Monday, August 30, 2010

 

Ask the Administrator: How to Get a Grade Changed?

A student writes:

I failed a class (obtained an F), and was planning to retake it based on the rules of the university. I did, and I received B. However, I was unaware that the retake policies changed (they changed after I entered the university my first semester). The retake policies changed to enable a person to drop a bad grade from a transcript and retake the class.

However, I didn't know this was possible (and I was supposed to do the paperwork during the first week to enact this policy for myself). I was unaware and ignorant the policy had changed. I would really like to have my grade changed, though.

I feel as though I've been wronged, because I came in with knowledge of the policies when I first entered, which was the Fall of 2009. I failed the class in the Fall of 2009, and retook it during the summer of 2010.

I have talked to my advisor (and I'm 23 going on 24 soon), and he said it's not people's responsibility to be hand-holders and notify people. Of course, this was an insult, because I've helped raise children. It seems like he is implying that I'm a child. He also claimed it was my fault to not have done something. I keep thinking that these are arguments that assume I have free-will. Fact is, though, I did not have any determining factors that lead me to reading about the policy changes, as such, I didn't enact upon them.

I rebutted saying that I would have done something if I had known, for I wouldn't have wanted to do something as self-destructive as not filling out the paperwork (which would have helped me in this case to remove a bad grade from my transcript).

He told me to go to the Office of Student Affairs. I've been around that place, and I've been told about how inefficient it is at getting things done. My general belief is that they are going to deny me the ability to fix my grade. Why? I don't know. Life is cruel and society is out to get people, which is something I have come to believe as I get older.

As the Office of Student Affairs will most likely ignore me, turn me away, and call me a fool, I've considered talking to the dean. He seems to be a pretty high-up guy. I'm not sure how feasible it is to visit and directly talk to him. However, I am starting to feel that is what I have to do.

I put in the hard work for the class. I don't know why they won't be kind enough to change the grade.

What do you think I should do?


I don’t know the ins and outs of your particular university, so I won’t comment on that. Instead, I’ll address the general issue of what to do when you’re caught between shifting requirements.

Something I’ve had to learn over the years is that there’s frequently a gap between written policies and their execution on the ground. While that can be a source of endless shenanigans, it can also help address equity in cases in which someone is harmed by unintended consequences.

The spirit of the new rule, it seems to me, is to allow a student to reap the rewards of doing better the second time. You actually did do better the second time. The requirement to fill out the appropriate paperwork seems to me a bureaucratic convenience, rather than a necessary part of the requirement. (I could be wrong on that, not working there, but that would be my first guess.)

I don’t blame your advisor for reacting the way he did; at some level, students have to be responsible for keeping up with the rules. But advisors, typically, are not empowered to make changes (or overrides) in cases like these. Their job is to help you understand where you stand within the rules as written.

Typically, someone with a title like “Dean of Students” would be the one to see. She would have the authority to override certain requirements based on her professional judgment. Keep in mind that she isn’t obligated to do so; her authority to do so is discretionary. As such, your argument to her should be based on substantive fairness.

If you were actually trying to get a professor to change a given grade, the advice would be different. But since you aren’t contesting the grade you received the second time -- you’re only contesting what gets recorded where -- this is a properly administrative question.

When you make the appointment, bring as much documentation as you can. What was the policy when you enrolled? What did your advisor tell you (or not tell you)? What extenuating circumstances can you document to show that you were not reasonably capable of keeping up with the changes?

Since you’re asking for a dispensation, rather than the enforcement of a right, be sure to present your request appropriately. Deans are people too, and going in guns-a-blazing is unlikely to help in this case.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you advise the student to do?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comments:
One thing that it might be worthwhile to check on is whether this policy actually does apply to students who entered under different catalog requirements. Unless the new policy was enacted as effective immediately for all students (which is pretty rare for policy changes like this in my experience), it is possible that getting the F dropped isn't actually an option for this particular student.

But yes, consulting with a "dean of students" (or someone who fills that role under a different title) is the thing to do, and the student should make an appointment directly with that person - not just wander into the student affairs office hoping for the best.
 
If you choose to see the Dean, please do not bring the same attitude with you that leaks from your written correspondence. As a VP of Student Development, I can say that students who humbly come to my office get much further than students who come in with demands.

If you come with the right attitude, I'll work to find a loophole or address the academic side of the house to "right a wrong". However, if you come in whining or demanding, I'll remind you that you are an adult and responsible for your own actions. I'll point to the emails, web posts, and text messages reminding you of the policy change and then send you on your way.
 
