How to deal with college red tape?
May 5, 2005 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I have a disgruntled professor whose only goal seems to burn every bridge in his path. Assignments that were turned suddenly aren't there, grades are arbitrarily assigned for no reason. The administration knows of this and appears to be willing to work with students but tells us we have to wait until the end of the semester for a grade appeal process...

Basically this is the typical teacher horror story that I don't feel like going into detail here. I have the dates all down, I've contacted my advisor, the dean, everyone between here and my school. Other very good students are also experiencing the same grief and have contacted the administration. The teacher has been canned (for reasons I don't believe relate to this) and seems to be taking it out on everyone at this point. While everyone in the administration has acknowledged that what he's doing is wrong and says they are willing to help us... they say we must wait until grades are given and go through a grade appeal process. This is an introductory course and my lowest grade so far in the college process has been one B. I only have two semesters left to go. If I receive the grade I'm told I have in this class, I will lose all my scholarships for the final year and this will look very odd on any transcript, along with significantly lowering my total GPA. While I would love to trust the administration on this one, I always get uneasy feelings when they can't promise outright our grades will be changed (which to an extent is understandable). Does anyone else have experience with something like this? Should I rest assure that the administration will really help us, or will this be a long battle of red tape and paperwork? I'd absolutely hate to take this class over again, meaning I'd have to enroll another semester -- but I'm more worried about scholarships at this point. The adminstration keeps telling all of us to simply wait until the year is over and then they will help us. Is there anything I should be doing to protect myself further? I'm documenting everything and I think anyone who has half a brain would see this looks very odd -- academia scares me with their slow pace and protection of their own. I could be just simply paranoid but I'm a big non-complainer and have no experience in something like this. I should emphasize that the administration has been very, very understanding of what has been going on and does not dispute anything that's happening, they just are telling us that there hands are tied until grades are issued and they don't wish to further anger the teacher through confrontation. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Education (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the teacher is fired, why is he finishing out the semester? Why are they worried about furthering his anger?
posted by agregoli at 10:07 AM on May 5, 2005

In my experience, grades are never written in stone, and can be fixed even years after the fact. I can see how that might hurt your scholarships, though. Any graded work you can get your hands on (e.g. you got an A on the midterm but a C for the class) is going to help your case when the class is over, and I would expect you could get it fixed relatively quickly. If the grades you do have aren't that great, or the professor just isn't giving you any feedback at all, I'd suggest looking into switching the class to pass/fail. Even if you technically shouldn't be allowed to switch (due date, minimum number of credits, etc) you can still probably convince the administration that these are special circumstances.
posted by Sibrax at 10:31 AM on May 5, 2005

I just went through a lengthy grade appeal process. As a result, there's been a review process implemented in the writing department at my school so that no one teacher can prevent a student from moving on to the next class, which is good. I haven't yet heard back about whether or not my grade is going to be changed.

My advice is not to let The Man get you down; it was a pain in the ass to do, and the burden was on me most of the time, but I followed through. Don't let yourself get lazy, keep bugging administrators if they don't get back to you, and chances are you'll get what you want.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2005

I would concentrate more right now on trying to get a waiver on the scholarship loss issue; it may be easier to work with them to get a one-time exemption than to trying to fiture out the grade appeal in advance. Try to see if you can get a sympathetic professor on your side in this. Good luck!
posted by insideout at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2005

You should make sure that you have documentation of the school's responses, especially where they're admitting that they know the professor is in the wrong and that they're going to work with you after the semester. If you don't have this, start sending emails to the relevant administrators and saving their replies.

Then remind the administration gently that this is not a matter of grades, but of you suffering actual financial losses because of the professor's actions and their inactions. If your scholarships are external, remind the administration that even if they change the grade later, it might be insufficient or too late for the agency or group that gives the scholarship, who might well have awarded your $$ to someone else in the meantime.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2005

What ROU said (and sorry about my typos)--start documenting. You might also check to see if your university has an Ombudsman or other conflict resolution system in place, like an official grievance procedure. If you initiate the formal process with the university ASAP, then you'll have more evidence to offer the scholarship people when you ask waiver, to show you aren't just trying to make excuses for yourself.

Just remember - few rules are set in stone, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
posted by insideout at 11:14 AM on May 5, 2005

Contact the scholarship people now to find out what the plan of action should be. Demonstrate that all of your grades in the class have been at a certain level (fax copies of the midterms, papers, official syllabus to show the course requirements so that they know you are not just showing them your best work) AND get a letter from the Dean or the head of the department to prove that this is a known issue and will be resolved fairly. If you do all of this now, it will show you to be in control and level-headed, and prove to the school that this is not just an ego-whining grade-grabbing student, but a veritable co$t situation. The school doesn't want to lose you based on this professor, but they need to know exactly how this is going to impact you. Start the entire process, in writing, now; don't be embarrased by admitting that you need the scholarship, and show them that you can't attend the school without it. And ROU_Xenophobe is right; that documentation includes emails or letters, from as many people as possible, covering this situation. Good luck!
posted by fionab at 11:16 AM on May 5, 2005

Is it too late to drop the class?
posted by sad_otter at 11:38 AM on May 5, 2005

Just out of curiousity, have you talked with the professor? I mean, perhaps if you went in and told him that you want to bring up the grade, and asked about some extra credit or something, perhaps he might be amenable.

I would avoid the "If I get a bad grade in this class, I'll lose my scholarship / tarnish my GPA / just curl up and die" approach, and try to sound like you are genuinely interested in furthering your knowledge and your experience in this class.

