It's finals week, which can only mean one thing: dozens of students at a university with none-too-stringent admissions standards, a "the customer is always right" attitude toward student evaluation, and staggering grade inflation whining, pleading, or negotiating for higher grades. What follows is an actual email from a 19 year old freshman in a mandatory Intro American Government course. The last two sentences in particular are amazing (emphasis mine).

I received a (redacted grade) in your class. My grade is an error because of discriminatory inconsistencies in requirements between the separate breakout sessions. I was in (redacted)'s breakout session and though he was a great teacher, the work he assigned differed greatly from other breakout sessions. There were additional tasks assigned to my class that were inconsistent with the level of effort versus other classes. For example one TAs breakout session was based solely on attendance; I went to every breakout session, therefore i would have received a 100% in that class. If i was graded according to the other break out sessions i would have received a 100%. I expect my breakout session grade to be changed to 100%, due to the fact that i feel my grade my discriminatory. This grade is an error, and i expect this error to be corrected because of the points above, and due to inconsistent requirements.

A couple things.

First, the student did not bother to note that if I agreed to her request and changed the grade to 100, it would not make enough of a difference to raise her course grade. Right off the bat this entire exercise is a moot point, but I suppose Special Princess never learned how to do math.

Second, all grades from discussion sections are adjusted so that there are no discrepancies among different teaching assistants, each of whom has discretion over his or her own sections.

Third, nice attitude you've got there, asshead. In my response, I politely suggested that she reconsider her tone, phrasing, and attitude of entitlement when making such requests in the future. Frankly I'm just proud of myself for not finding her and hitting her over the head with a cast iron frying pan, cartoon-style.

I haven't been teaching long enough to say whether this type of thing is becoming more or less common. One thing is for certain, though; it happens a lot. Regularly, even. I read or hear things like this all the time and my mind goes to Joe Pesci in Raging Bull: Where do you get the balls big enough to ask me that?

By now we're all used to students who think that showing up entitles them to an A and every time they pester me I try to imagine what sort of sequence of events and influences would need to come together to make someone a douchebag of this magnitude. This is a truly awful human being, and she will make your life unpleasant eventually. She'll flip out, yell at the manager, and leave a 5-cent tip because you forgot her ranch dressing. She'll wait until you install her new carpeting and then refuse to pay for it because the color isn't right. She'll call tech support and scream at you because she's too stupid to figure out how to use her cell phone. She'll spend the greater part of what will only loosely be labeled "adulthood" suing or threatening to sue people – neighbors, employers, employees, family members, and random strangers. She will talk on her phone in movie theaters, cut you off in traffic, and fight with the Little League coach if Dakota and McKenzie don't play enough.

The scary part is that the student is taking this approach, most likely, because it has worked before. This is how some of these kids learn to get through life – their options are to attempt to solve the problem with money or flirting or, failing that, to threaten to have Daddy hire a lawyer. The world today makes more sense if you picture the adult version of this student on the other end of the phone the next time you try to resolve a problem.

91 thoughts on “BALLS”

  • Having the same job as you (in polsci, as a matter of fact) and having taught high school in a previous life, I would like to say that I hope it isn't more common but I am afraid that it seems to be. It certainly feels that way. Now, I'm in teh Europe at a smaller university but you can see it coming. The other day something similar happened and, having not seen it in a while, I actually winced reading the email. Hmm….

  • I think that some of its audience took Clueless too literally.


    Which reminds me, where's your report card?


    It's not ready yet.


    What do you mean, "it's not ready yet?"


    Well, some teachers are trying to low-ball me, Daddy. And I know how you say, "Never accept a first offer", so I figure these grades are just a jumping off point to start negotiations.


    Very good.



    Cher, what's this all about?


    My report card?


    The same semester?




    What'd you do? Turn in some extra-credit reports?




    You take the mid-terms over?




    You mean to tell me that you argued your way from a C+ to an A-?


    Totally based on my powers of persuasion. You proud?


    Honey, I couldn't be happier than if they were based on real grades.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    When I get such screed I simply don't react. It forces the student to take the next step. Some, will resend the same or worse email. I don't react. Few will come to my office hours (I very strict with that) in which case they have to face me. That's already less comfortable; there is no Internet to hide behind. I am very polite and willing to reassess everything. It ends up where we started.

    Some are pretending to internally kick and scream. No problem, go talk with the chair or may be the dean. (If I can piss off the dean it makes me happy.) It never goes too far, attrition works.

    They all deserve an A (god given right). I already had a polite exchange about an A- no less for Spring 2012. Generally, I don't see an obvious worsening. Assholes go back tens of thousands years and I have been there much longer than the younger assholes. As one presidential chief of staff said: I don't get ulcers, I give them.

  • cromartie says:

    Well, on the plus side, you won't end up marrying her. Imagine how that's going to work out for that poor sap.

  • Chris "Limey" Lewis says:

    I gotta admit, I'm a final year undergrad in the UK, and whilst I don't beg to change grades or threaten, or whatever – I figure that anything I gain through such a means is unearned – I get pissed off when lecturers offer no assistance or help on writing assignments.

    I had a beef with one lecturer, whose lecturing style and modes of assessment seem to be stuck back in the 1960's, who refused to give me any assistance on an essay I was stuck on.

    I'd emailed her asking if a paragraph I'd written was too off-topic (the question was pretty abstract: "Was it a Wilhelmine Bloc/ideologies, or the modern "professional" wing of the army that contributed to the collapse of the Weimar republic), and I basically got told to fuck off, because if I was granted any assistance 'I'd have an advantage over everyone. Bear in mind, I wanted her to look at ONE PARAGRAPH.

    I then emailed her back politely, stating that every other lecturer I'd ever had would be happy to give even token essay advice, even if it was limited to "don't talk about X", and I got a 5-word reply. Which, again, was essentially another two-word reply.

    Do I fall into the "ungrateful bitching students" category, or does she fall into the"useless lazy lecturer" category?

  • SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Gordon Guano: Have to love all the lower-case first-person singulars. Shows an unexpected level of humility.

  • I've been teaching first-year writing courses for 17 years and no, I don't find the frequency changing. It varies more by type of institution or student population than by time. Ed, your institution happens to be one where lots of rich fuck-ups land, much like Florida State–where I did my MA and taught for my assistantship.