To Dean Dad's question asking "why this policy", I can speculate based on having observed variants of that policy come and go. Debates focus on "grade shopping", where a student takes a class and withdraws if they don't like the grade. Some schools allow you to Rinse and Repeat many times, often late into the semester. Others don't allow withdrawals late in the semester. In the latter case, you can find students who take a full load for financial aid and then only take a few classes seriously, planning to collect exams in the others and retake them next semester.

A policy like the one described here, sometimes with a one or two course limit on grade forgiveness, puts an emphasis on doing well the first time. Or the second time, since you are stuck with whatever you get on that one repeat.
 
I'd advise the student to make an appointment with the Dean of Students (although sometimes there is someone else in the office who handles student complaints) and to bring a written chronology of what happened:

Fall 2008: Took MST 23 "Intro to Widgets." Got F.

Fall 2009: Took MST 23 "Intro to Widgets." Got B

Spring 2010: learned that new policy now allows grade replacement on transcript

And I would encourage the student to frame a simple request about what s/he wants done (e.g. "even though I only learned of the policy in Feb, I am requesting that you allow my grade to be replaced on the transcript.") Sometimes, the request for what the student actually wants done gets lost in the narrative.

But from an administrative standpoint, I'd encourage any campus to implement the requirement differently--why should a student have to fill out a form in order to get a grade replaced? Why not just have the computer do it automatically for everyone?
 
As an Academic Advisor myself, and one for quite a few years at a variety of institutions of higher education, I'd like to say a few things. First, institutions are great at changing policies and requirements and horredous at adequately informing students about those changes. At every institution I've worked, communication seems to be one of the greatest challenges.

Second, all parties involved need to take a step back and let go of some of the charged emotions that are driving the dialog. I can read it in the words of the student, and I can read it, arguably between the lines, in his/her description of his/her Advisor. I don't say this as a form of harsh judgment. Trust me, I've been there. Had my buttons pushed - both as an Advisor and as a student - and lost my cool more times than I'd try to admit. But, I've also succeeded many times and stopping the building emotional flow, validating the student's concerns, showing genuine empathy, and doing what I can to help the student deal with the situation.

Sometimes Dean Dad is right, and there isn't much I can do as an Academic Advisor. Truly, in the mechanisms of the university, we are a mere cog with little real power. Actual power that is. But we can wield significant expert and referrent power and can be extremely effective in guiding students.

Ultimately, as an Academic Advisor, I feel my job is to be a student's advocate. There are few people who a student will know from the start to the end of his/her academic journey. I'm one of those privileged few, and so I view my role in the life of my students as being crucial to their academic and personal success. Being an advocote doesn't mean being an enabler nor does it mean always giving a student what he/she wants. What it does mean is having a commitment to helping students learn and grow - of meeting them where they are at, in a very non-judgmental way, and helping them grow and move forward.

In this instance, I can't specifically say what the right action would have been from the Advisor's perspective, as there isn't enough detail and background to go on. However, I can say that I _cringe_ when people say things like "it's not my job to be a hand-holder" or "you're an adult, you should have known better". These statements are un-helpful at best and destructive at worst. More than that, they just show a complete disdain for students and their plights.

_If_ the student should have known better, then find a constructive way of showing him/her that. _If_ there's truly nothing that can be done to give the student what he/she wants, then help prepare him/her to move forward from this situation and avoid something like it occuring in the future. But drop the "too-bad, so-sad" attitude. "Tough love" is appropriate at times in he advising-student relationship, but callous indifference is not.

Okay, so that was a _huge_ tangent, and I ask your forgiveness for that. I'm just very passionate about student service. As for how this specific student should move forward, if his/her Academic Advisor isn't being of any help, then escalating the issue may be necessary and appropriate, but I do also agree that it should be done appropriately and respectfully. In my experience, college administrators who are faced with a student who is taking personal responsibility for his/her situation will do whatever they can, as appropriate, to help the student out.
 
As an Academic Advisor myself, and one for quite a few years at a variety of institutions of higher education, I'd like to say a few things. First, institutions are great at changing policies and requirements and horredous at adequately informing students about those changes. At every institution I've worked, communication seems to be one of the greatest challenges.

Second, all parties involved need to take a step back and let go of some of the charged emotions that are driving the dialog. I can read it in the words of the student, and I can read it, arguably between the lines, in his/her description of his/her Advisor. I don't say this as a form of harsh judgment. Trust me, I've been there. Had my buttons pushed - both as an Advisor and as a student - and lost my cool more times than I'd try to admit. But, I've also succeeded many times and stopping the building emotional flow, validating the student's concerns, showing genuine empathy, and doing what I can to help the student deal with the situation.

