with me and ultimately gave me a grade that reflected my mastery of the material and the other said tough luck - the class would be offered again in 2 years.

I had a math prof that was so awful (only spoke limited english with a very think eastern european accent) that I got effectively nothing out of the class other than a C on my transcipt. From any other business, I would have demanded a refund. In fact, I could go on and on about the bad professors that I've had. Any business that operated with as shoddy of a product as I often encountered would quickly go bankrupt.
5.10.2007 6:26pm
Houston Lawyer:
A friend of mine was able to show a professor at UT law school that he had misgraded his final. The professor's response was yes, he misgraded the exam, but no, he would not fix it.

I was once able to talk my business law professor undergrad into raising a mid-term grade by 7 points. He said this was the most points he had ever given up. He was amused with my argument, pre-ADA, that alcoholics were a protected class and that this had bearing in a DUI case.
5.10.2007 6:56pm
Spartacus (www):
1. I once had a student offer to wash my car, or do anything else (!) if I could trnasform his F into a C. He truly failed miserably, getting less than a 50% average in a basic math course.

2. Another student once asked for aregrade of his calculus final--it turned out we (I was a TA at the time) had forgotten to grade one problem, and he was in fact entitled to a C, instead of D. He had stated that he had brought the inquiry because the D had rendered him ineligible for the program in nuclear engineering he was trying to get into. I gave him the C and hoped he woudl either improve later or be weeed out by a harder course, but not before considering my moral responsibility to protect the world from borderline D-grade nuclear engineers
5.10.2007 7:03pm
WL (mail):
"I had a math prof that was so awful (only spoke limited english with a very think eastern european accent) that I got effectively nothing out of the class other than a C on my transcipt. From any other business, I would have demanded a refund."

If it was indeed the professor's poor command of English that made it difficult to understand the material (as opposed to your own lack of mathematical ability or unwillingness to study), you should have dropped the class. Staying was your choice.

Here's an analogy in the consumer-transaction terms you seem to consider applicable to higher education:

You go to a restaurant and order a meal. After a couple of bites, you think "This is horrible!"

If you keep eating until you finish, you're a fool. If you keep eating until you finish and then refuse to pay on the grounds that you hated every bite, you're either a super-fool or a scam artist.

Honest non-fools would deal with this situation by sending the meal back and either ordering something else or leaving the restaurant. This is sometimes known as "taking responsibility for your decisions."
5.10.2007 7:09pm
tautala:
Once a history professor was approached by a lovely blond female student who leaned over his desk and said in a soft sultry voice "I'll do anything for a B in this class".

The professor thought about this for a moment and then leaned toward her and said quietly to her "would you... study?"
5.10.2007 7:24pm
AnonLawStudent:
I had a math prof that was so awful (only spoke limited english with a very think eastern european accent) that I got effectively nothing out of the class other than a C on my transcipt. From any other business, I would have demanded a refund

Your point of view is a huge part of the problem with the learning process that came in with masss higher education. It wasn't until after undergrad and mid-way through 1L year that I realized that a professor isn't there to spoonfeed material. At least in the top-tier schools, a professor is [ideally] there to answer questions that the student cannot answer in the course of teaching himself the material. State U - maybe not so much.
5.10.2007 7:30pm
AppSocRes (mail):
New World Dan:

"... the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous."

My experience with part-time teaching at various colleges and universities is that the best students are as good as ever but over the past three decades the average, mediocre, and poor students have become steadily less-prepared, lazier, and more arrogant in their unwillingness to learn. Blaming the teacher and grade-cadging have become Olympic sports at one urban, state university where I've recently taught. I could match the story that headed off this post with several of my own.
5.10.2007 7:34pm
Paranoid:

A friend of mine was able to show a professor at UT law school that he had misgraded his final. The professor's response was yes, he misgraded the exam, but no, he would not fix it.