    I also have found, though, that most of the time, a simple "No, I don't see it that way" is enough to put a stake in it. I don't read the move quite as much as a claim to entitlement as you do. It's begging, sometimes even bartering. And the tone of your example email is certainly nasty, but to me it sounds like somebody who's desperately trying to claim authority she knows she doesn't have.

    Or maybe I'm just more of a sap than you are. That's a more parsimonious explanation…

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Back when I was an adjunct professor for 6 years back in the 90's, I remember one student coming up before the final's and saying to me, "I really need an "A."
    "What did I give you at mid-term?" I asked, knowing full well it was a "C."
    "A "C," he replied.
    "Well, what did you do to improve that? Did you improve your attendance?
    "Did you participate in class more, ask questions and turn in better papers?"
    "Did you ask for extra help?"
    "Did you do any of the extra credit assignments?"
    "So, in other words, you got a "C" at mid-term, and then did nothing, provided nothing, that might improve upon that grade. Am I right?"
    "Then why should you expect anything other than a "C," or lower?"
    "'Cause I need an "A.""
    I looked at him, and said, "Tell it to the Dean. I'm given some standards by which to grade students by him. Maybe he'll bend the rules he gave me for you. I'm just a lowly adjunct. I don't have much say in these matter. Let me know how it turns out. Have a nice day."

    I quit for other reasons the following semester. But that little exchange showed me my future if I decided to become a full-time professor. I went back to working as a Trainer at a telecommunications company.

  • Your student is an idiot.

    But I'm not at all surprised that your course generates lots of complaints given the set up you describe. (I'm in a completely different field but I have almost two decades of experience working with multi-section courses.) You are allowing your teaching assistants far too much independence if one is grading 100% on attendance and others are using papers/quizzes/whatever. It doesn't matter that you make adjustments for the individual sections and make things fair in the end. It doesn't just matter that the grading system IS fair, the grading system must SEEM fair to the students. It's the concept of face validity applied to the grading system of an entire course.

    Your treatment of the different sections doesn't SEEM fair at first glance, so of course students are going to complain about it.

  • Betty Smith says:

    An internal grade appeals process might help:
    "some of you may be disappointed in your grades. This is understandable. If you don't understand your grade after reading my comments and the grading criteria, please come talk to me. Be prepared to give a substantive, well-reasoned defense of your answer. Not liking your grade is understandable but it is not a reason to change it."
    Amazingly enough, the fear of having to defend indefensible answers seems to dampen enthusiasm for whining. It also allows me to cut off the whiners early in the conversation by asking for their intellectual argument. This is not a perfect solution. Princes- and princes-in-training will still stop by occasionally to flash me a heart-melting smile but I am heartless in this regard. This works better than anything I've tried but last year a grad student got the dean to add points to an exam for abrespnse she submitted via email days later, though it didn't change her final grade for the course from a D.

  • Major Kong says:

    No Susie you're really not a precious little snowflake. In fact you're quite replaceable.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Did her tuition check bounce? Is her bursar's account current? I don't see how, absent either of those, you can't not give her the A. She bought it.

    Total customer satisfaction is the goal of any service industry.

  • The breakout sessions sound like a farce regardless of her timbre. Luck based grading is stupid, and I sympathise with this poor bird: she's had to earn her grade while Joey-smirk-face ranks higher by simply turning up.

    Isn't fairness the mainstay of your ideology? Don't be such a hypocritical jerk, Ed, you jerk.

  • Some friends and I have an informal Shit Undergrads Say award, wherein whoever encounters the most ridiculous answer on a bit of coursework each semester wins a bottle of shitty wine in which to drown their sorrows. I'm going to push for an additional category for grade grubbing.* Life is better when your gut response to emails like the one above is "Ha! Victory is mine!"

    Then it gets depressing again when everyone else has students who are even worse.

    *Anyone else remember Welcome to the Dollhouse?

  • "Did you fuck my grade? Did you fuck my grade? I'm gonna ask you again, did you or didn't you? Just answer the question."

    Tom you gotta reread the post there chief.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Dear B+ student:

    You are a B+ because a real A student wouldn't whine and complain even if she got a B+, because A students all realize from their vantage point that true excellence is unobtainable, their best can always be improved upon and moreover is never achieved with a mere focus on a grade as the goal post. By your very complaint you have identified yourself as an also-ran.


  • anotherbozo says:

    And yes, I taught 20 years ago and already then there was noticeable grade inflation and the process of blackmail was beginning. It could only have gotten wors.e

  • Sociopathy is its own reward.

    Sometimes I love browsing the web on an old Blackberry. As soon as I read the subject line, I got a warning: "We're closing this page because it is too big to load."

  • As a college student, people who do this really chap my ass. I had a course (a BS course, frankly, just a basic gen ed requirement) where the majority of the students spent the majority of the class on Facebook. Consequently, there were only about five of us who had decent participation grades. (I knitted in class, but I still participated.) One of the students went to the professor and said "I need an A in participation." And the professor (a first-year adjunct) gave her the A! Just because she asked for it! The fuck!?!??

    The only time I have argued about a grade in a class was when I had maintained a low A/high B the entire semester and was docked more than a full letter grade for "unprofessional behavior." While my behavior may have been less than exemplary (I was 18 and occasionally snarky in my professor's general direction, as I didn't agree with many of her opinions or methods), "behavior" was not a category or criteria on which we were to be graded (according to the syllabus). I feel like as long as you're grading based on the criteria you set out, it's not your job to do anyone any favors. As someone going into education, I dread these "special snowflakes" who think they're entitled to more than they deserve.

  • Is it gonna be Dakota and McKenzie — or will it be Madysyn and Sindee? It's closer to the South than New Jersey is, after all. Plus, the girl's not a natural born speller.

  • I had a couple of grade disputes with professors in my student days, but never via e-mail (and never over the amount if work required, but that's a another issue). I would always have those discussions face-to-face during office hours. The way I looked at it, one's complaint isn't meritorious enough unless you can face the instructor when making it.

