April 3, 2015 //В В byВ Emanuel Griffin
Once you start college you begin to realize that not every professor is going to be as cool as Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World. Sometimes you just canвЂ™t get along with your professor and thatвЂ™s alright. ItвЂ™s only a problem when it begins to affect your grades. If you have issues with a professor in a class based on essays and participation, then it will likely have an effect on your grades. Grades such as these are more subjective and left to the professorвЂ™s discretion. If you feel the grades you are receiving arenвЂ™t fair, here are some steps to fight forВ that A.
Step 1: Check Yourself
You have got to make sure your ego doesnвЂ™t getВ the best of you. You should also have your emotions in check prior toВ contesting a grade. Resist using the ugly cry that Kim Kardashian made famous. Resist telling the professor that they вЂњainвЂ™t got the answers.вЂќ Try to understand why you got the grade you did before you claim that it is unfair or biased. If you immediately say the grade is due to bias without acknowledging the mistakes you made,
Step 2: Check Feedback (if available)
Most essays have feedback on them when they are graded. Read these comments and see if you agree with them before approaching your professor. Most of the time your professor has legitimate gripes and criticism of your work, and you should take them into consideration. If the comments say something along the lines ofВ вЂњunclear thesis,вЂќ вЂњneeds citationвЂќ or вЂњargument not supported with enough evidenceвЂќ instead of вЂњLOL this essay is trash,вЂќВ the professor might have a justifiedВ reason for yourВ grade. A lack of comments is a red flag that your professor did not take the time to thoroughly read your work. Comments with emotional language such as вЂњterrible conclusionвЂќ are also indicators of bias. When checking feedback, you should always look to see if it is constructive and if you agree with any of the criticism.
Step 3: Discuss the Grade with Your Teaching Assistant
TAвЂ™s are the middlemen between students and professors. They can be extremely helpful when it comes to grades and communication with professors. The professors are not always the ones grading the papers. Instead, sometimes the TAвЂ™s are the ones distributing grades. Your TA will likely be more familiar with your work than your professor and could help either change your grade directly or help you express your point of view to your professor. TheyвЂ™re also less scary to talk to than your professor.
Step 4: Discuss the Grade with Your Professor
You can do this in a number of ways. If you donвЂ™t like interacting face-to-face you can begin the discussion with an email. If you chooseВ this route, make sure that the email is polite: beginning with hello and asking questions are important. Your conversation shouldnвЂ™t come off as an interrogation. Your questions should sound like questions and not accusations. You are not Magnum P.I. and the professor should not feel like the suspect of a crime. This wonвЂ™t get you the reaction you want. Explain why you think the grade is not reflective of the work in an assertive but humble fashion. The phrase вЂњHello professor, I was wondering why I received this gradeвЂќ sounds a lot better than вЂњFix my grade right now and stop playing with my GPA! Do you know who I am?!вЂќ
If you have a face-to-face interaction, then the same rules apply. You still have to be polite, ask questions and thoroughly explain why you think the grade is unfair. Make sure you are being an active listener instead of just waiting to argue with everything the professor says. This method will likely get you the most immediate and positive response possible. If you articulate your argument properly and donвЂ™t get too emotional, the professor will listen.
Step 5: Take It a Step Further
If youвЂ™ve discussed your grade with your professor and they refuse to change it, you mightВ have to go a little further. Often this means discussing the grade with the dean of your majorвЂ™s department. This may lead to a conference between all three of you or having to prove that your grade was unfair to the dean. This process can take a while, so set up a meeting immediately after unsuccessfully discussingВ with yourВ professor.
We have all received low grades where we had no idea how such failure wasВ possible. Instead of feeling helpless and accepting it, you can go about fixing it.В When youвЂ™re trying to graduate with honors, CвЂ™s can feel like FвЂ™s, and when youвЂ™re trying to get into graduate school, CвЂ™s can feel like ZвЂ™s. But there is no need to put your dreams of honors or graduate school to sleep. By taking the steps listed here you turn a teacherВ like Ms. Krabappel into Ms. FrizzleвЂ”improving your GPA and creating a better relationship with your professor.
College is hard. Receiving poor grades that you don’t feel you deserve? That’s even harder. Luckily for you, we have some helpful tips from students that have been in the same situation as you. Keep reading for tips on how to politely ask your professor to change your grade, and good luck!
Welcome to How To Change Your Grade 101!
