Council eyes blank grades

“Bad habit” and plus/minus
grading systems will
have to wait for action.
Friday, April 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:59 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

After exhaustive discussions about the plus/minus grading system and blank grades, MU’s Faculty Council decided to move on to other agenda items Thursday afternoon after a tornado warning sent the council to the lowest level of Memorial Union south.

Just before going downstairs, the council was discussing what chairman Gordon Christensen called a “bad habit”: professors leaving a student’s grade blank at the end of the semester. Council member Pat Fry said there are two reasons professors do this. They are either “wimps” who don’t want to give a failing grade or there has been an administrative error, Fry said.

The real problem, according to Fry, is that professors don’t want to hand out a bad grade. When a grade is left blank, and when it’s not changed later, that blank remains on a student’s transcript.

“One choice is to have some effective sanction on faculty,” Fry said. “But it’s my impression that that’s not going to happen.”

This practice by faculty is also unfair to the students, said councilman Rex Campbell. He said if two students fail the same course taught by different professors, one could fail while the other student receives no grade.

“One student escapes and another gets a poor grade — that’s not fair to the students,” Campbell said.

In 2002, the council voted down a proposal to automatically change blank grades to an “F.”

“The Academic Affairs committee is in strong disagreement of nonrecorded grades becoming an ‘F’, so we re-wrote the policy to be less punitive to the students,” said Committee Chairman Bill Lamberson.

The current policy is for the blank grades to be changed to “NR,” or non-recorded.

A Thursday vote also put a cap on the plus/minus grading system — at least for now. The 14-4 vote blocked council member Jenice Prather-Kinsey’s February resolution that would change language in the Faculty Handbook.

The current language says faculty is “expected” to use this system. Prather-Kinsey said the faculty interpretation is that it is mandatory to use every grade on the plus/minus grading scale. The proposed change would have changed it to say this system is the norm and that faculty is expected to administer grades that best reflect student performance.

Councilwoman Eileen Porter said faculty are not required to use the whole scale, just as they are not required to give a failing grade in every class.

Much of the discussion centered on the virtue of the plus/minus grading system instead of the language in the Faculty Handbook. “I am not a supporter of the plus/minus grading system, but we should realize this is the law of the land and accept it,” said Campbell.

Lamberson said if the council wants to review the grading system, a task force should be created to do so.

The council also spoke with professor John David, chairman of the Strategic Planning and Resource Advisory Council that advises the chancellor on how to use resources. Currently, the council has four strategic initiatives:

  • To enhance and expand MU’s position as a destination university and an outstanding institution of the Association of American Universities through a stimulating intellectual environment, leading programs and world-class colleagues.
  • To identify clear and consistent program priorities and infrastructure needs and to drive these priorities with the budget.
  • To enhance and expand MU’s economic, health, educational and social outreach to the state, nation and world.
  • To create additional and novel public and private educational partnerships to provide better service for the state, nation and world.

David also addressed the council concerning “signature programs” at MU.

“These are nationally recognized programs that MU can hang its hat on,” he said. “They do really, really well and if you want to do this program, then this is where you come.”

The council also passed a resolution to change its elections procedure. Formerly, elections for council were held during the summer session, when many were unable to attend. The elections will now take place in May.

Finally, the council discussed its role in the search for a new provost to take the place of interim Provost Lori Franz. The search committee has narrowed their search to three candidates, the first of which will visit campus on Monday.

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