    Also, this girl really should take Law 101 before making veiled threats of litigation. Most forms of discrimination are perfectly legal. Sounds like a nasty, idiotic child playing lawyer.

  • Do you ever advise your students to read your blog (and the comments) for a clue as to how adults think in the real world?

  • anotherbozo FTW. That is so full of right and win that I wish I could reach through the intertubes and kiss you, European style.

    I taught an online class this year in which a very good student ended up getting a B+ because she flat didn't do an assignment. When she got the grade she was PISSED and demanded I change it to an A because it was my job to remind her that she didn't do the assignment, and therefore ultimately her grade was my fault. I politely declined, and that's when she started describing my teaching as sub-standard and actually LYING about how I ran the discussion forums and assignments (all of this, from the beginning, cc'd to the head of the school). And during this she was STILL demanding I change her grade—brilliant strategy there. She was prepared to turn in a written complaint to the Dean—over a B+. Jesus wept.

    Luckily teaching evals were already in. Otherwise as a lowly adjunct I would have been vulnerable to her entitled wrath.

    I will say, though, Ed, that it sounds like you need to develop more consistency across your sections and ensure that while the TA's all have freedom to conduct their classes as they see fit, the assignments/workloads should be the same. Or maybe I'm just misreading your description.

  • Since I have nothing to add, I'll rant on a different sense of the word in the title.

    Doug Fister is out for a month with an injury, then starts last night and pitches 7 brilliant shut-out innings in Seattle. Coke gets a 1-2-3 8th. With a 2-0 lead, things are looking good for the Tigers. Octavio Dotel, who has been good this year in mid relief, comes in for the 9th. He walks the first two batters, throws a wild pitch advancing them to 2nd and 3rd, then throws ANOTHER wild pitch scoring one and advancing the other. That's 10 BALLS!

    Next guy cranks one off the center field fence, and the game is tied. Next guy gets a hit, and the game is lost.

    That's 7 blown late inning leads by the back end of the Tiger's bull pen.

    Instead of 13-13, they should be 20-7.



  • Doctor Couth says:

    From my experience as a teaching assistant in large U.S. history courses, students are very good at describing in minute detail the differences they perceive between their discussion section and their friends' sections. It so happens that these differences always support the conclusion that the students' friends are getting off easy, which may explain why a student capable of such fine-grained analytical work, comprehensive attention to detail, and argumentation is nonetheless incapable of articulating the thesis of the assigned reading.

  • No doubt she'll move to DC, get a job as an aide on Capitol Hill, sleep with a lot of D-bag Hill guys, apply to law school, and eventually marry a guy who will have a black mistress because he can't stand his self-entitled "conservative" wife. If this chick's not blonde, I'll be a horse's ass. Oh, wait. I am a horse's ass.

    That is all. Carry-on. So forth and so on.

  • ladiesbane says:

    I'm used to people dismissing math as unnecessary (which is maddening), but don't they usually have language skills instead? This student's English is killing me. "My grade is an error"? "Discriminatory inconsistencies"? There is no sentence that is not a tortured wreck. At first I thought the convoluted syntax and strange word choices were an attempt to sound mature and official…but if she were doing that, she probably would have proofread this mess. So much for that theory.

    Kiddo, if you don't have basic math or English skills, it's time to cherish that B+. Or reconsider enrollment in the Dubuque School of Cosmetology and Barbering.

    As for the crummy parenting that teaches children that there will be no unpleasant consequences for anything ever…I'll spare you the "you're not doing your kids a favor" rant, even though it's a favorite of mine. There have always been bratty, entitled kids, but they used to be rare enough to have their own stereotype in classroom dramas. Now they are the norm.

    You think she's a PITA in the classroom? Wait until she's your boss.

  • "Balls"? I think "Balls" in this instance is the wrong word.

    The word you're looking for Ed is gall. And let's not confuse this with chutzpah, this is just the gall of thinking an email will get your grade over turned. At least put the effort into it, and show up at office hours to make your case. This is Menendez Brothers level of "please have mercy on us for killing our parents as we're poor orphans" gall.

    Perhaps you should try to open your semesters with a variant on what my Stats prof used, "Hello, I am Dr. X. I want to be your friend, which means I will not hesitate to fail you."

    This way the fear of Ed, is instilled in them and they know from the get go that they are going to have to work for their marks. It will also instil a sense of pride in those who work their arses off and only just pass. Those who want to sit on their laurels… well you warned them didn't you.

    Then you can give them the CU's spiel.

  • Oh, pish, Ed – I can't understand what all the uproar's about. Do the traditional thing, get a prophylactic antibiotic shot, let her earn her upgrade and go on from there. It's not like you want to keep this job or anything.

  • I've been on both sides of this and I've only pleaded with a professor once for a grade after the term ended.

    It was an introductory Mandarin class and I was a freshman. The way the program was laid out, our sole grade in the class was based on our final exam and the examiner was someone from a different university whom we didn't know. I practiced the dialogues we were given everyday, spent extra time at the language lab and actively participated in every class session. The examiner gave me a solid B. I was kind of upset given all the time and effort I put in and the fact that some other kid on my floor, who missed every class past week two, got an A. (No, he wasn't Chinese; he was Indian.) This was the only time I went back and grovelled for a higher grade.

    I didn't go on for Mandarin 2 though.

  • Guess this is what happens when elementary education focuses on "self-esteem" rather than the basics. You get people whose actual knowledge (and, quite often, intellect) are in inverse proportion to the size of their ego and sense of self-entitlement.

    Probably explains a lot of the Dumbing Down we are seeing today in this country…especially during an election season….

  • Instead of turning this episode into another installment in one of America's favorite, longest running series, Bashing the Next Generation, I wish Ed and all of you would grapple with the deeper issue here: why students care so much about grades in the first place. The fact that the student gave a shit about earning a B+ instead of an A—as opposed to, oh, I don't know, actually learning or not learning the subject matter of the course—is what should really concern us.

    Our educational system has become obsessed with quantitative measurement of learning, and it has instilled that obsession in its students. From their primary schooling onward, they're implicitly taught that grades are all that really matter; unsurprisingly, they end up not giving a fuck about learning for its own sake and only caring about "making the grade."

