Student Complaint Dept.: He almost had it…

…if he had just not pushed it quite so far.  ’Tother day comes an e-mail from one of last semester’s Eng. 102 students, complaining that he had missed an “A” by .5% because I’d failed to enter 25 points for the required out-of-class library lab.

This hits me while I’m in the throes of the worst respiratory bug that’s ever struck me in my entire lifetime. I check his scores and see, no, he didn’t get credit for the library lab and yes, had he done so, it would have pushed his score to 90%.

Quick backgrounder: Our awesome library staff, who beat any set of librarians I’ve ever seen anywhere, have been physically coming to our classrooms to coach students in how to use the library’s complex and surprisingly rich set of databases and media resources. This was no canned dog-&-pony show: they would find out what the class was working on and tailor their presentations to the projects the kids were supposed to be doing. It was, in short, amazing.

But last summer, one of the librarians decided to retire. That would have stressed the already overworked staff enough. Then another full-time librarian, watching her colleague go over the wall, decided to make a run for it, too!

Down two full-time staff members, the library group simply did not have enough personpower to spend hours visiting classrooms. To cope, they decided to present workshops in a centrally located computer classroom, at hours scheduled according to the time individual librarians could spare.

None of these “Library Labs,” as they were dubbed, took place during my fall classes’ meeting times. This meant students would have to attend the labs outside of class.

Experience shows that if you don’t require students to do something you think they need to do, they won’t do it. Apparently they think learning is optional.

This applies in spades to learning anything about a library. One young man told me he hadn’t set foot in a library since the seventh grade (and that, only because his teacher made his class go), and a young woman expressed surprise that the campus even had a library. So, I made attendance a 25-point requirement.

So, back to our Aspiring Student.

In his first message, A.S. conflated the library lab with the optional, extra-credit grammar workshops. I pointed out that he had received credit for attending one of the grammar workshops.

No, said he, he meant the library lab. He claimed he’d done the Library Lab 2, for second-semester freshmen.

To get credit, classmates had to hand in a signed slip from the teaching librarian. I went through my stack of the same and found none from A.S. Nevertheless, he’s a bright man and he was painfully, nay, excruciatingly close to a semester grade of A. I inclined to give it to him and said so. So, by e-mail I advised him that he would have to track down the change-of-grade paperwork, because, since I’m not an employee of Heavenly Gardens Community College, I have no clue how the bureaucracy there works.

He fades from the scene for several days.

During this interim, one of the librarians and I arrange to schlep this semester’s two Eng 102 classes over to her precincts, so she can inoculate them en masse with the library lab, the “make them go outside of class” scheme having failed magnificently last semester. My 102 classes meet back-to-back, and in the interim between sections, she asked if I would lend her my roll of students who had attended so she could copy the names into her roll.

{ping!}

The librarians are keeping a record
of which students have attended their workshops!

“Can you access a list of who attended Library Lab 2 last semester?” I ask.

“Well, sure,” says she. And forthwith she brings up a searchable list. And guess what? Mr. A.S.’s name is not on it.

Damned if the kid isn’t lying.

I pull up my grading spreadsheet and take a closer look at his record. What I find is that he has not done two of three required drafts and peer reviews, and he’s attended only 20 of the 45 class meetings. He’s managed a B+ on the strength of the final versions of the three required papers, each of which he aced.

Three A+ papers with no instructor feedback on the drafts? Hm.

Recheck those for plagiarism. None found.

The writing is classic freshmanese; the kid isn’t even committing the usual mosaic plagiarism. He (or someone on his level) wrote them, all right, and he did a more than decent job of it. But he missed enough classes that I could have (probably should have) dropped him for nonattendance, and he hasn’t bothered to submit six of the semester’s seventeen assignments.

So what we have here is a kid who has learned, in Arizona’s prevailing atmosphere of educational mediocrity, that he’s bright enough to score A’s and B’s in most courses without showing up and without doing much of the work, and who thinks he’s entitled to do so. When he doesn’t get what he figures he deserves by virtue of his sterling genius, he lies to get it.

Of course he went ballistic when I told him I’m not fudging the grade upward, because there’s no evidence in my court, in his court, or in the library’s court that he ever showed up in a library lab. Quoth he:

Nowhere in your syllabus is a grammar lab even mentioned so I had no choice but to assume they were one and the same. I attended the grammar lab assuming it WAS the library lab. The title library lab fails to make clear what it is about since it was run by the librarians and the title could very likely be in reference to this fact. You admitted yourself that the schedule for the labs was extremely vague and confusing.

