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  • Grace Brown

Spreading the Good News: The Gospel of Grade Disputes

Most students on campus are unaware of their ability to dispute grades that they feel do not accurately represent their performance in the classroom. (Kyra Laurie/The Griffin)

By: Grace Brown

Recently, I filed a grade dispute with the chair of an academic department here at Canisius over a course in which the grade I had received did not match my performance in the class. Upon sharing my apprehension concerning the conclusion of this situation with another student, it became clear to me that most students on campus are unaware of their ability to dispute grades that they feel do not accurately represent their performance in the classroom.

Kept awake at night by the miserable prospect of countless students suffering in not-so-blissful ignorance over inaccurate grades, I wanted to share my experience to help others understand the options open to them at Canisius.

To begin, one’s claim against a grade cannot be made until the semester’s grades are posted, and it must be proposed on legitimate grounds rather than mere disagreement. According to the Grade Review and Appeal Procedures listed on the website (under Academics, under Grades and Policies, then Grievance), an appeal for grade review may be founded on three prospective errors.

First, a computational error entails a mere mistake in the mathematical calculation of a student’s final grade. This less offensive accusation provides an easy solution for most grade disputes.

Second, students may declare a professor’s grading to be arbitrary or capricious. This means that the grade was allegedly based on something other than performance in a course; reflects standards different from those applied to other students in the course; or departs from the standards of evaluation set forth in the syllabi in a substantial, unreasonable and unannounced way.

This proposition still refrains from making personal accusations against professors, but rather questions their grading criteria. I emphasize this point, because I recognize that many students may enjoy their professors as people but disagree with their grading policies.

It is important to distinguish between these two aspects of the student-faculty relationship, because students should be able to challenge the actions of college staff without feeling as though they are offending someone personally. Professionally speaking, students are customers at the institution of higher education and should have accessible options to make the most of their experience without facing opposition or worrying that they might make someone mad.

Lastly, a student may file a grievance based on suspected discrimination from the Canisius faculty towards themselves, meaning the indicted professor would have violated Canisius’s bylaws. Consequently, this third option for grounding grade grievance has much more severe implications and should not be taken lightly.

To begin the process, students must email the instructor of the class under scrutiny directly and copy the chair of their department. Yet this is where it gets complicated; similar to a court case, or an eBay purchase dispute, students must include all supporting evidence (such as pictures of tests, extra credit, feedback, submission history or class syllabi) in this initial email and clearly indicate exactly which grounds they intend to base their claim on.

Consequently, this primary step is the most crucial, since additional details cannot be added later. Obviously, students should always remain professional and respectful when addressing professors, regardless of whatever suspected conduct may have occurred. Also not unlike a legal dispute, it serves all parties best to take an objective view of the issue at hand and resolve it speedily.

This first email must be sent within six working days of the start of the next semester (i.e. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays). Afterwards, professors have six working days to respond. In doing so, they may either choose to accept the student's appeal and change the grade themselves, or they may contact the department chair to explain their refusal to change the grade.

If the professor fails to take either course of action within six working days of the start of the following semester (not including intersession courses), students may choose to continue the review process by contacting the chair of the respective department via email within 12 days following the semester’s start, if there is no reply.

If the professor does reply but fails to resolve the grade dispute, meaning a rejection of the student’s proposition or replying in an unsatisfactory manner (i.e. vague or unfounded response), the student may elevate the appeal to the review of the chair of the department in concern.

In my personal experience, the grievance appeal ended here. However, I do understand the Canisius-wide grade appeal policy to provide for the progression of grade disputes to the appropriate associate dean’s office if a student remains unsatisfied after the department chair’s review.

In my recent experience, the grade appeal process was not especially arduous, yet I am one of the only students I have met to have pursued it. Though there were numerous other students who received grades they felt did not accurately represent their performance in the same class that I chose to appeal against, very few others proceeded along the path of formal grade review appeals.

Is this from an extensive unawareness of the academic appeal facilities available to all students across campus, or is it perhaps due to a widespread sense of apathy and unwillingness to draft a single more email?

Whatever the case may be, I am very pleased to report that I finally got the grade I earned.

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