    For nearly all of their lives, they've been encouraged to be grade grubbers. Given that, is it in any surprise that many of them would take their grade grubbing to ridiculous extremes?

  • ladiesbane says:

    DB, if learning for its own sake is all that matters to you, by all means, audit everything and sneer at the degree. If grades are all that matter to you, avoid challenging classes and bask in the 4.0. If it's some combination of the two, try to find a balance you can live with. But either way, do your best and live with your grades. If you have a teacher who leaves wine stains all over papers and gives everyone a B+ with no red pencil or margin comments, by all means, pipe up. But doing B+ work and getting a B+ doesn't justify grade grubbing, even if you were brought up to be Cher Horowitz.

  • D.N. Nation says:

    And on the flip side, we turn back to spring of 2004. Got a C- on a modern Mexican history paper I thought I worked my ass off on. Didn't need a good grade to graduate, or even graduate with honors, just was curious because I wanted to make sure I was mastering the material.

    Me: C-? That's pretty rough. You didn't actually write anything constructive on the paper, so can you tell me where I went wrong?
    Prof: Eh. I didn't really even read the whole thing.
    Me: OK?
    Prof: Have a nice day.

    But, you know. Damn kids.

  • Oh, pish, Ed – I can't understand what all the uproar's about. Do the traditional thing, get a prophylactic antibiotic shot, let her earn her upgrade and go on from there. It's not like you want to keep this job or anything.

    I'm almost tempted to start a tally of the number of times someone makes an 'Ed should trade sexytimes for grades' reference. Are you all watching far too much CoEd porn, or is professorial sexual harassment so endemic on US campuses that the international community should mount some kind of college-level Bad Touches programme?

  • A real question to ask is how much of this is due to the social darwinist experiment that the States has become. With everyone fighting and scrapping for the few crumbs that there is, then what can we expect? Every grade counts, or you're left behind. When an MBA is perceived as no longer being enough now it's a DocBA that's needed…

    Messages of having to promote oneself, and put yourself forward because no one's going to just give it to you. You'll need to fight for it, 'cause you're on your own kid. How much of this is the product there no longer being a society, just individuals.

    This combined with being special little snowflakes hasn't helped.

  • This is completely a function of class. I teach at a regional state university where the students are solidly middle class, and they rarely complain about their grades. I have had students tell me "I really need an A in this course," and some of them have asked about extra credit or broken down in tears, but actual complaints are rare. And I've never seen the kind of cluelessness that student showed.

  • ladiesbane, I don't really care whether it's justified or not justified. I don't want us to excuse it—nor do I want us to blame it; I want us to skip that useless shit altogether and simply try to understand it and find a practical solution to it, rather than pointlessly tsk-tsking people and pontificating about what they should do. It's not like they're going to listen anyway, so what's the point?

    Note that it's not that I think you're wrong; it's just that I don't see any use in dwelling on the matter from that sort of angle. We can scold Suzie Shithead and her ilk until our faces turn blue, but they're going to continue being shitheads until there's a shift in the shitty culture and society that cultivate their shitheadedness in the first place.

  • This student made a legitimate complaint about your class – the TAs are teaching in an incostistent manner – along with a request for redress presented in what is clearly an attempt to make an adult, businesslike argument. If her tone was wildly off and she misunderstood the grading system, fine, but this is a student, i.e. someone who by definition needs to learn more. Someone who might be trying very hard to dispute their grade in a way doesn't sound immature, and not getting it right.

    You, on the other hand, are an adult who is getting a salary to, y'know, do something other than dump on people who lack you experience and insight. Who is, by definition, supposed to guide newbies beyond their dumb assumptions to greater awareness, not to use their mistakes as a pretext to act superior by assuming the worst about them.

    Reading this it seems your interest is not in understanding, let alone empathy, of student naivete which includes unrealistic expectations that others may find foolish or irritating, but ensuring you get proper deference to your authority and the system. They may not learn anything else but by gum they – especially pretty young women who you assume are coasting on their looks – will learn respect.

    Which is interesting coming from someone writing this blog with your general politics. I guess questioning authority and the system is a thing unless it's you.

    I'm stunned at how you fail to grasp why someone might feel "entitled" to question a grade. In a time of a collapsing educational/economic model luring students into massive debt to get a degree much of the job market deems becessary for a chance at economic stability while up to 50% of recent grads face unemployment or minimum wage, when ever more students are working even at "quality" schools, when tuitions are as much as a house, can you really be so scornful of someone who dares to criticize the product?

    Do you actually know this alleged Princess Asshead is privileged? Do you have access to her financial records, her family background, etc.? Did you ever speak to her in person for more than a few minutes? Is your assumption that she's someone who gets by on her looks and Daddy's lawyers based on anything but her gender and poor word choice?

    Could it not be she is writing as someone so focussed on getting good enough grades to justify the cost of her education that she has lost perspective – and is a bit too young to realize it?

    But hey, I get it. Youth is annoying. Why bother wondering if someone really is a jerk or not when they can be used in a juicy fantasy about hitting a princess with a frying pan. When your job is being part of the system there's relief to be had in resenting those it feeds upon.

  • Also, everything hold on said so well.

    I'm generally a fan of this blog, but the curmudgeonly, conservative-esque "respect mah authoritah," "you done gonna have to EARN them there grades, missy!!!1!!" tone of the post, combined with the also conservative-esque lack of desire to empathize with the student in any way or understand the underlying causes or context of her behavior, really rubbed me the wrong way; more importantly, they do nothing to add insight into the phenomenon at issue.

  • I've been teaching at the college level since 1999 (adjunct, grad student, adjunct, grad student, adjunct, and full time faculty). It's always been this way. You will always have a student with the audacity to demand a grade change and you will always have a student that wants to haggle over .25 of a percentage point. It's sad when it's the same student, but that's the way it goes. You can only manage their expectations and make sure they understand the rules of the game.

    As for Hold On's comment: It is well within the rights of a faculty member to request that a student engage in professional behavior and not "Demand" things such as grade changes. In the real world, how often does a demand to your boss for a raise, sent via email, get you a raise?

    In my case, such a request from a student would result in that student having to come in and have the discussion face-to-face. 9 times out of 10, the student won't come to speak directly with me. They want to fire off an indignant email without minding tone and get an immediate result.

