In matters of any dispute, take an in-office meeting with a prof, division chair, etc. over e-mail, if at all possible.

Here were some Twitter comments from the last post:

Kathryn Siranosian (@corpwriters said): This happened to my son, too! “The class had too many As” on the final (including his).

Samra Bufkins MJ, APR ‏(@Samjb said): No! That can’t happen. The syllabus is a contract. You can’t change the grade structure, ever, after that.

Jo VanEvery ‏(@JoVanEvery said): In the UK, that is actually true. And grading structure needs approval beyond prof designing course.

And here is a little more background to the story:

“I emailed the professor and he did not reply for a couple weeks so I went to the head of the division. That professor talked to my professor and then the division head told me what my scores were and how many points they were out of. This information did not match the syllabus, so I pointed out this discrepancy in a reply email and he replied saying he was simply siding with the professor because my test scores were too low (he did not take into consideration that I earned a 71% according to the syllabus). After emailing the division head, I got a blanket email saying he was siding with the professor, as well. I also got an email from his secretary saying that I could pursue a formal grade challenge if I wanted to, but it won’t help because the same three people would be the only ones looking at a formal grade challenge and respond the same way. I had a 71% in the class with no curve and the syllabus says a 70% or higher is a C, but I got a D+.

I scheduled a meeting with the Dean next week. I’m going to compile all of the emails, bring the scores I got and the original syllabus. I don’t have contact info for other students in the class. What can I do if he doesn’t listen to me or take me seriously? This is for a 5 unit Organic Chemistry class and I’m not being taken seriously. I have all of the evidence that I earned a C but I feel completely powerless to get the grade I earned.”

*****

And now more of my feedback:

Dear Student,

First and foremost, I am terribly sorry you are still going through this situation. But what I want to say to yourself and other students who may face a similar issue is that even if things do not end up satisfactorily, you can feel informed without feeling completely powerless. We all get information that we may not like, but you can walk away feeling like you at least know why.

What concerns me is that you feel blindsided and you shouldn’t. If your grade remains, you should know why it is staying the same. You may still feel like, “Damn, there was nothing I could do to change that situation, but I gave it my best fight,” which is different than feeling completely powerless. So let’s attempt to move you from that place. Based on the syllabus change, as I said in my previous response, there seem to be grounds for ongoing discussion.

I’m glad that you are meeting with the Dean face-to-face. I am concerned that so much of this went down over e-mail, but you had no choice, given that your prof had already submitted grades and probably went on break after that (which is what most of us do, myself included!).

Just a general statement for other students going through a similar scenario, in matters of dispute, press for an in-person meeting with whomever will give it to you (I’ll explain more on that in a second). E-mail leaves too room for miscommunication or “dead-end”/complicated communication (like an administrative assistant responding for another person–too many people in the mix). However, a department or division chair, administrator, college officer, etc. typically answers e-mails and may meet with students even during breaks, or their superior might, in the absence of your professor (and they can get a hold of the person while on break, if necessary). I would continue to ask for that, and one basis for it is if you need to resolve the situation to plan for the upcoming term.

I realize e-mail feels far less scary, but it takes longer for a remedy, and you will miss the important verbal and nonverbal cues from the person you are dealing with.

Once you are in the meeting with the Dean, work with your facts one by one:

-Show the Dean the syllabus and say, “This is the points breakdown upon which I entered the class.”

-Then show the Dean your individual scores and say, “Here are the grades that I received on my assignments/exams. As you can see, these equated to a ‘C’ based on the original points breakdown. I was shocked when I received my grade and it was a D+.”

-You have two choices at this point. First, you can remain silent, which might be best. Let the Dean digest the information and ask some questions.

Or, you can recount more facts, such as the process that you’ve already taken: “I contacted the professor and he said the scores were too high. From what I understand, our lab scores were curved lower (or whatever happened), which negatively impacted my grade. I went to the department chair and the division chair and was told that since my individual test scores were low, there was nothing I could do.” (The latter doesn’t have a clear correlation to me; your individual test scores shouldn’t have a bearing on the syllabus issue, but I would have to have heard the person’s comment in full context). Be very careful not to place blame; keep your own nonverbal tone even, regardless of how much you want to sound a little Tony Soprano.

-State clearly what you want. “I believe I should have the C based on the original syllabus contract I entered the course with and the scores I received. If I will not receive the C, then I need a clear understanding as to why because the ramification for me is that I will have to retake this course. This will cost me money/affect my financial aid/negatively affect my transcript/put me behind on my graduation plan.”

There may be other options, such as giving you an “I” (Incomplete) for the course until the situation is figured out. Not the best option because you did complete all of the work.

Hopefully, this meeting is going to give you answers as to what happened and there will be a further plan, or better yet, a solution!

But let’s say this does not happen. I do not believe you are at a dead end. Truth be told, students file grievances for all sorts of reasons. Beyond this point, you would still have a Vice President or a Student Affairs Officer at the next level. You can also go to Counseling Services to find out the proper chain of command, confidentially.

You mentioned concern over having to retake this course, but realize that the grade can be changed even into fall term. It is usually as easy as a hard copy or electronic form. I know that the mental anguish and the unknown of if you will have to retake the course, however, is far worse, and hopefully you won’t have that hanging over your head much longer.

I realize this all feels like a horrible situation, but asserting yourself this way is giving you tremendous and critical conflict management experience. Own that.

I will be interested to hear how your meeting goes and I will look forward to further comments from others to provide more insights.

Ellen

*****

Students, would you know the chain of command in a grade dispute? Chapter 31 of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor tells you how to “Go Higher.” There’s even a Kindle edition! Have you taken a look inside?