Mistakenly failing a course?
December 28, 2006 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I think my professor mistakenly failed me, and I cannot contact him. Now what?

I checked my grades for the semester and found that I had a fail in one of my classes. This was quite shocking and I am sure it has to be some sort of clerical error.

The problem is my teacher cannot be reached (I believe he is out of the county) by any of the phone numbers or email addresses I have for him. I need to get this resolved before Jan 8th because I will be beginning my last semester of college, and I need to retake this class if I really did fail (which seems impossible to me).

Supposing I got a 50% on the final I should have received about a 76% in the class (without a curve). Thinking that I performed rather well on the final I cannot see how I could have failed.

What do I do!?
posted by anonymous to Education (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you contact another professor in the department, and/or an advisor?
posted by rossination at 8:28 PM on December 28, 2006

Sign up for the class and drop it before the last-day-to-drop if you didn't fail it.
posted by j at 8:29 PM on December 28, 2006

Email the department chair. They should help you figure it out.
posted by jtfowl0 at 8:29 PM on December 28, 2006

Contact the dean and see if (s)he will look into the matter for you. Most colleges have stringent recordkeeping requirements, and the dean will probably have access to the big box they keep the exams in.
posted by fvox13 at 8:30 PM on December 28, 2006

This almost exact situation happened to me.

After *repeatedly* trying to contact the professor for 2 weeks, I contacted the (University) President's office.

That afternoon I had an apology (!) on my answering machine and indeed, I had not failed.

At a larger University, the Provost's office may be more appropriate, but my school's Prez had an "open door" policy, and I took advantage of it, with immediate results.

The Administration is there to serve you, make use of it.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:33 PM on December 28, 2006

I would go to the department office and ask to talk to the student coordinator. Most departments (in US universities) have an administrator who deals with problems like this all the time. The administrator will figure out where the professor is.

I suggest going in person because you'll likely get a quicker response that way.

It's likely that someone in the department will be able to help you before January 8th. To be on the safe side, you may want to take j's suggestion and sign up for the class again just in case.
posted by medusa at 8:36 PM on December 28, 2006

Speak to the chair of the department. S/he will know how to contact the professor.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:37 PM on December 28, 2006

In order:
Department chair
Department's dean
Dean of Students
Presidents office (maybe the VP)

Or, maybe you did fail.
posted by cccorlew at 8:39 PM on December 28, 2006

On preview: several people suggest going higher up in the administration - but in my experience talking to someone in the department (rather than the dean, the president, etc) will get things resolved more quickly.
posted by medusa at 8:40 PM on December 28, 2006

The above is good, but the course secretary (or professor's secretary) might also be a good resource, if such a person exists. And if it's a small enough course that there is no secretary, and no TAs or graders - that is, there's no one else who might know - then the professor will probably remember you without records, so you should be able to contact him or her through the administration (assuming a forwarding address or phone number was left). They may not have a grade, but they'll probably at least remember who failed and who passed.

Is it just me, or does leaving the country right after a class ends seem pretty irresponsible?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:45 PM on December 28, 2006

I got an incorrect fail mark last semester. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Start with the student liason staff, and if nothing else, they will able to best advise you on which route to take.
posted by cholly at 8:47 PM on December 28, 2006

It depends on how your university works, of course, but imagining what I would have done in the same situation, I would have gone to the department chair, while at the same time contacting someone at the Registrar's office, so that they could know that the grade was under dispute. Since they're the people who control the records, you want to let them know that something is up.

But mine was a small school, so contacting the Registrar wasn't any big deal (it was literally a single person). At a larger institution, I can only imagine the bureaucracy might be harder to deal with.

Normally I'd always advocate working slowly and steadily up the chain of command from lowest to highest, but when you're facing something as time-sensitive as this, you might want to go after it at multiple levels at once. Letting somebody higher-up in the chain know that there's an issue -- maybe not airing your grievance completely, but just letting them know that there is a concern -- might help you later, if you need to get that grade changed after the deadline has passed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:50 PM on December 28, 2006

As a TA for a college course, let me say that it is very easy to accidentally fail someone. At my school, you just choose from a drop-down box the letter grade for each student. The more students, the greater the chance of a mistake. I tripple check my submission first, then have someone else look over them, but I'm sure most people just give it a quick glance and submit.

Let me also say, when a mistake is made, it's not that big of a deal. All the professor has to do is to call the records department at your school and initiate the change. He can probably do this via the phone.

This brings me to another point: don't piss this professor off by emailing everyone under the sun in the department. If he comes back from vacation and finds out everyone knows he made a mistake, he might not be too happy with you.