Welcome to SOCIETY19’s edition of “How To Change Your Grade 101″. First of all, this isn’t a tough class. It’s all about common courtesy and common sense. Professors put their name, email, office hours, telephone number, etc., on their syllabus for the very reason of making it more convenient for students to reach out to them.
Scheduling a face-to-face meeting with your professor is a smart idea, especially if questions cannot be answered through a simple email or in limited class time. You can email your professor initially, however, if you it is the only way to contact them.
Most of the questions a student asks can be answered through one of two ways: First, the syllabus. (Yes, READ IT.) Second, via email. This is more of an “Emailing your Professor 101” kind of story.
Let’s look at an example below!
Example of how to ask your professor to change your grade via email:
SUBJECT: College Writing II – Issue with Grading
Hello, I am a sophomore in your class, ENG 21011 – College Writing II. I am emailing you because I am having difficulty understanding the grade posted on Blackboard earlier today. The grade for assignment “Research Highlights” reads that I received a 15 out of 25. I do not feel this reflects my ability to perform in your class, as I am sure I met all of the assignment’s requirements. If I can do anything to change this grade, please let me know.
Include what class you’re in in your subject line.
Let’s review. It is recommended that the subject line contain not only a title summary of what the email is about, but also should include which class the student is in. This lets your professor know, “Hey, I’m not spamming you.”
Refer to your instructor as Professor, Doctor, etc., unless given permission otherwise.
Unless stated otherwise on the syllabus, stay safe with how you address your professor by using “Dear Professor…” or simply, “Dear Prof.”
Overall, the email should be short, sweet, and to the point.
Overall, the email should be pretty direct and to the point. Avoid fluffy language and extensive vocabulary. The professor is either just as or busier than the student. It may seem like a polite thing to say, “How are you?” or “I hope you are having a nice day.” And it is. Sometimes it just depends on the type of professor. This is an optional inclusion to show that you respect your professor for his time and his willingness to help.
Keep the introduction brief.
No need for your name, because you will sign your email at the bottom anyway. Include the first five-digit numerical code for the class, because this also helps the professor pinpoint which class he teaches. You may also want to include the days and time the class meets.
Then, jump right into why you are reaching out to the professor. This could be about anything: a misunderstood grade, you missed a class and need the notes (in this case, the professor likely will tell you to email a classmate), a need for an explanation of the essay rubric, or maybe you would like him to revise your thesis statement.
- M.A., Education, Claremont Graduate University
- B.A., English, Brigham Young University
At the end of every semester, professors’ inboxes are inundated with a barrage of emails from desperate students seeking a grade change. These last-minute requests are often met with frustration and disdain. Some professors even go so far as to set their inbox to auto-respond and not check back until weeks after the semester ends.
If you are considering asking your professor for a grade change, consider your actions carefully and prepare before making the request. Following a few tips can give you the best chance for success.
Many requests come from students who have borderline grades. Just a point or two more, and their GPA would improve. However, being on the border isn’t usually an acceptable reason to ask for a grade change.
If your grade is 89.22 percent, don’t ask the professor to consider a bump to 90 percent in order to maintain your GPA. If you think you might be on the borderline, work hard before the end of the semester and discuss extra credit possibilities ahead of time. Don’t count on being “rounded up” as a courtesy.
Act Before Your Professor Submits Grades
Instructors are much more likely to change grades before they submit them to the university. If you are missing points or feel you should have been given more participation credit, talk to your professor before grades are due. If you wait until after submission, your professor will likely have to jump through a lot of hoops to meet your request.
At some universities, grade changes are simply not permitted without a signed, written explanation of the instructor’s error. Keep in mind that instructors are usually required to submit grades to the university several days before they are posted for students to view. So, talk to your professor as soon as possible.
Ensure You Have a Case
Review the syllabus and make sure your argument matches the instructor’s expectations. A reasonable grade change request might be based on objective issues such as:
- The instructor failing to count points you earned;
- A miscalculation on a particular exam;
- A problem with the online course’s learning management system that resulted in a point deduction.
A request might also be made based on subjective issues such as:
- You feel you should have been given more participation points;
- You believe your role in a group project was not adequately understood or appreciated.
Collect Evidence and Be Professional
If you’re going to make a claim, collect evidence to support your cause. Collect old papers, and try to make a list of times you’ve participated in class. Don’t be overly glib or angry with your professor. State your claim in a calm and professional manner. Explain, briefly, the evidence that backs your claim. Offer to show the evidence or discuss the issue in more detail if the professor would find that helpful.
