My new life difficulty grading scale

Posted: Dec 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Dear Fall 2004 students:

First of all, let me apologize for writing you so late in the year after so many of you have gone home for the semester. Most of you thought that the semester was over and that grades had been finalized, so you didn?t expect to get this mass email from your (now former) professor. But, nonetheless, I urge you to read this message carefully. It may mean a change in your grade for the semester that we just finished together.

I am writing to you because a student recently contacted me to question her final grade in my class. First, she wanted me to explain our complex grading system. As you know, this involves adding your three test scores together and dividing by three. Fortunately, I was able to convince her that there had been no computational errors so we could move on to the issue that was really bothering her. She had had a ?rough? semester and wanted me to give her some ?consideration? for the difficulties she had encountered, which, according to her, adversely affected her performance in my class.

In addition to breaking up with her boyfriend, this concerned student was having difficulty paying her bills and had to work 30 hours a week while taking fifteen credit hours last semester. These difficulties added up, in her opinion, to at least a one letter grade drop in her class performance.

It may come as a surprise to all of you but, after listening to her hardship story, I have decided to change this student?s grade. Specifically, I plan to raise it one letter grade in order to give her the outcome she would have earned if life would have gone as she expected it to, without any unforeseen difficulties.

I came to this decision based upon two principal factors. First, there was the sheer sincerity of the student?s argument. She really felt that she deserved a better grade.  I know that should have been enough but the second factor was the real clincher. When she left my office and went to her car (which was parked in the faculty parking lot with a $25 ticket on the windshield) I noticed that it was a $30,000 SUV. How can the student afford a $30,000 gas-guzzling SUV if her studies are interfering with her work schedule? And those $25 parking tickets really add up after a while. Clearly, something has to give.

After I committed to raising this student?s grade, it occurred to me that I should probably contact all of you to see how your semester went. And, in fairness, if any of you experienced any unexpected difficulties, you should have the right to enumerate them and explain exactly how much they hurt your performance in class last semester. Using the university honor system, I will take you at your word and adjust your grades accordingly.

The difficult part will be applying this policy retroactively. In order to be completely fair, I will have to go back and adjust the grades of everyone who has presented me with a life difficulty claim over the last 23 semesters. I have provided a few examples of the cases I can recall, hoping that the enumeration of these cases will give you an idea of the kinds of benefits to which you might be entitled.

  • In 1993, one of my students experienced the death of two of his maternal grandmothers within the course of a month. Accordingly, students will be given one letter grade for each family death, whether it occurs in the nuclear or extended family.
  • In 1996, a student asked to be exempt from the class attendance policy because her recent absences were caused by the unexpected outbreak of a venereal disease. Accordingly, students with herpes, gonorrhea, crabs, AIDS, or syphilis will be given one letter grade for each STD contracted during the semester.
  • In 1999, a student missed a month of class after getting pregnant and then having an abortion between the second and third exam. She wanted special consideration because the ?father? of the child had not been sufficiently supportive. Accordingly, students getting pregnant out of wedlock will be given one letter grade for each unexpected pregnancy. An additional letter grade will be given for actually aborting the unborn child.
  • In 2001, a black student told me that she needed to spend time at the African American Center every day in order to ?get the support she needs to make it through the day.? Not wanting to be accused of racism, I declined to suggest that she spend the time in the library studying to improve her grades. In the future, students will be awarded one letter grade for taking classes while being black.
  • In 2002, a lesbian student came by the office to let me know that, after a rough semester, she was switching back to heterosexuality. Being gay or lesbian on a college campus is tough enough to earn a one letter grade adjustment. Being unsure of your sexual orientation (or your gender) will earn you a two letter grade bonus.

Students reading the above cases should not be led to believe that they have read an exhaustive list. As a conservative white male protestant heterosexual, I am careful not to impose my own reality upon those who do not share my privilege. Thus, you may feel free to argue other circumstances I have not have previously considered. As always, the focus should be upon your feelings.

As controversial as it may seem, my new life difficulty grading scale will help us to achieve a goal that should make all of us feel comfortable. That goal is nothing less than the destruction of the antiquated notion that people should work to overcome life?s difficulties with no advanced guarantee of the outcome they desire.

Some will call my new system revolutionary. Others will call it an extension of affirmative action.