A friend of mine had a similar experience on a 1L exam - thought the prof misgraded something, asked the prof, the prof agreed but refused to add any points. What's the rationale behind this? Is there a concern about special treatment since the exam is no longer anonymous? Or is there a worry it might skew the required average for the course? Or is the prof just too lazy to put through the paper work?
5.10.2007 7:37pm
blcjr (mail):
Spartacus wrote:
I gave him the C and hoped he woudl either improve later or be weeed out by a harder course, but not before considering my moral responsibility to protect the world from borderline D-grade nuclear engineers
I chuckled at that. Years ago, when I worked for a regulatory agency, we used to joke about the qualifications of nuclear power plant operators. As I recall it, they took a course, or a test, that had a passing grade of 70 percent. Which meant that 30 percent of the time, some of the operators of our nuclear power plants may not know what they are doing. ;)
5.10.2007 9:11pm
Some Guy:
This letter is silly, but you can't blame the student for trying. What's more objectionable is that some professors respond to these pleas with higher grades (maybe not this one, but the more timely variety). My sister's had success with this tactic at her (non-slouch) university. I could never bring myself to do it even though my undergrad institution was less rigorous and thus possibly more likely to fudge the grades... If no one ever had any success with this tactic, you'd see a lot less of it.
5.10.2007 10:54pm
New World Dan (www):
WL,

A) I was 18 and didn't know any better.
B) The other option was to drop the class and wreck my chances of graduating in 4 years my first term of college. After which, I would have waited until the next fall with the hope that a differnt professor was "teaching" the class.

AnonLawStudent,
A good professor frames the course of study and moves the class along. Outside of that class, I was a very accomplished student of mathematics. That was the only C the math department ever gave me.
5.10.2007 11:22pm
Avatar (mail):
Somehow, I passed an organic chemistry class in which I failed two exams, missed the third, and blew off the final. Talk about your curves! (This was the semester that Dad got cancer - he's okay now, though. Ended up changing majors anyway.)

As far as general professor quality, I had some really great ones, a bunch of adequate ones, a couple of TA types that did their best, and a few real yahoos. (There was -three- Noam Chomsky articles in my History reading collection this semester, plus one Ward Churchill. And they were the quality contributors! Oy.)
5.11.2007 12:58am
Zubon (www):
Concerning the professor who refused to add points to a mis-graded exam: perhaps his logic was that he had mis-graded everyone the same way, so he wanted to be consistent. If the course is graded on a curve, taking 7 points off everyone's score will not affect things. Or maybe I am just giving the world the benefit of the doubt again.
5.11.2007 9:55am
Dave!:
Not to defend the request, but professors have a tendancy to forget that their students are also their customers. I wouldn't tolerate that level of service from any other outfit that I do business with.

Students shouldn't be considered "customers" any more than patients at a doctors office. Teachers have knowledge and (ostensibly) training to impart that knowledge to students. Students who question the methods of the faculty under the justification of "but I'm paying you for this" are as ridiculous as a dying patient saying to a doctor, "I'm not taking that medicine because it tastes bad." In the end, if you ignore the advice the expert is trying to give you, you get what you deserve. Part of being the "customer" is knowing *what* you are paying for--students aren't paying to be coddled or receive high marks for nothing. They are paying for the *opportunity* to learn from their elders, so to speak. If they choose to waste that opportunity, sure, that's their "right as a consumer" but they shouldn't gripe about it.
5.11.2007 9:57am
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"It wasn't until after undergrad and mid-way through 1L year that I realized that a professor isn't there to spoonfeed material. At least in the top-tier schools, a professor is [ideally] there to answer questions that the student cannot answer in the course of teaching himself the material."

Well, no. At least not in any decent school I ever attended. Let me tell you a story about a *real* educator.

When I was in my Pathology residency at the University of North Carolina, I decided that I wanted to do something with computers in medicine. My Chair, Dr. Joe Grisham, told me that the Pathology Department would give me a leave of absence and a small grant to pay for first year tuition, if I could find a grad school. I went across campus to the Computer Science Department and met with my future advisor, a wonderful man by the name of Steve Pizer. He asked my what my math background was -- I told him basic pre-med math about seven years ago. He said that wasn't enough, but I seemed like a bright enough fellow, and he would recommend that I be admitted.

So I was. It turned out that I was *way* in over my head. Computer Science is fairly math-intensive, but the area of my interest -- image processing and computer vision -- is even more of an applied mathematics curriculum than a traditional computer science one. I remember walking into my first course, on solid geometry, and listening to the professor and students casually discussing the relationship between Riemannian geometry and special relativity. And here I was trying desperately to remember how to do simple integration.