Appeal to the Department If Needed
If your professor will not change your grade and you feel you have a very good case, you may be able to appeal to the department. Call the department offices and ask about the policy on grade appeals.
Keep in mind that complaining about the professor’s decision may be viewed poorly by other professors and may have negative consequences—particularly if you are in a small, insular department. However, if you stay calm and state your case confidently, you will have a better chance of keeping their respect and getting your grade changed.
Getting an unfair grade in college can be an emotional situation to find yourself in. However, if you approach your professor in the right way, you can talk to them calmly and find a resolution you can live with.
When a Grade Makes Your Blood Boil
At some point in our college education, we all get a grade that we may think is wrong or unfair. There are a variety of knee-jerk reactions we all have in those moments. Some of us want to shut ourselves alone in our dorm room and cry, while others may have the impulse to rush into the professor’s office yelling and demanding the grade be changed. However, neither of those reactions will be effective in actually improving the grade and may only make the situation much worse. However, if you think you were graded unfairly, there are some steps you can take to talk to your professor about getting a better grade than the one currently written in red on the paper.
Take a Period to Cool Off
When you are upset about a grade, it is hard to see the situation objectively. In those moments, all you know is that your friends and classmates did better than you, and the emotions can be truly overwhelming. Those emotions taint everything from how you see the grade to any feedback written on the paper. So sometimes the first step before you go to your professor is just to let yourself cool off, emotionally speaking, and even meditate if you that helps.
Once you have taken that space, it is time to look at the grade objectively. Begin by making a copy of the test or assignment and putting the original aside to have for later. Then start by looking at the assignment and preparing notes for the conversation you want to have with the professor. For example, if it is a test, make a list of the answers that you feel were unfairly marked wrong. Then, on your new copy, go through and make notes that show the answer is correct. These might be textbook pages that show your answer was correct or references to places in your notes where the professor gave you that answer. You want to go in with a plan of attack, and having support will be very helpful.
If it is a paper or project you disagree with the grade about, carefully read all of the comments and check your work against the rubric. Ask yourself honestly if you met the requirements on the rubric, and then mark up the paper to show exactly where you met those requirements. If you were marked down for items not on the rubric, note those places as well. If you have friends who are willing to share their work with you, and it supports your claim to a better grade, you may bring that with you as well.
Approach the Teaching Assistant
In large schools and courses, odds are the teaching assistant is grading the work and not the actual professor who teaches the class. So once you are calm and organized, set up a time to have a structured conversation with the teaching assistant. They may keep office hours, or you may want to make a special appointment as the conversation may take a while. Start by calmly expressing your concerns about the grade, and go through with them point by point.
Try to keep the discussion focused by framing what you say in terms of The question/rubric asked for … and then explain how your answer/paper met those requirements.
Keep in mind: the teaching assistant may be powerless to get your grade changed. If it is a matter of a question marked wrong on a test, they may be able to fix that for you easily. If it is a project or paper, however, the professor probably has the final say. Since the teaching assistants work closely with the professor, they can offer you a lot of insight in how to approach them. Take notes on what they say and even ask them if they think the professor might be open to revision or extra credit to bring the grade up.
Meet With the Professor
The next step is to gather all of your notes and make an appointment with your professor. Remember, professors are people too, so how you approach the conversation with them makes all the difference. Keep in mind: most professors teach because they genuinely want to work with students and help them be successful in the field. So don’t go in with an accusatory attitude, but with a bit of humility. Calmly express your concerns, and go back through the assignment with them. Just like you did with the teaching assistant, go point by point through the portions of your grade that you feel are unfair. If you feel like the teaching assistant who graded your work wasn’t following the rubric or guidelines given, express those concerns to the professor. You may not be the only student who feels that way in the course.
In the back of your mind remember that the professor has probably had conversations like this many times before over the same assignment and probably has quite a few rebuttals in their pocket over the details of the assignment or test. Don’t immediately jump into the argument, but instead be prepared to hear them out, taking notes as necessary. If you approach the conversation with a good attitude, you may make some headway and get the grade changed. The professor may make other allowances to you as well, such as allowing a revision or even extra credit. However, you may emerge on the other side of that conversation realizing that your grade was fair all along.