Thus, unless (a) you are graduating, or (b) failing this class has automatically dropped you from a class next semester, I would play it cool, send him an email, leave him a voicemail, and wait for his return.
posted by JPowers at 9:27 PM on December 28, 2006

Your school/university/college website should have a webpage explaining how to deal with this. However, first I would suggest you see your student administration staff (who in my experience actually handle the paperwork for such a thing, and usually can get hold of an academic if anyone can) and find out their expected timeline for treating this matter. Mention the 8th January deadline and ask when you can expect to know what is going on.

If they do not give you satisfactory answers, or brush you off, try and contact the academic who your professor would answer to. Keep going up the line.

Some schools/universities/colleges have student based organisations who can advocate for you. See them (after you see the student admin staff) and see what they advise.

Make sure you have a record of everything relevant - your academic record and grades to date, your submitted work etc. It won't hurt to have copies to hand out to people who request it.

/used to be a student admin staff person.
posted by b33j at 9:43 PM on December 28, 2006

JPowers: or (c), failing would mean you'd have to change your plans for last semester - you can't take the classes you had intended to and fix it later because you can't risk not graduating.

Again, being unreachable at a time like this, when grades are coming in and schedules are being set seems like a weird thing for a professor to do.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:57 PM on December 28, 2006


Relax. These things happen and are not a big deal.

My honest advice:

Stop trying to contact the professor. If he's checking email or voice mail, then he'll get back to you soon. If he isn't, then he isn't, and another jillion messages from you isn't going to change that any more than pushing the elevator button again will make it come faster.

Give the department chair a try, even though there's a strong chance that he or she won't be available either, and a stronger chance that they'll tell you that they can't do anything for you now.

Failing that, relax and deal with it at the start of the spring semester. If you didn't fail, and you almost certainly didn't, then it will be quickly corrected. If it happens that you got a negative 86 on the final somehow, you should be able to add into the course next semester unless the department is full to bursting with grade-A assholes. If you're really super-extra worried about it, register for it too and then drop it when you get it straightened out.

The administrator will figure out where the professor is.

Maybe, maybe not. I don't think anyone in my department knows where I am except "Toronto." I can be reached by email, but only because my inlaws happen to have a wireless router now. This is hardly strange.

Contact the dean and see if (s)he will look into the matter for you. Most colleges have stringent recordkeeping requirements, and the dean will probably have access to the big box they keep the exams in.

I've been associated with four universities in one or another teaching capacity, and this would not be true in any of them.

Is it just me, or does leaving the country right after a class ends seem pretty irresponsible?

For most professors at most schools, their contract covers only the times that the school is in session. The rest of the time is yours to do with as you please.

In this case, the problem is really the understandable but misplaced urgency of anonymous. There's no reason why this can't get dealt with at the start of spring semester unless anonymous's school is exceedingly strange.

Irie. Soon come, mon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:01 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Again, being unreachable at a time like this, when grades are coming in and schedules are being set seems like a weird thing for a professor to do.

No, being more or less unreachable is a common consequence of travel, and travel over the holidays is a stunningly common and normal thing to do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:04 PM on December 28, 2006

Universities are deader than doornails at this time of year. And Professors very often go off to conferences etc. as soon as classes end -- conferences, workshops, etc have to be scheduled when they are not physically teaching in the classroom. So that is completely normal. Also, professors. believe it or not, take holidays "at times like this". "This" being the middle of the Christmas Break. Some of the above respondents seem to think professors only exist to teach and monitor grade submissions.

In any case, if this is a clerical error by the Professor or elsewhere along the line by which grades are submitted then it is a trivial, everyday memo to fix this error at all universities with which I am familiar. (at our uni, fails have to be initialed by the prof on the submission bubble-sheet. Not sure what procedures are like elsewhere, but here it is actually hard to fail someone. Quite easy to give them the wrong grade though....) If the Professor is teaching next semester s/he will be back a day or two ahead of classes, at least.

In the meantime, contact the Departmental Secretary. Chances are the Prof. is checking his email but not reading any student email. (I know I'm not.) If the Dept. Sec. can send an email it might get his attention. Don't go to the Chair or the Dean until the Prof. has had a reasonable chance to respond. It won't do any good since they will just want to talk to the prof themselves - no way will they over-ride the fail based on your side of the story alone. But seriously, if you are confident you passed, don't sweat it. Mistakes happen and are easily fixed.
posted by Rumple at 10:10 PM on December 28, 2006

I go to a fairly large university (26,000+ students), and most of the department advisors/heads I've talked to are VERY good about making accommodations for students with valid reasons. IMO "I will have to stay another term just for 4 measly units" falls under "valid reasons." I'm double majoring and (provided that I take the initiative to go in and talk to the advisor) one department always does the best it can to open up slots/seats so that I can take classes "on time" (to graduate in a timely manner). If you attend a private school or perhaps a smaller university, I can only imagine the departments being even more accommodating.