I managed to survive the first year, though. The summer arrived and my Chair came and said "Well, Bill, you've had a taste. Do you want back in the Pathology program, or do you want to stay in grad school another year." I said "Hey, it was hard, but I had fun, I'll stay in grad school. I even found some funding." He said OK, and walked out.

Two weeks later Steve called me in his office and says "Bill, I've looked over your grades. You're a hard worker, and you did the work. But you are simply not doing the job with respect to the mathematics. I thought you would just pick it up as you went along, but you aren't. I'm sorry. So I'm kicking you out of the program."

I'm not used to failure, but I said, "Well, Steve, that's OK, I guess. I really just wanted to pick up some training in computers as part of my Pathology residency, and it somehow snowballed into getting into a formal graduate program. It's a lot of lost income for me to do this, so I'll just go back to the Pathology program. Thanks, though. It was fun."

Steve came back. "Well, Bill, I'll tell you what. You will never be the world's best computer scientist. You are not going to discover the next great computer vision algorithm, or develop a new paradigm for image processing. But, if you work hard, you can become a decent journeyman mathematician and a decent computer scientist. You can learn enough to do what you want to do -- understand the principles, read and understand the journals, and apply those principles to your primary field. But you can't do it with your current command of mathematics."

"Here's what I'll do. I'm kicking you out of the program, but if you can find something else to do for awhile, I will tutor you in math for one year and if you make progress, I'll let you back in the program."

I said OK. I went back to my Pathology Chair, only to find that my position in the residency program had already been given to someone else. Dr. Grisham asked me if I wanted back in because he had other candidates for the position. He was giving me first refusal. In the end, I found a fellowship position that allowed me to take time off to go to my advisor and get tutored.

For the next year, Steve worked with me to get me reasonably competent at the mathematical tools I needed for doing computer vision and image processing. At the end of that year, the UNC Computer Science Department let me back into the program, and I ended up getting a Masters in Computer Science there.

And Steve was right. I've never been a great computer scientist -- but I did get the tools to be a real professional. And over the next couple of decades, I did manage to make some contributions in my primary field. And I've had a ball doing it.

And that's what *great* teachers like Steve Pizer and Joe Grisham (and others who helped me along the way) will do. It's not that they don't "spoon feed" people. It's that they know when it's useful to do that and when it's important not to. They know how to reach students and make them be the most they can be even when they know those students will not end up being stars. They know how to change the lives of the people they teach.

*That's* greatness in a teacher.
5.11.2007 11:01am
Ex parte McCardle:
My favorite was always when a kid called in the old man to try the "I'm paying your salary and I'm not paying for my kid to get a C" approach. Sometimes this was followed up by the implication that Dear Old Dad was a major donor and the gravy train would come to a halt unless I (and those like me) came to heel.

On the student side, I heard a million versions of "I have to get at least a B or I'll lose my scholarship."

I never gave in to either one. But I guess I'm just a terrible person.
5.11.2007 12:04pm
DJR:
New World Dan:

A) And yet you still refuse to take responsibility for it.
B) And yet you still didn't graduate in 4 years, or ever as it turns out.
5.11.2007 1:05pm
David Drake (mail):
Boy, am I glad I left the Academy for the real world!
5.11.2007 3:21pm
cathyf:
Ah, reminds me of Williams Law of Minimum Grading, invented by a chemistry professor, Ken Williams. Williams Law says that in order to get a particular grade in a class the student would have had to earn at least that grade at least once.

So the student got C's and D's on all of the tests, labs, homeworks, etc., and says, "So, do I get a B?" And Ken would explain, with great sadness, that, no, getting a B would violate Williams Law. The student would typically go off angry that he had been abused.
5.11.2007 3:26pm
Atticus Finch:
I had an experience similar to that related by Houston Lawyer: I made a disappointingly low grade for Con Law, a course I had felt particularly good about after the final. Hoping to salvage a learning experience, I asked the Prof. to go over the exam with me so I could see what I got wrong. This Prof. prefaced his comments by saying that his method was to grade all of the exams, then pick random exams to regrade to ensure that his standards had stayed consistent throughout; mine was not one he had rechecked. (I wondered how he knew that without looking, since they were supposed to be annonymous.)

