In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
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.
Wise and worldly readers, what would you advise the student to do?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.