In other words: there's nothing you can do until your professor returns your calls and e-mails, but try to relax since it will probably work out in the end.
posted by mittenedsex at 10:23 PM on December 28, 2006

And seconding what b33j said: be prepared to "make a case" for your grades in that you should have your papers, tests, quizzes, etc. neatly organized for your professor to go through. Just in case.
posted by mittenedsex at 10:26 PM on December 28, 2006

Unless your department really sucks, I'd just relax. You don't *know* you didn't bomb the final, so I wouldn't start bothering anyone except a message left for the professor or any TAs or such with access to the exams. Given that your department isn't totally fucked up, they'll be able to fix everything shortly at the beginning of the semester.

The exception being if you are a senior now applying to grad school and this could hurt you there.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:37 PM on December 28, 2006

Contact the dean and see if (s)he will look into the matter for you. Most colleges have stringent recordkeeping requirements, and the dean will probably have access to the big box they keep the exams in.

I'm at a reasonably large school where it is possible to get access to your exams (and possibly have them regraded) in some circumstances, but it takes a lengthy (one month or so) appeal process.

If you're facing being unenrolled in courses that are successors to this course, you might need to petition to take those courses without a prereq on an audit basis or something similar if getting your grade changed isn't something that can be sorted out quickly.
posted by thisjax at 2:38 AM on December 29, 2006

Everything ROU_Xenophobe has to say is correct. Take that advice. It may seem as though you're in a tight spot, but if you're convinced it's a clerical error, people should be more than willing to accomodate you in the next term. Don't burn bridges or make manic demands upon people in administrative positions.

And Spaceman, you're way off. Being "out of the country" for an academic often implies research, an important, if not primary part of any professor's professional responsibilities. Even if it's not the case, do people call you from work about bookkeeping errors when you're on the beach in Aruba with the wife? Be reasonable.
posted by B-squared at 7:51 AM on December 29, 2006

Most colleges and universities now have an ombudsman, who are outstanding resources in situations like this one (I worked as one during law school at a large state school in the Midwest). Try reaching yours-- they probably even have hours during the semester break.
posted by norm at 8:20 AM on December 29, 2006

Just relax, don't go to the ombudsman, don't go to the president. It won't be necessary and you have little chance of resolving this problem right now anyway.
posted by grouse at 9:13 AM on December 29, 2006

Excellent advice in this thread, but a lot depends on the situation.

To clarify why I went to the President, I had tried calling and emailing the professor for 2 weeks, and it wasn't that he couldn't respond, he WOULDN'T respond. I would call the department secretary and he would only give the answer, through the secretary, "all grades are final". He was also the department head, so that avenue was closed.

It was his refusal to even address the problem that forced me to go to the President.

That's why the apology was an important part of the story. The President had the authority to FORCE the professor to look into the situation, and when it was shown to be completely HIS error, he was, no doubt (because the guy was a dick) forced to apologize to a student who he not only made a grave mistake with, but also refused the common courtesy to even INVESTIGATE the complaint.

The guy was a jackass and I had no problem going over his head. The problem was he recorded a 0 for my final, saying I did not turn one in, and refused to even look through the papers to see if mine was in the stack. He could not see the absurdity of why I would call insisting I had a paper if I did not show up for the final. I reminded him (via email) of what he was wearing that day, and also reminded him I was the first of 200 students to turn mine in, and told him where he had me place it. None of this motivated him enough to walk over to a filing cabinet and pull out the tests.

The people above are well intentioned, but sometimes you have to put yourself and your academic well being first. And if your school has approachable administration, I would take advantage of that fact.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:26 AM on December 30, 2006

Ynoxas, no one is saying that you should have gone to the President (well, I'm not at least). But as the problem is described here, I do not think that is appropriate yet.
posted by grouse at 9:34 AM on December 30, 2006

I failed a student on accident once. Actually, I failed her on purpose, but it was a mistake. I has recorded a zero on an assignment when she had, in fact, emailed it to me. I had even given her explicit permission to send me the assignment that way.

She sent me an email and asked about the failing grade. I replied that she hadn't turned in the XYZ assignment. She reminded me that she had turned it in via email and that I'd given her permission. I checked my gmail, discovered that she had, in fact, done that. I remembered (only then) giving her permisison to do so.

I changed her grade the next day. It was via a paper form, and took about a week to be posted. Still, she understood and everything worked out in the end.

Did I make a mistake? Yes, it was entirely my fault. But when the student brought it to my attention, I recognized it and fixed it.

I'm very glad the student didn't go to the department chair and complain, and I wouldn't be very happy with this student had she done so. And if she had ever taken a class from me again...

So: breathe deeply, wait until the term starts and your prof returns. Be civil, be patient.
posted by terceiro at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2006

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