As we went through the exam, he explained what he was looking for in the answers to each question, then ticked them off as he found them on my exam. At the end, he was forced to acknowledge that I deserved a better grade, but that all he could offer was his apology.
5.11.2007 4:08pm
TyrantLimaBean:
I don't think slack-ass students and horrible teachers are mutually exclusive. There are undoubtedly a number of lazy students who feel entitled to higher grades, and undoubtedly a number of horrible professors.

I had one notably bad undergraduate professor, though I think the problem was rooted in her being a grad student and thus a fairly inexperienced teacher.

It was an upper level foreign language course. I earned high As on every exam and quiz (there were several.) I also participated frequently and constructively in class. We had frequent worksheets to turn in, and I was late in turning in a batch of them. Of the assignments I had turned in on time, I never received anything lower than a B.

Now, the teacher had no late assignment guidelines in her syllabus. And while we could argue about whether there is a presumption of acceptance or refusal of late work in the absence of a stated policy, there was no need here because I repeatedly saw her accept late work from other students in the class and return such late work after grading.

When I turned in my late work, she refused to accept it, saying I would receive a zero for the assignments in question. I pointed out that she had openly accepted late work from other students, and she replied that while she had accepted late work from them it didn't mean she had to treat me the same way. I argued, in fact, it did. (There were no extenuating circumstances for the other students late work - like deaths in the family or the like.)

She then said she was giving me zeros to "teach people like you a lesson." What she meant by that, I can only speculate. Presumably, this lesson was not Spanish.

She then gave me a C, claiming that, in addition to my admittedly late batch of work, other work had never been turned in. In fact, I had kept this returned, graded, work. I made the mistake of giving it to her to show her it had been completed and graded. It of course promptly went missing and she continued to claim I had never turned it in. At this point, I gave up on hoping for a fair shake with her.

I appealed the grade, with the chair of her department taking my side. The tribunal for hearing these cases was required to be made up of 2 students and 2 faculty. I showed up at my hearing only to find no student judges. The professors half-heartedly lamented that the students must not have been able to make it, then proceeded to hear the dispute and rule against me.

I should have pursued the matter beyond the departmental level, but the next semester I was overseas for a State Department internship.

This was one of three incidents at my undergraduate institution. The other two, after the intervention of the Chancellor, were resolved in my favor. Both were, fairly overtly, attempts to punish me academically for political activity on campus. They were also fairly academically serious. In one instance my diploma had to be reprinted to award me the distinction I had earned, which the school had previously, and against its own policies, denied me.

I wish I'd know about FIRE at the time. But I digress...
5.11.2007 6:56pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"She then said she was giving me zeros to "teach people like you a lesson." What she meant by that, I can only speculate. Presumably, this lesson was not Spanish."

Heh. I had something like this happen to me, but in a good way. When I was an undergraduate, I was an Asian Studies minor and studied Japanese as my foreign language requirement. My teacher was a young guy recently in CONUS from Hong Kong who taught both Mandarin and Japanese. I killed myself in that course, and did OK for the first year.

For the intermediate course, however, I got nothing but Ds and Fs on my exams (the highest grade he gave was a C-). As a premed major, I was in a panic, and went to him at the last possible moment to drop the course. He said, "Why do you want to drop the course? You are doing fine?"

I said "I'm getting Ds and Fs here. I can't do that and get into med school!"

He said "What do you mean? Of course you are getting Ds and Fs. If you were getting anything else, it would mean that I was not pushing you hard enough. Any test that people are getting As and Bs on is a test that's too easy. Don't worry. Do your work and trust me."

With great misgivings, I did so. Sure enough, when we got our grades, almost everybody got an A.

billo
5.11.2007 10:54pm
Speedwell (mail):
OK...

When I go back to school, where can I find teachers that will give an honest grade for honest work? Anyone? Anyone?

(sound of crickets)

That's what I thought.

(gently weeps)
5.14.2007 6:45pm