Sometimes Dean Dad is right, and there isn't much I can do as an Academic Advisor. Truly, in the mechanisms of the university, we are a mere cog with little real power. Actual power that is. But we can wield significant expert and referrent power and can be extremely effective in guiding students.

Ultimately, as an Academic Advisor, I feel my job is to be a student's advocate. There are few people who a student will know from the start to the end of his/her academic journey. I'm one of those privileged few, and so I view my role in the life of my students as being crucial to their academic and personal success. Being an advocote doesn't mean being an enabler nor does it mean always giving a student what he/she wants. What it does mean is having a commitment to helping students learn and grow - of meeting them where they are at, in a very non-judgmental way, and helping them grow and move forward.

In this instance, I can't specifically say what the right action would have been from the Advisor's perspective, as there isn't enough detail and background to go on. However, I can say that I _cringe_ when people say things like "it's not my job to be a hand-holder" or "you're an adult, you should have known better". These statements are un-helpful at best and destructive at worst. More than that, they just show a complete disdain for students and their plights.

_If_ the student should have known better, then find a constructive way of showing him/her that. _If_ there's truly nothing that can be done to give the student what he/she wants, then help prepare him/her to move forward from this situation and avoid something like it occuring in the future. But drop the "too-bad, so-sad" attitude. "Tough love" is appropriate at times in he advising-student relationship, but callous indifference is not.

Okay, so that was a _huge_ tangent, and I ask your forgiveness for that. I'm just very passionate about student service. As for how this specific student should move forward, if his/her Academic Advisor isn't being of any help, then escalating the issue may be necessary and appropriate, but I do also agree that it should be done appropriately and respectfully. In my experience, college administrators who are faced with a student who is taking personal responsibility for his/her situation will do whatever they can, as appropriate, to help the student out.
 
Ditto on what Jason said.
 
I guess I'm not super clear on the timeline--for example, whether the student had a bit of paperwork to do the first week of summer session or way back before even failing the class. But that's a quibble.

Since this is a procedural question, in my opinion, the student needs to take a deep breath, lose the negative attitude, and make the appointment in the Office of Student Affairs before moving up the food chain. S/he should take the documentation, as mentioned by other commentators. Should also remember that even if the grade doesn't get replaced, in my experience, both grades will be on the transcript, and anyone reading it in the future will be able to see that the student did indeed master the material.

Could be a good idea to ask the advisor if he recommends contacting a particular person in that office.
 
One word. Catalog. On my campus, we'd be bound by the entering catalog, unless the student had "moved forward" to take advantage of some newer requirements (read: less math). In that case, all bets would be off and the student would be required to jump through a zillion hurdles to be served under a previous catalog.
 
Really just echoing others, but here goes:

1) Go in polite and humble. Request (at least at first) don't demand.

2) Be forewarned that you might not be eligible. You entered under the old policy and you failed under the old policy. Depending on how the new policy was enacted, one or both of those might make you ineligible. It sounds unfair, and may be in this case, but it's often the way things work. It's not a completely unreasonable policy - one benefit of things working this way is that the graduation requirements generally can't get more strict on you last minute.
 
I'm kinda feeling like both the advisor and the student got emotionally charged here. Mind you, I also HATE the "we're not here to hold your hand" comment- it would get ME emotionally charged superfast.
Some of these comments are great, and I hope the student listens particularly to Jason and remembers that there's always the chance (irrespective of the reputation for efficacy of student affairs) the student can find someone who is totally in the right job. IF the policy properly applies to students who matriculated in earlier years, and the only issue is the paperwork, I suspect there is someone in administration who just LOVES to get requests like this, because it really is a totally reasonable thing, and there really shouldn't be any downside to giving the student what they want.
It's a matter of 1) finding the person who has the authority to authorize this and 2) asking for their help in the most positive way you can muster.
 
To piggyback on what Becca just said, ultimately, in my opinion, it comes down to a question of why the policy exists and why it changed. Policies are great. Indispensible even. They provide the structure we need to bring order out of chaos. But the policies exist to help, not hurt. And ultimately, I believe, we always have to ask ourselves, what's the right thing to do - for the student and the institution - regardless of written policy.
 
There are two reasons a bureaucracy does something -- because they like you and because they have to. A powerful life skill is swapping between these two needs. "Because they like you" is the cheap way to make things happen. "Because they have to" is the reliable one.
 
