February 7, 2021

Bettez | Final Grades, but No Accountability

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It’s the end of the semester. You’ve completed your last final, submitted your last paper, and given your last presentation. There’s nothing left to do but wait for the grades to filter in. But as professors demand accountability and thoroughness in your final work, they fail to deliver the same on their end. For a large number of classes offered at Cornell, final exam, project, or presentation grades are simply never inputted for the student to see. What may be, at first glance, a lazy oversight by the professor as they work to submit final grades by the University’s deadline hides a more nefarious practice: stripping students of their ability to challenge and understand their own grades. The grades they labored over for months, sacrificing sleep, sanity, their work in other classes, and even meals on occasion. It is far from unreasonable for these students to see and understand what went into their final grade so in the case of a simple algebraic mistake or grading error, they can fight for the grade they deserve.

Many students are left with this question: Did they even grade my work? On the social media Reddit’s popular r/Cornell thread, user RideMinute6332 posted in January:

“my prof posted our final grades (after the deadline at that) but never uploaded our final project and our other final assignment grades on Canvas… he’s ignored both my emails from 3 days ago & again today asking where these final project grades are, so it almost seems like he just took the overall grades we had without the final project grades on Canvas and used those as our final grades bc he couldn’t grade the final projects in time… it’s frustrating to see when something you worked hard on is just ignored due to a prof’s seeming negligence…

“I just feel kinda powerless as a student, bc my prof could ignore my emails as long as he wants since submitting an OLGAA grade change request would be an inconvenience for him & i know that my prof could also just make up any random number that fits to say was my final project grade and claim that he incorporated it into my final grade if i confront him more seriously about this, and i can’t do anything about it. [I know] some profs will just be unfair but i still wanna advocate for myself in some way and get the grade i deserve…”

Without such a policy that preserves students rights to a fair grade and ways of keeping professors accountable for fairness, such practices will continue and generations of more students will be cheated out of their hard-earned grades. I would also like to add that I attempted to add a link above for how to submit an OLGAA (OnLine Grade Adjustment Application) request through the registrar for students who may not know how — only to find that when I try to click on the registrar’s link it leads me to a page which bears only the words: “You do not have sufficient permissions to access this page. Contact your College Registrar with concerns.” What an excellent way to make it even harder, Cornell. Way to kick students while they’re down.

Such practices have become commonplace in the University. In my own experience, about half of the classes I’ve taken at Cornell have never communicated either my final exam grades or the curving process they used to convert my raw score into a final grade. This includes Chem 2090: Engineering General Chemistry, Math 1920: Multivariable Calculus for Engineers, Math 2930: Differential Equations for Engineers, and Math 2940: Linear Algebra for Engineers, and far, far more. Even now as a senior taking much smaller classes that are far easier to grade, a stunning three of the five classes I took this past fall submitted my final grades without telling me what my final exam or project grade was. This included one graduate level class that neglected to enter the grades for the last 10 assignments I submitted, including the final project grades that, according to the syllabus, comprised a stunning 50 percent of my grade. I still have no idea what made up more than half of my final grade. Another computer science senior reported that only one class out of five he took in the fall reported grades for all of his submitted assignments.

This practice is meant to stifle the ability of students to advocate for themselves for their own grades — by neglecting to enter the final graded assignments in lieu of submitting only a final grade, professors hope to create nearly insurmountably high barriers to rectify incorrect grades. They deliberately withhold information to even know an error has been made so that the vast majority are deterred from the process of fixing an incorrect grade, and those who suspect it are left with the Herculean task of both proving its incorrectness and changing a grade already in Student Center. Motivated by nothing but sheer laziness and negligence, many compound on this process, by refusing to answer emails concerning the issue, and aided by the inability of the University to even provide an easy process to even begin to address it. The University owes to its students a policy of accountability in its professors, in which students can report classes that fail to meet the bare minimum of transparency in their grading process.

Michaela Bettez is a junior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at mbettez@cornellsun.com. Bet on It runs every other Monday this semester.