University education: The grade conspiracy

Every student entertains, at some point or another, the ridiculously misguided belief that grades are given and not earned. Should they fail, they will raise questions on why you have failed them and pull tantrums in a concerted effort to change their grade to a pass. The worst part is, however, when both parents and some administrators intervene with measures to make you change the grade- simply appalling!

Why don’t educational institutions feel obligated to disabuse families of the notion that this is helpful for students? When does it become necessary to accommodate fraudulent parents and condescending administrators? When did it even become possible for parents and administrators to influence course outcomes? Are educators not hired to teach and assess students? When students and their families demand to speak to a supervisor, how is it feasible that they would be given the impression that deans and other administrators have any role at all in course outcomes? Shouldn’t deans and administrators redirect said ‘customers’ to the department chairs – our real supervisors?

Honestly, there are some extenuating circumstances and back-stories of genuine hardship and life-threatening mental or physical conditions in which deans and administrators rightfully need to intervene. In these cases, they should contact department chairs and have a frank discussion about the circumstances as early as possible. Furthermore, there should be an unambiguous policy regarding the use of student confidentiality. If faculty are meant to consider certain facts, those facts should be stated explicitly and not given an oblique nod. However, at no point in time should faculty members be admonished to make students pass and reprimanded if they don’t.

First, administrators deprive students of valuable lessons when they disregard the consequences of failing. University education is adult education. The students can only be adults if our society lets them detach from fairy godparents who come in and magically sweep their troubles away. Private industry does not have a problem with this. The military does not have a problem with this. Gainfully employed 18-year-olds cannot ask parents to speak to their supervisor if they don’t like the consequences they are about to face. So why is this the case in education? Moreover, why do institutions acquiesce?

Second, with this kind of interference, educators begin to feel at best ambivalent, and at worst, apathetic and cynical, about student assessment. We understand the implications of failure. We are professionals in our field and we experience success and failure every day when we enter and exit classrooms. We are accustomed to being assessed, criticized, applauded, validated and scrutinized by our peers. We are responsible for managing student assessment for students in our own classes. Some students will choose graduate school or a remunerated path of some kind. Whichever path they choose, their aggregate experiences in college give some indication about their ability to hold up their end of the academic endeavor. Making the consequences of failing inconsequential erases part of their story and minimizes our role as educators.

If parents or administrators interfere in the assessment and even grading process of the students, the quality of education will be compromised. Running such interferences degrade the educator’s efforts and undermine teacher-independence. This is, perhaps, one of the issues we need to look into as we sieve the chaff in our education system.

The writer is a Language Consultant