Odds are, right now, you’re wrapping up the semester as you prepare for the push through finals week. You’re facing something like three finals, two final projects and countless lectures to review. You work hard on all these assignments too. Why? To get good grades, of course. However, I want you to ask yourself: For all this effort you’re putting into doing well, are your rights to a fair grade strong enough?
What I would like to bring to your attention are certain Stony Brook policies regarding grading that are lacking something that other schools have implemented to strengthen student voices in determining the numbers that will heavily impact their future. What I want to talk about is grade petitioning.
Grade petitioning, or grade grievance, is the process of appealing against the final judgment of the professor, even after talking to the professor. Every school has its own flavor of this process, with different scopes and different adjudicators. At Oklahoma State, they have a “Grade Appeals Board,” whose goal is to “provide a forum in which honest differences of opinion can be discussed rationally and peacefully.” At University of Oklahoma, a board made up equally of students and faculty sit to hear appeals of “prejudiced or capricious evaluation” and other cases. DePaul University also has a board of faculty and students that sit for grade appeals, with numerous different criteria qualifying for adjudication. NYU, Penn State and Cal Tech all also have grade petition processes that have wide scopes, and this list isn’t comprehensive.
At Stony Brook, the process is rather limited. Our petition process specifically excludes changing an individual grade, referring instead to the Academic Judiciary’s grievance process, which requires an “arbitrary, capricious, malicious, or otherwise improper action” on the part of the professor, after conversing with the professor, undergraduate department head and department chair. This process is very limited in scope, as it requires “clearly improper academic practices” to hear a grievance, like very uneven grading, or special treatment. Grade grievances are much more gray than black and white, and many students have complaints that are legitimate but don’t fall under this umbrella.
Grades are important, and professors aren’t perfect. I’m not saying that professors here are malicious or incompetent; in fact, I feel quite the opposite. The fact is that to change a grade based on an argument of unfairness requires a professor to admit they made a mistake, to allow for students to question their judgment and open them up to new requests from other students. It’s not a matter of not caring, it’s simply that the current system doesn’t give professors any impetus to change their judgment.
But it doesn’t have to be. A simple forum for both sides to state their case and an unbiased adjudicator who can make a decision that is equitable to both parties, without embarrassing or damaging either party’s reputation, could solve this problem. A peaceful, rational forum to discuss disagreements will make the university better for students, giving them a voice in decisions that impact their future. Of course, this is a system more open to abuse, and I am sure that the schools that have implemented these boards have faced their fair share of frivolous appeals, and that for the majority of the time the professor is correct. However, with the impact grades can have on our futures, it is important to err on the side of over-appealing rather than having a legitimate case go unheard.
I’ve met several people who’ve had legitimate concerns, from unannounced syllabus changes to unfair curving policies, and no recourse to voice them, both big and small. A paradigm shift in how Stony Brook approaches disagreements and appeals over final grades can greatly strengthen student voices and improve overall student stress levels without damaging any reputations or causing any hostile interactions.