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    I think what's hard for students to grasp is that instructors have so much power over them and so little oversight. I think it just doesn't click with them that the university system basically gives instructors despotic power over them, with very little protection. They're probably raised to believe that you can always ask to "speak to the manager," go over somebody's head, and get your grievance redressed if for no other reason that you are being a pain in the ass. Which is actually a pretty useful life skill! The squeaky wheel really does get the grease, at least up until the point where it's so squeaky that it's easier to replace it than grease it up. Hence this student's attempt to assert her faux authority. She wants to be threatening, but she doesn't really have anything to threaten with! (I'm gonna give you a bad review on Rate My Professor! You just wait and see!)

    Reminds me of the Tony's line to Carmella in the Soprano's about their kids: "If they realize we're powerless, we're fucked."

    For as many students as I teach, I actually get very few complaints, but the ones I do get, I do tend to find fairly infuriating. Hold On's comments above are ones that I will try to keep in mind next time I start getting mad at them. They're just trying to jump through the hoops they need to jump through to get a decent job. I happen to be a gatekeeper for one of those hoops. That doesn't mean we should acquiesce to their demands, obviously, but we don't have to take it so personally. And we have to be willing to admit that sometimes we as teachers do make mistakes or grade things unfairly.

    All that being said, if I had gotten that email from that student, I would have experienced a combination of "what the hell are you going to do about it?" and "you need to respect your elders" rage. Hold On's right…that's incredibly immature of me. But it would have put my mood out for the rest of that day at least. Ok, clearly I need some anger management training.

  • Surely, that's a future republican candidate for high office. You can practically smell the martyr complex.

    Oh, wait – she did get a B+. That means she's massively over-qualified for a republican candidacy. My mistake.

    Lobbying it is, then.

  • DB:
    Dude. The girl can't even write her grade-grubbing e-mail competently. Not to mention her poor understanding of what actually constitutes discrimination. The girl OBVIOUSLY didn't earn an A. And yes, you do have to earn a grade. I don't care really WHY this young lady really, really, really wanted an A, but if she did, then she should have done the work.

  • Sifu Snafu says:

    Yes Ed, this singular blog post in which you clearly employed no humor or hyperbole reveals at long last the truth that you are in fact an arch-conservative hypocritical youth-despising vampire who probably came in his pants when he thought about hitting that intrepid young scholar with a frying pan. You are without doubt history's greatest monster, and I offer three cheers for the noble commentors who drove the stake of truth through your black heart, you jerkity jerk jerk jerk.

  • mothra,

    That brings up more questions: why can't she write her email competently or understand concepts such as discrimination? Probably because she was put through a school system in which all she did was regurgitate rote-memorized facts, fill out worksheets, engage in other forms of busywork, etc.—all for the sake of grades, which, in turn, she chased for the sake of advancement through the hoops that her society presented to her, as well as feeding the performance (rather than mastery) orientation that she picked up along the way.

    Again, we have a choice here: we can either morally masturbate on top of a high horse and/or mock people, or we can try to understand the underlying causes and context behind what they do. I enjoy the former as much as anyone, and I can't deny that I engage in it sometimes, but the latter is where an actually interesting, enlightening discussion of this or any matter would take place.

  • Sifu Snafu,

    I characterized specific aspects of the post as conservative-esque; I didn't accuse Ed of being some sort of closet conservative. I think that everyone—myself included—has points on which they're unreasonable and/or dicks (which = conservative-esque in many cases), so I don't view my charge as casting much of an aspersion on him, since I think we're all guilty of it.

    As for the hyperbole and humor bit, fuck that shit; I'm sick of people playing that card as a way of deflecting criticism. I suppose the fact that his post was presented as a rant should be kept in mind here—but then again, when someone goes off on an over the top diatribe, a proper response is: "dude, chill the fuck out", and

  • Senescent says:

    The real question is where the hell did you ever get the idea that the world worked any other way?

  • Death Panel Truck says:

    By the time this coathanger gets around to having kids, "Dakota" won't be trendy enough.

    It'll be "Dakotah."

  • @DB: you do make valid points. However, it's her petulance that's got her in trouble.

    Something like:

    Dr. X,
    I believe the grade I've received is incorrect. May we set up a time for me to come to discuss it and what I see as an unfair grading policy?
    Sally S.

    See a difference?

    Better yet, instead of firing off an email. Perhaps instead of going to the pool or bar she walked across campus and showed up for Ed's office hours. Showing concern and effort and displaying it by actions can speak volumes.

    If Sally is one of these students who also has to work two jobs so can't make Ed's regular office hours, that can be in the email why a time needs to organised.

    But the email as written will only serve to get anyone's hackles up. If you're going to send a letter of demand, and are too lazy to show up. F-off!

  • DB:

    you must work on your faux southern accent…:-)

    "respect mah authoritah," Uh-Uh

    Maybe "REspeck mah THAR-ty"

    but never, no way, no how "authoritah"


  • you must work on your faux southern accent…

    Ooh, can I work on mine too? I feel that my life would be complete if I sounded like Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights. Is there some kind of course I could go on?

  • Sifu Snafu says:

    DB, or Tenacious DB if I may – if Ed was truly being conservative-esque, he'd have featured the student's name, address, and details of her kitchen countertops prominently in the post.

    "Mockery is just masturbation, why don't you actually do something" is not an argument. It's one-size-fits-all posturing that can be easily adapted to whichever topic one feels is not being taken "seriously" enough for their taste at the moment, hence it's used as a broad-spectrum anti-humor injection in countless comment threads across the great and mighty intertoobs. It can't be read without instantly generating the mental image of a cartoon pouty face with arms crossed beneath it.

  • (Here's my stab at faux southerninity)

    Ah think thaht DeeBeeh ahnd Hahld need tah DEEal width tha INTforMATEshin in tha powst.

    Theere ware proSEETsures to sahlve tha diff-rent kahnduct of tha claasis. Tha greyde wood remain uh Bee pluhs. Ahnd tha STU-dahnt deeMANdid tha greyde be chainged, ahnd ded naht ahhfor tah engaige Ehd innuh discuhshin bout tha greyde.