As a past member of an academic appeals committee, we would be inclined to agree with you given the following:

1) There is not clear policy against you. OK, this seems a bit murky as an earlier policy says you are out of luck and a later policy (communicated or not) says you can get this grade change. Focus on the the better policy and how that wasn't properly communicated to you. The form to fill out would matter to some, but not all of the appeals committees I've served on. However, if it is clear that you knew about the policy, but didn't do the paperwork in a timely fashion - well, we would probably deny the appeal (though it may get overturned at higher levels if you raise enough fuss).

2) You are polite. Lots of extra points if you show up to your appeal (as long as you remain polite). Professionalism, even amongst students, matters. Somtimes, a lot.
 
I echo Leslie. The student should do what they can, but not despair if it doesn't work out. Trust that whoever is reviewing your transcript recognizes what happened. That might seem like too much trust, but it they're just looking at GPA out of context, you don't want to work with them anyway. Trust me.
 
Just to reiterate. Some of our most successful transfer students are those who got off to a rocky start in CC, then got it together and did well. When I read a transcript for admission to our program, I actually look for patterns like that, because the pattern demonstrates to me that the student is committed to doing well academically, that s/he can bounce back from a bad semester, etc.

Getting back to the original scenario, this would have been a good conversation for the student's advisor to initiate. Like others, I have some issues with how the matter was handled by the advisor, at least as reported.
 
Anonymous 4:02 says: If you choose to see the Dean, please do not bring the same attitude with you that leaks from your written correspondence. As a VP of Student Development, I can say that students who humbly come to my office get much further than students who come in with demands.

If you come with the right attitude, I'll work to find a loophole or address the academic side of the house to "right a wrong". However, if you come in whining or demanding, I'll remind you that you are an adult and responsible for your own actions. I'll point to the emails, web posts, and text messages reminding you of the policy change and then send you on your way.


But that's outrageous!

Bureaucracies are supposed to be rational--their claim to fame over baksheesh, nepotism, and various other ways of administering.

4:02 is essentially saying he'll do his job if he likes you and read you a sanctimonious lecture if he doesn't. That isn't a rational bureaucracy.

And I don't understand this new admin requirement for humility. Politeness, of course. But forelock-tugging? C'mon, anonymous 4:02, you just aren't all that elevated.
 
wayupnorth -- you're reading more into what Anon is saying than what he's saying.

There are two layers of what an academic bureaucracy does, what they have to do and what they can do. A tremendous amount of academic bureaucracy is based around the judgment of those involved, because student situations are so astoundingly diverse. For example, in one semester as a teacher, I dealt with three students who cheated on the final, one who saw it and confessed, and one who confessed to it without doing it because of her fear of getting failed out -- in the same semester that I dealt with another student whose parents were killed in a car accident. A ton of stuff happens, from lots of directions.

So! With that kind of absolutely necessary discretion, you should be polite so as not to unnecessarily antagonize the people who have the power to do good things for you. That said, Anon wasn't talking about forelock-tugging. He was talking about using polite language, having all of the appropriate documentation together, and generally acting as a professional. That sort of thing will get you very far in academia, because folks in academic administration spend a lot of time dealing with entitled jerk children who ask for the totally unreasonable.

That said, if being polite and professional doesn't work, then either drop it or bring a lawyer.
 
For the record, this is something of a Life Skill. I untangled a thousand-dollar unemployment office mess the other day simply by calling around, sounding apologetic for messing up the paperwork (it was mostly their fault but a little bit mine), and treating the folks I spoke to with respect for their knowledge.

Everything is staffed with people. People want to be treated with respect. Some folks are unreasonable and you can't do much with them. Most folks respond well and quickly to a patient person who addresses them with kindness and courtesy.
 
wayupnorth -- you're reading more into what Anon is saying than what he's saying.

Many people here are saying variations of: play nice and we'll play nice. And that's fine. I hope students are invariably polite. But the rights and wrongs of the issue are independent of the student's attitude, and anon should be big enough to keep his eye on that, not on his injured feelings.

I don't grade students on attitude, however rotten--just performance, thank you very much. And I don't preach or offer homilies on social behavior or sumptuary matters. I'm not being paid for any of that.

Is it expecting too much of administrators to check some of their baggage at the door?
 
"But the rights and wrongs of the issue are independent of the student's attitude,"

That's the point -- they aren't. The student's attitude is crucial to his case that he was an innocent victim, rather than cynically gaming the system.

This is because many academic rules are written such that gaming the system is easy to do -- because otherwise you end up denying virtuous claims.
 
It's nice to find occasionally, punditus, that an argument has reached the end of the road--with total disagreement and conflicting interpretation, but both sides understanding each other and nothing left to be said.
 
On that, I do agree. If nothing else, we understand one another better, I hope.
 
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