I want you to adjust my grade in part because we both know an A would better reflect my understanding of the course material and in part because of the dispute over the labs. I believe doing so would only be unfair in the case of other students who attended the grammar lab and missed a letter grade by 5 or fewer points; and in fact I would urge you to change their grade as well if they were as interested in their GPA as I am. However, from your previous, mildly condescending statements I take it this discussion has degraded and I will unlikely benefit from corresponding with you further. Thanks for your time.

Sorry, kid. It’s not gonna wash.

Attached is a copy of last semester’s Eng 102 syllabus. If you will turn to the last two pages, you’ll find the handout for the grammar workshops.

I explained about the library labs several times in class. I also explained about the grammar workshops, and I do not believe I conflated their identities. No other classmates have expressed any confusion. Because I prepare my syllabi several weeks before the semester begins, the library labs did not exist at the time this syllabus was written — for the reason that I explained in class. I explained to the students why the library labs had come into being at the last minute and why each person would be responsible for attending on his or her own. A great deal of discussion of these library lab meetings took place, because of the complex nature of the library’s first handout, which the library staff clarified a few weeks after the semester began.

While the library’s schedule was confusing at first, there’s no way anyone could confuse “grammar brush-up” with “library training.” Nor, since I told classmates that the grammar workshops were optional and worth 5 credits per session in extra credit and that the Library 2 workshop was required and was worth 25 points, does it seem these two programs could appear to be one and the same.

I’m sorry you’re disappointed and feel offended. However, because this information was delivered clearly and it was repeated numerous times, I do not believe it is incumbent upon me to change your grade or anyone else’s. And yes, as far as I’m concerned, this conversation is at an end.

{sigh} Annoying pup. Dollars to donuts he’ll make a formal complaint, and then I’ll have the privilege of spending some more unpaid hours preparing a response, traipsing to a hearing, and arguing before a committee of my not-at-all peers (since I’m not a real employee, full-time faculty whose decision can cancel my contract without recourse can hardly be called “peers”).

It would be one thing if my time were recompensed for this kind of harassment. But you know it won’t be. And the kid is right: the business about the library labs is not in the syllabus, because the change didn’t come up until a week or so before class started—long after I’d had 80 copies of the 15-page-long syllabus printed. To cover my ass, I should have thrown out all 1,200 pages, rewritten the syllabus to include the library lab addendum, and at the last minute had the entire thing printed over again.

But to avoid waste—of the college’s resources, of trees, and of my time—I didn’t do it.

Bad move. If even a square inch of your tush is hanging in the breeze, cover it!

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5 Responses to Student Complaint Dept.: He almost had it…

  1. Copy the librarian’s attendance records — tush covered. He can’t get credit for something he did not attend, and it is incumbent upon him to produce the pink slip, since you never got one from him. In any even, if the argument is over the record, you actually HAVE a record. :)

    I hate the B+ students — why must they be the ones who bitch more than most? Just because you’re a bit above average does NOT mean you’re superior.

    If it’s any consolation, he’s probably 5 points off the mark in most other life-things as well…LOL.

  2. pvcccourses says:

    They’re so socialized to grade inflation that they see a B, any B, as a slap in the face. A grade of C equates to failure, and a D or F is so horrible they can’t even contemplate it.

    The guy says he wants to go to medical school. Obviously, anything less than an A in a simple-minded course like freshman comp taken in a community college is not going to help with that goal.

  3. wanda says:

    My university “strong encourages” us to not print anything and just to put things up on Blackboard. That’s fine with me- I can change the document as much as I want, and I specifically include a line reserving my right to do so. It’s totally my student’s fault if they don’t read it.

  4. wanda says:

    Ack, that should be “strongly encourages” and “not to print and to just”. I don’t know why the grammar isn’t working today.

    • Melete says:

      LOL! It’s because grammar rules don’t reflect the way the language is actually spoken. English isn’t Latin, no matter what 19th-century grammarians imagined.

      Yes, at GDU we were allowed to just post course materials on BB. Community college students often do not have access to computers, nor can they afford to print out hundreds of pages of syllabi. If you include ALL the college’s required boilerplate, your syllabus alone can run upwards of 25 pages. We have to run ours by the chair and his doughty admin, so to get away with giving them a shorter version, you’d have to go behind their backs, which I’m not willing to do. I print this stuff out, because if I don’t, they won’t read it. I give them an open-handout exam on the thing to FORCE them to read the key parts. If you don’t make them it easy for them to read your syllabus and then require that they show they’ve read it, they won’t read it, and then when they miss due dates they whine that they “didn’t know” thus and such a project was due. It’s a pain in the butt that forestalls larger pains in the buttocks later in the semester.

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