    Dahnt theese fahctors Ehd prahVIDehd in tha powst sahlve tha prawlbums y'all ha-yave witdth eht?

    (That's really the best I could do. I'm not trying to make fun of southern dialects. When I was writing that I had Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Texas, and Baltimore accents running in my head. I think Jim's impression of Stanley in The Office slipped in there at one point as well. The result probably reads like someone imagining a Dutch person speaking English she had learned from a New Zealander.)

  • Xynzee,

    Again, I'm not condoning what she did; I'm just trying to draw attention to the deeper issues at play here. I agree with you. Obviously, the tone and wording of her letter were both improper and misguided (even in relation simply to achieving her goal). Obviously, she could (and should, even from just a practical, self-interested standpoint) have gone about things differently.

    But the obviousness of those points is part of the reason why I'm getting my panties in a bunch about people dwelling on them. There are so many socio-cultural factors that are implicated in the student's behavior, and it would be so much more interesting and productive to talk about them instead.


    Yeah… I was just thinking Cartman—and then suddenly switched to some sort of hick voice…

    Sifu Snafu,

    Let me finish that first sentence for you: "'Mockery is just masturbation, why don't you actually do something' is not an argument" that I made.

    A. I compared moralizing to masturbation, not mockery. B. I encouraged people to approach the subject in a way that would better our understanding of it and lead to finding (i.e., identifying—not implementing, though the former is obviously a prerequisite to the latter) practical solutions (e.g., ending grade-obsession in conventional schooling); I didn't tell them to "actually do something about it" or dismiss their arguments for not doing so.

    As for the rest of your post, re: anti-humor, look, if Ed's post had just been along the lines of, "hai guyz, look at this stupid person's stupid email LOLOLOL," it would have been one thing—but he and some of the commenters went on to use it as an opportunity to get on a soapbox. At that point, they lost "we're just having lolz—lighten up" indemnity.

  • I once taught a course that was required with a B grade minimal to satisfy prerequisite value ( for whatever reason). I got so many people announcing on Day 1 or 2 they needed a certain grade, already negotiating quite apart from any work yet done.

    I finally resorted to handing out a form on Day 1, Called the XX555 Pre-Negotiation Form

    Part 1 "I need to get grade __ " in this course because … followed by multiple choices like the common explanations (i will have to leave school, i have to graduate by etc. )

    Part 2 "I am afraid I won't get that grade because … followed by things like "I may die", "I am incapable", "I don't do this sort of thing well", stretching things to the ridiculous.

    Part 3 "If I don't get that grade " ….
    MY parents will disown me, etc. , outlandish but somehow possible.

    I told people to fill it out and go home and paste it on their refrigerator and quit acting like getting the grade was all about negotiation and not about course content whatsoever and, by the way, NEVER talk to me about these extraneous things. Do the work.

    I would walk out of the class mid=period on Day 1, warning them that a "Not Nice Person" was going to appear and I would soon return with the forms and a really grim attitude.

    All of which proved Very helpful and provided great advantage when final grades were given, and upon protest I could ask if they remembered that form ….. ?

  • Major Kong says:


    The "Respect mah authoritah!" quote is from a South Park episode. They did a spoof of "Cops" where Eric Cartman was acting as the town Sheriff (on his tricycle).

  • Townsend Harris says:

    @DiTurno and economic class:
    I can't tell if your analysis is correct, but it's intriguing. I've only adjuncted, and only at CUNY: mostly at a CUNY campus the Washington Monthly describes as "a dropout factory."

    When they're not racing off campus to earn a dollar, CUNY students will sometimes complain, especially the socially-promoted. They often think "B is bad" and the dopey ones don't read the syllabus, expecting I'll grade only for attendance. That's right, I've sometimes got freshmen and sophomores who imagine showing up 80% of the time guarantees them an A. Ouch.

  • Not to dissent too much with the sentiments expressed I the post; but with hyper inflation of tuition compared to the practically non-existent or nominal fees for university in most of the rest of the world you can't totally blame students for having the "customer is always right" mentality. Look at it this way, you drop 10 000 on a car, that car isn't the colouration or doesn't have the features you want, youre not gonna "settle" for what, essentially you didn't pay for. Sorry Ed but until the US catches up with the rest of the civilized world in basics like higher education and healthcare, your stand against students is misplaced.

  • @Major Kong

    Generation gap for me. Thanks for the cultural update – I haven't ever watched an episode of SP.

    The New York/Hollywood Axis of Weasels has been gettin' it wrong for a long time on that front.

    Thanks again,


  • I dunno, I kind of agree with DB and Hold On.

    Of course the email is absurd. But it was the Very Serious adults who implemented a K-12 system where the only thing that matters getting a good score on the standardized tests, and which further incentivize teachers to "teach to the test."

    So if students get the message that the only purpose of school is to get the grade — well, that's the message that the Very Serious adults intended to convey.

    And then we expect them to go to college and magically acquire "critical thinking" skills.

    Also what Isocrates said. Here in Washington, the UW tuition has gone up 82% over four years, because the state no longer wants to subsidize the luxury of higher education. (

  • Ed's assignment for today: compare/contrast the attitudes toward pedagogy as shown by the posts in this thread. Use citations where appropriate, and where desirable, attempt to correlate poster's age with poster's attitude towards (a) students and (b) "grade-grubbing". As the sample sizes are so relatively minuscule, consideration of co-ed pron approaches will not be necessary (although perhaps some speculation on whether face-to-face negotiations would be aided by a southern drawl would not be amiss, in line with consideration of the effectiveness of (antiquated) in-person vs (normal) via-e-message negotiations).
    Personally, my only relatively apt contributions would be (1) that as a TA many years ago, I was always willing to stretch a point for students who came to office hours with questions (although these were usually the ones who had the most trouble mastering the material, no matter how much they worked at it). And, (2) a southern drawl in a woman is one of the most knee-weakening sounds I have ever heard. It takes a strong man not to add an extra point for a South Cowlina accent alone (and I speak from authority, as one who almost went to Clemson solely because of the way the departmental secretary answered the phone). For what it's worth, as well, a sense of "agressive entitlement" in students is as old as the hills, and sometimes is a manifestation of other troubles. I found that a relatively gentle response could, on rare occasions, uncover that the real problem was something like fear or poor social skills or something along those lines. These are still kids, after all, no matter how cocky they seem. I was dumb as dirt at that age, and many of my students weren't any better. It's often wise not to make assumptions, no matter how justified they seem to be. Of course, back then we were only overworked rather than overwhelmed; I can see where Ed is coming from. The education system more and more seems to be run for the benefit of the administration rather than the students or faculty. It seems like there are no more colleges in my state, for instance; even Joe's College of Barbecue and Auto Repair is now Joe's University of the Culinary and Mechanical Arts. God help us, every one.