By the way, I sympathize with your situation, but I'd also like to add that nobody's perfect, and a blemish on your transcript is not that big of a deal. If nothing else, it gives you something to talk about in an interview. Don't let it stress you out too much.
posted by MrZero at 11:38 AM on May 5, 2005

Again, what ROU_xenophobe said - documentation is key - of your inquiries/concerns & their responses. If they will not put in writing their acknowledgement of the issue (due to liability concerns) & declaration of intent to adjust grades later (which presumably might help w/your scholarship issue), then I would ask them to allow me the opportunity to drop the class without penalty (which may itself raise scholarship issues if you're carrying a minimum course load). Without clear commitment/documentation of the administrations position you're left hanging.
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:44 AM on May 5, 2005

I would be surprised if the university would actually put something in writing for you while still allowing the professor to finish out the term.

Would it be possible to arrange for someone in the scholarship office(s) to have a phone conversation with the department head? A verbal acknowledgement that the situation will be corrected after the end of the term from the dept. head to the person reviewing your scholarship may go a long way, and will certainly look better than just you telling the story by yourself.
posted by vignettist at 12:28 PM on May 5, 2005

I would avoid the "If I get a bad grade in this class, I'll lose my scholarship / tarnish my GPA / just curl up and die" approach

Definitely avoid this - you have no idea how many times professors and TAs have to hear some version of this (particularly "I have to pass because I'm graduating next quarter") from someone who actually does deserve a bad grade. You don't want to categorize yourself with this class of people in the professor's mind.
posted by advil at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2005

Contact the scholarship people now to find out what the plan of action should be.

I don't know that that's a good idea -- warning them ahead of time that your grades won't be up to snuff with a fairly standard, hard-to-generally-believe excuse? Even if it's true in your case, it's still hard to believe ex ante that some professor is out to get you.

Start the entire process, in writing, now; don't be embarrased by admitting that you need the scholarship, and show them that you can't attend the school without it.

I was thinking more along the lines of implying a lawsuit if they refused to act on what they acknowledge is an injustice and you lose thousands of dollars as a result. No need to come out and say it, but talking about suffering actual financial losses should ring the appropriate bells.

Something like this, assuming the details are true:

"I am really very concerned about this. You have acknowledged in the past that Professor Surname is in the wrong here, and that I am likely to receive a grade far worse than I morally deserve for this course. If a grade lower than WHATEVER is posted to my records, I stand to lose $MONEY in scholarships. Even if the grade is later corrected on appeal, that scholarship funding will be lost to me forever. It is imperative that we be able to deal with this ahead of time, so that I do not suffer a serious financial loss as a result of Professor Surname's actions. Surely there exists some mechanism, whether formal or informal, by which we can resolve this matter before grades are posted."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:32 PM on May 5, 2005

I would avoid the "If I get a bad grade in this class, I'll lose my scholarship / tarnish my GPA / just curl up and die" approach

Definitely avoid this - you have no idea how many times professors and TAs have to hear some version of this

Thirded. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

My guess would be that you're pretty safe. Teachers and schools are generally chary of changing grades for fear of making a precedent, and also generally happy to change them when they're sure it can be construed as a special case. The case you are in is pretty unusual (not unheard of, alas) and as such I fully expect that they will come through for you.
posted by Aknaton at 2:53 PM on May 5, 2005

Even if you fail the class you're only looking at a 3.7. Are they really going to pull the scholarship out from under you? I doubt it but if they do Stafford loans go down reeeal easy.
I failed several classes, never looked back and now laugh down at petty undergrad from the mighty throne of medical school. Oh, I deserved what I got. Fionab can attest, she knew me back then.
Anyhow, go through your appeals process but always remember that shit happens and life will continue even if you end up getting screwed. Here's hoping you don't.
posted by Corpus Callosum at 8:49 PM on May 5, 2005

I would be surprised if the university would actually put something in writing for you while still allowing the professor to finish out the term.

Documentation that is one-way only can still be far better than nothing at all. A letter (better than an email) to (say) the administration person saying "This is to followup on our conversation of [date]. I appreciate your telling me [repeat what you were told about grade appeals]. I am not taking further action at this time, based on your assurances, but I do want to note how important your assurances are. [State what bad things happen if grade changes don't happen by - specific dates are best.] Please let me know if I should in fact take other actions to protect myself from this problem which you have acknowledged."

Then send cc's to at least two people in the administration (ideally, at least one of them being the person's boss).

My experience is that people's concern to do things right will increase measurably when they know that there is something in writing to which they have (essentially) agreed with (by not writing back to you and telling you that you misunderstood what they were committing to).
posted by WestCoaster at 9:05 PM on May 5, 2005

Corpus Callosum, who are you? I know you? Seriously? Email me!

ROU_Xenophobe, I don't know if it's such an awful thing to contact the scholarship people, actually. I've known people to do this for any number of reasons; I suppose it makes a difference if this is a generic school/federal scholarship, or some kind of private situation. If the scholarship required an application to a foundation, it's been my experience that the earlier you talk to someone, the better it is. They are usually more flexible about stuff when they're able to see it coming. But then again, I'm not really familiar with the general US federal scholarship situation, so maybe you're right, just throwing it out there.
posted by fionab at 9:17 PM on May 5, 2005

Actually, this is when acting here in my own name gets kind of weird. I think I need another anonymous account...
posted by fionab at 9:27 PM on May 5, 2005

Sorry to be a creep.
I sent an email.
posted by Corpus Callosum at 9:54 PM on May 5, 2005

You're not a creep, hurrah!
posted by fionab at 11:06 PM on May 5, 2005

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