Thursday, March 10, 2005

Vice Provost Overturns Faculty Grades

On the agenda of the Committee on Faculty this afternoon: a case where a Vice Provost disregarded Marquette rules and overturned faculty assigned grades.

We’ve long held that sometimes the University should “cut some slack” for students, even bending the rules on occasion. But when this happens, it should be in consultation with faculty, and we have great difficulty imagining a case where the Provost’s office should overrule two faculty members, the Director of the program in which the student is enrolled and the Dean of the student’s college.

But that’s precisely what recently happened at Marquette.

A student, due to a very large number of absences and a general lack of effort was assigned grades of F and C/D in two different courses by two different professors in the same program.

Quite generously, the program called the student in to discuss how to make up the deficit and get on with professional training. The student was offered the opportunity to take a course at another institution, for example.

But the student and the student’s mother talked to the Program Director and Dean and wanted the grades – which certainly harmed future prospects – expunged.

There had been a minor medical issue early in the semester, but it was temporary, and nothing in the record indicated any medical excuse for the entire semester. Indeed, had there been such, the student should have simply withdrawn. It was claimed that medical problems prevented the student from attending an 8:00 a.m. class. But it developed that one of the bad grades was in a 10:00 a.m. class, and that the student had been regularly attending another 8:00 a.m. class. A claim was made that the student had a “disability,” but nothing had been submitted to Marquette to support any such claim.

Indeed, back during the semester, when poor performance became an issue the two faculty members met with the student to discuss the situation and what to do to improve. The student did not ask to withdraw during the semester, and did not ask for an “I” grade that would have allowed making up missing work.

It was, in sum, a lame performance, and a situation the student allowed to “slide” until the deserved low grades were posted, and an apparently overindulgent mother got involved.

At this point the appeal was taken to the Provost’s office, and specifically to Vice Provost Peggy Bloom, who overruled the faculty, Program Director and Dean, and ordered that the grades be changed to a “medical withdrawal.” This was, in effect, a retroactive selective withdrawal from two courses with no real justification other than the fact the student got low grades.

The faculty in question were not even notified of the decision.

Full details can be found here.

The Committee on Faculty was extremely distressed, and voted to write a letter to Father Wild and Provost Wake, asking that faculty be directed to the COF web page to read about the incident, and that the issue be taken up in the Academic Senate, the Deans Council and the Committee on Academic Proceedings.

This issue goes to the academic integrity of Marquette. We have no illusions that faculty are always right, but faculty are the people most likely to have a fine grained knowledge of a student’s actions. Department Chairs, Program Directors and Deans might overrule faculty who have erred, but that anybody in the Provost’s office should overrule everybody lower in the hierarchy has got to be a situation about as rare as a professor getting hit by a meteorite during a lecture.

Dr. Bloom, whose views on assessment we find to be sensible, is new to Marquette, so we can probably put this one down to inexperience. It shouldn’t happen again.


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