  • Ed,

    Haven't you learned the expression "Bless your heart"? It would have have been the proper response, and leave it at that.

    Translation for those of you who don't live in the south: "you are dumber than a box of hammers, and I hope drop dead today."

  • There are places where an 87 isn't a B+?

    98-100 A+
    93-97 A
    90-92 A-
    87-89 B+

    Minus a bit of quibbling (92s vs. 93s being where A- ends, for example) that's been the grade scale at every school I've ever attended or taught at, except the ones that didn't acknowledge pluses or minuses at all– in which case As universally started at 90%.

  • There are places which are not the US:

    90-100 A+
    85-89 A
    80-84 A-
    75-79 B+
    70-74 B
    65-69 B-
    60-64 C+
    55-59 C
    50-54 C-
    <50 F

    Australia (Well, certain universities….)
    80-100 HD (High Distinction)
    70-79 D (Distinction)
    60-69 C (Credit)
    50-59 P (Pass)

    And so on… key feature of these systems…. absence of grade inflation.

  • This attitude is learned, and supported, by parents.

    Below is an excerpt from an email I received from a parent today regarding the 5-7 page English research paper I assigned to my honors high school seniors a month ago that's due in two weeks:

    "Could you please tell me in your own words why you are requiring this five-page paper? Right now, it only seems to be sucking out any
    remains of morale and heaping unnecessary STRESS on a kid who has been an "A" student in English all year long….I don't understand why these English students can't just complete this grading period, reading their last book, doing homework if they must, but just write an occasional paragraph or one- or two-page essay. For Pete's sake, many of these honors kids have AP tests to take, too, or at least other assignments to complete for other academic subjects…. why does this [paper] have to be five or more pages? Why wouldn't three pages be enough for that? It seems to me that it still would require a great deal of thought and organization….I hope you'll reconsider the length, or even the reason, for this end-of-year assignment."

    It took me over an hour to calm down before I could respond civilly.

  • Major Kong says:

    Academic tests in the Air Force were pass/fail with 80% being a passing grade. We always said "Anything more than 80% means you studied too hard".

  • *Off-topic*:
    Just saw this via FB.
    A N. Carolina voter went to show ID to vote and was told she didn't need to as, "You have an honest face."

    Hmmm… or a late 40s, white female face would be the real sub-text.

    That is all, you may now return to telling the kids of today to get off your lawns and how thankful you were to even to have dirt to eat. :D

  • So, I've been thinking about my comments in this discussion, and I realized that if Ed were to have written a similar post on just about any other subject (e.g., some instance of conservatives acting like idiots), I would have just joined in on the fun of bashing the target of his wrath, and I wouldn't have brought up my whole "let's just try to understand the causes and context" spiel, even though it would have been equally applicable.

    Which is a long way of saying that although I stand by what I said, I realize that A. I'm a hypocrite and B. like most people, I see a need for a nuanced, fair, rational, empathetic, etc. approach only when it comes to my own pet issues.

  • There are places where an 87 isn't a B+?

    Yes. At my university (I graduated in 2001), a B was between 60-69%. Students needed a B in second year to get into the final two honours years of the degree I took, and maybe half of people didn't get that. (Students taking arts degrees, as distinct from science degrees, had to take two level two courses in second year, so most people had a fallback honours class, as well as the possibility of taking an 'ordinary' bachelors degree. Honours history let you in with a C.)

    There were only two people in my undergraduate class who ever got a mark higher than 80% in our final two years, and they only managed that once each.

    My university is ancient, hard to get into, and all about academics. There is something amazing about getting an A from someone who is an authority in the subject you're reading, when you know that hardly anyone else did.

  • DB: I just remember what an idiot I was at that age, and the number of times that I might have benefitted from the wisdom of an adult. (Not that I would have heeded it, in all likelihood.)

    … Whereas the parent that emailed Ilse should really know better. (Five pages???)

  • Obviously I can't stand the sense of entitlement. But on the other hand, if universities today are going to act more like businesses they might as well act like it.

  • Larry Wilcoxx says:

    Totally OT

    Hey Ed,

    I went to grad school at UGA and now I'm in Louisiana (egads). I'm going rafting on the Chatooga River in two weeks with a buddy and are planning on hanging out in Athens with a friend I haven't seen for ages. Where's a good place for dinner and to see a band now? It's been almost 20 years since I was there…Jeebus, I'm getting old.

  • prosopopeia says:

    1. Reading the post and some of the earlier comments, I was (once again) struck by the misogyny—first veiled, then all-too open—that sometimes characterizes this blog. I'm glad to see some later commenters pointed this out. In my experience, students pushing for better grades tend to be pretty obnoxious regardless of gender. I will grant Ed that this email is unusually offensive, demanding and entitled in its tone and language, but this does not seem to me to legitimize inferences about this student's name, family, socio-economic background, sluttiness, future plans in DC, or whether or not she has VD.

    2. I also have to emphasize, having taught many large lecture courses, that students are OBSESSED with fairness in grading, and that—as obnoxious as her tone may be—she has a legitimate complaint. I don't understand how it is possible that you are teaching a multi-section course in which you have allowed your TAs to adopt their own idiosyncratic grading procedures (100% for attendance, 0% for quality of work?). This sounds to me like a slam dunk case in favor of the student if it were brought to the Capricious Grading Committee that I chair. I don't see in what way grades could ever be "adjusted" to be comparable if TA #1 is grading essays based on their use of logical reasoning and clear, expressive language, while TA #2 is grading on the basis of the font used, multiplied by the number of times the word "polar bear" appeared in the essay.

