Wednesday, December 16, 2009


One of the most painful duties of an administrator in my position is dealing with grade appeals. If a student accuses a professor of grading her unfairly, I have to get both sides of the story, gather evidence, and propose a resolution. What makes it so difficult is that professors feel assaulted by grade appeals. They feel that they should not have to prove they acted professionally. I understand that, because that's the position I occupy half the time I'm at work.

But part of that professionalism is understanding that their authority is exercised on behalf of the institution, and that the institution has to be able to examine what they do in order to stand behind them. I don't like peeking into another instructor's perogative, because I wouldn't like to have it done to me. I have a close relationship with students, too, though, and I know that they sincerely feel assaulted as well, sometimes. The process of grade appeals means standing in between two wounded parties. And no matter what you recommend and decide, you can't patch them up. The damage is done; the trust is shattered.

One of the happiest duties of my job is to become colleagues with my students. Tonight I took my teaching assistant out to dinner with her husband. It's wonderful to deal with students as equals -- to give them responsibility, to depend on them, to watch them rise to the occasion. And the enjoyment comes from being able to help them along to the next stage. You can give them opportunities that they can use to open doors for themselves. You can write in letters of recommendation about the very specific ways they responded to the challenge. You can introduce them not as your students, but as your partners.

The two experiences are polar opposites. One breaks the fragile connections of academia; one creates bonds that can last a lifetime. One feels like a betrayal; one feels like a gift. It's probably impossible to do this job without the promise and the peril combined. I feel very fortunate that I probably have ten experiences of the latter variety for every one of the former.

1 comment:

Doc Thelma said...

I feel fortunate that I've only been sucked into a grade appeal hearing once. It was a hard case in that it prevented the student from graduating, but thankfully it was also very clear-cut.