Higher Education

Professionalism 101: How never to correspond with students

Earlier today libarienne posted a link to this viral post on vitae, in which a number of (purportedly) real, actual, human professors respond to a fictional request for a grade change with all the high-handed, sneering derision they could fit into a few hundred words. Gilliel’s comment basically hits the nail on the head, but I thought I might write a form letter that the professors in the original article might use in the event that they decide not to be so horribly unprofessional.

Dear [student],

I am sorry that you do not feel the grade you received on your recent assignment was equal to your efforts in undertaking the work. It is unlikely, though possible, that there was a clerical error somewhere in the grading process. We are all fallible. If you think some kind of mistake or oversight in marking, adding, or recording your grade has been made, you are welcome to bring me the original assignment to fix the error.

If you are writing not because of a clerical error but because you disagree with the qualitative evaluation your work has received, remember that written assignments in our class are considered “published” when turned in: as in the real marketplace of ideas, your opportunities to workshop your writing and get feedback from peers and/or mentors cease once the assignment period is over the deadline is passed. As outlined the syllabus, you now have two options:

1) Write me letter in which you respond to the comments I wrote on your paper, so that I can see how I may have misunderstood or misconstrued your arguments. This is not a re-write, only a chance to defend your original work as written. If you change my mind I will change your grade.

2) Agree to re-submit an original, un-marked copy of your assignment–exactly as you turned it in–to two of my departmental colleagues. They will independently grade the assignment based on the provided rubric and I will give you the arithmentic mean of the two grades (rounded up) in the place of your original grade. Be aware this grade may be lower than the one I awarded you originally.

Please remember for future assignments you are always welcome to get feedback at my office hours.


[Your beleaguered but minimally polite and professional prof]

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Dan holds a PhD in Music History from a major Canadian university and is now pursuing a M.Ed in Higher Education at another one, because he likes to collect very expensive paper. He performs stand-up comedy at venues all over Toronto when he's not busy playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. You can follow him at @incontrariomotu, but he isn't going anywhere. You can also send him a tip on PayPal (paypal.me/dandonnelly) if you like his work!

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