    3. Finally, I understand very clearly the temptation to start a tumblr for "sh*t my students say," or to post the worst lines from their essays to Facebook, because—let's face it—this time of year can be very frustrating. Realizing how many students made it to college unable to learn the simplest of concepts or compose an even remotely readable sentence is demoralizing. I have a student this semester who did not know to answer a "why…?" question with something that included the word "because," and despite my efforts, has still not learned. But I do not post their bad answers to the internet for everyone to see, and I wince every time I see graduate students doing this on Facebook. It is a juvenile move to mock someone twenty years your junior for their lack of worldly knowledge, and a violation of Federal standards regarding student privacy.

    Ed, you should take this post down. If the student found it, you would certainly be sanctioned—at my university, you would probably be fired. Just because you can copy and paste something doesn't mean that it isn't a private communication between a student and her instructor. You have detailed her grade and posted it on the internet, which is a violation of federal privacy laws that protect students from having their grades publicized without their consent. If any of her classmates read this they would almost certainly be able to identify her, since even with the redactions, they would know what section she was in. Take the post down, and don't do this again. If you have to complain about a student (and God knows, I have to a lot, especially in May), keep it off the internet—and if you have to complain about on the internet, don't quote private emails and student papers.

  • Long time reader, I have to chime in and add to the critical comments.

    The American university system functions as a high-stakes employment sorting mechanism funneling into a shrinking pool of opportunities. Students know that the disempowered academic underclass can often be bullied into changing grades. Given the stakes, and the absurdity of the system, its stupid not to fight for every advantage.

    Don't hate the player, hate the game.

    Honestly, Ed, if the post-secondary student body were limited to kids who have a genuine intellectual curiosity about college-level subject matter, you wouldn't have an academic job at all.

  • Reading prosopopeia's post, my first reaction was: "misogyny"? She sees misogyny?! Wow – isn't that just like a woman… (*rimshot*) But of course that partly dates back to the time when I was at Brown and the whole "wymyn's" movement got active posting up random male students' names around campus as rapists (because, you know, they were male and probably would rape if they had the chance). You see what you expect to see, whether it's there or not. Personally, I suspect that Ed is no more misogynist than most of us, and maybe not even that much, given that he clearly treated the (female) student with all the politeness he would have given a male student. As for the rest of prosopopeia's post, my only official reaction is that I don't agree with it, and given my strong desire not to further antagonize someone whose feelings may be a trifle delicate (or who is a fine figure of a troll – I can't honestly tell which), I won't characterize it further.

  • First, what dave said – about the American university system as a high-stakes employment sorting mechanism, the absurdity of it, and how itt mainly "the game" that's to blame, etc.

    Second, yes, I agree that the student in question is clearly immature and foolish in her methods – she obviously doesn't realize that when you want something, it's usually a good idea (not to mention simply courteous) to at least TRY asking nicely first, before escalating to accusations and threats, if for no other reason than it helps you maintain an aura of reasonableness. She not only lacks manners, she lacks the self-serving political savvy that often passes for manners.

    But dave's point still stands. Raging at some student for taking what in context is the most sensible action – however poorly executed – is a too-easy target, IMO. Look at our entire sorting – I mean, "education" system, look at our brutal, zero-sum economy – what else would you expect, other than desperate grubbing for every advantage? Isn't there a much bigger problem here, that's more to the point?

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Wow, I'm late to the party. Just wanted to add that I always explain to students that I didn't pull up their essay assuming it was an A and look for things that were wrong. I pulled it up assuming it was a 0 and looking for things that were right. If you don't prove to me that you know something, I assume you don't. I felt that this was how I was graded (when the professor bothered to read my paper at all).

  • Personally, I suspect that Ed is no more misogynist than most of us.

    I assumed she was talking about you, JohnR, and whomever referred to the student as a 'coathanger', and a shrew.

    Still, I'm sure that someone who managed to associate Prosopopeia with false accusations of rape, language policing, misandry, oversensitivity (hysteria?), and finish a fourteen line comment with a burst of derailing for dummies favourite 'are you sure you're not a parody?' faux concern, is definitely best placed to offer a clear-eyed gendered analysis.

  • Then again, sometimes the student is right. A friend of mine is taking an engineering course and worked a tough problem set. She got back her grade and saw she had gotten a major, multi-part problem wrong, so she downloaded the solution. With a few minor differences in the algebra and phrasing, there was the solution she had handed in. She went to office hours and spoke with one of the TAs who looked at her work and told her that she had been graded incorrectly, but that only the TA who entered the grade could change it – sort of the way Greek gods worked so no one god fix the bollix another god made. Of course, that TA was out of town for a few days. She finally confronted him. His response, "I have no idea of what I was thinking." She didn't get quite all the points she felt she deserved, but her grade was much improved.

    The moral of the story is that sometimes TAs burn out just like ordinary people, and that it is sometimes perfectly legitimate to argue about one's grade. You can argue all you want about why she considers grades so important, but there is also the principle of the thing.

  • I'm kind of surprised at how many people in this thread have suggested that Ed's student has a point about inconsistent grading practices from TA to TA. Apparently, they were so incensed by Ed's massive insensitivity that they were compelled to comment without reading the whole post – which means they likely didn't read this bit in the original:

    "Second, all grades from discussion sections are adjusted so that there are no discrepancies among different teaching assistants, each of whom has discretion over his or her own sections."

    In other words, there is a system in place that accounts for that already. Just because Susie Snowflake doesn't know that or understand how it works, that doesn't make her complaint any more valid.

  • Xynzee: IDs are not required to vote in North Carolina. One simply states one's name and address. I'm not sure what point the person telling the story was trying to make, but if the woman actually received that comment, the polling-place worker was pulling her leg; neither face-honesty nor ID are necessary.

  • Slightly different view: IMHO, the idea that university "students" are "customers" can't die soon enough.

    As for the student's whining about discrimination, last time I checked, the terminally stupid were not a protected class.

    prosopopeia 05/10/2012 11:13

    "I have a student this semester who did not know to answer a "why

  • ….

    "I have a student this semester who did not know to answer a 'why…?' question with something that included the word "because," and despite my efforts, has still not learned."

    There is no such rule. Why? It's superfluous.

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