When All Else Fails
At the end of the day, your grade may stay exactly the same. If you still feel the score is unfair, the next step is usually to approach the secretary who works in your college major’s office and ask about the procedure to contest a grade. Universities and colleges, such as Fordham University and Mercer County Community College, typically have a standard procedure for filing your grievance that will include filing appropriate documentation and making your case. If you have worked through the process outlined here, you should basically have all that in order. However, more often, if you approach your professor the right way, you can find a solution to your grade dispute without having to go through the formal appeals process.
2 attorney answers
Christine C McCall
- Posted on Jan 30, 2014
Your school has an internal grievance policy that should accept responsibility for adjudicating your challenge. Strange that the Dean did not so advise you.
The professor does indeed enjoy academic freedom and, if tenured, the professor cannot be forced to change the grade. But the school administration has options it can and should consider if the evidence supports your grievance. The school can delete the class from your transcript altogether. Yes, you may have to repeat the class. But the school can waive fees for the repeat, and relieve you of most disabilities for needing to repeat. Alternatively, the school can give you equivalent credit on a pass-no pass basis for an independent study project, or it can give you a research assignment for graded credit. The options are all there, if the school officials are persuaded that the professor’s action is not accurate and is a violation of principles of fairness. But the grievance process – an internal administrative fact-finding procedure — is the method that must be utilized to accomplish that first critical step of persuading the school officials that you have a sound complaint.
Ordinarily the student does not have a legal claim or any right to sue until the school’s internal administrative process has been fully utilized and exhausted.
I don’t know what “verbally assaulted” means — and I doubt that anyone in the legal system does. Did he yell at you? Threaten you? Call you names? My instinct is that you need to focus on the tighter issue of the inaccuracy of the grade if you want meaningful relief here. The rest is context — and not all that helpful to you.
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If a student receives a lower grade that he or she believes is unfair, they can write a grade change request letter to the professor, dean of the college or an appeals board requesting that the grade be raised .
If an exam or course was graded very severely by a professor, and this standard was applied to every student in the class, a grade change will not usually be considered.
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Even if a professor is antagonistic towards a student, it must be proved that the antagonistic attitude resulted in a lower grade.
If the student has a doubt or concern that they deserved a higher grade, but they do not know how to go forward, their best option is to talk with the chairperson of their school or college Grade Appeals Committee or someone in the Dean of Students Office.
There are several reasons why a person believes he or she deserves a better grade. The student may feel that he or she has put many hours of diligent work into a project, and received an unfair low grade.
The student must have a strong foundation for the argument that harmonizes with the instructions for the assignment or class.
For example, he or she must have proof that they followed the instructions for the assignment or class, addressed the proper points in an essay or followed any instructions in the syllabus.
If the student cannot prove that he or she crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s, they will be putting the professor in the delicate position of being asked for extra consideration and to give an undeserved grade.
Read Professor’s Comments Carefully
It is important for the student to read the professor’s comments carefully about an assignment. Often, a misunderstanding of the meaning of the comments is the reason a student feels the grade is unfair. Once they understand the comments, they may agree with the grade.
The student should also consider carefully if changing a particular grade is worth the time an effort. If it is a grade for a class and may make the difference of being accepted to graduate school, it is worth going to the trouble to try to change it.
However, if it is a minor grade that is a small percentage of the overall grade point average, it might be better just to accept the grade even if the student thinks it is unfair.
Most universities request that the student try to resolve the dispute directly with the professor or department head. This should be done in a polite and respectful manner.
Teachers will not think kindly of a belligerent student that uses confrontation to change a grade. Teachers also have little time to devote to grade disputes. The student should be well organized and able to make his or her point in a grade change request letter quickly and clearly.
A professor of Economics may have a different way to handle grade appeals than a professor of History. The student should not assume that every request would be handled in the same manner.
Official Format For Appealing Grades
Before writing a grade change request letter, the student should determine if the school has an official format for appealing grades. Some schools have a prescribed format for grade appeal letters and some have no special requirements.
Some professors have teaching assistants who give the grades. If the grade was given by a teaching assistant, that person should be included in the appeal.
This is a sample grade change request letter to a professor as a first attempt to have a grade in a class changed.
If the professor is not willing to change the grade, the student has the option of sending another letter to an appeal board. If this is done, the required forms or documents need to be included with the letter.
Sample Grade Change Request Letter
Your University ID Number
City, State, Zip Code
Name of Professor
Name of University
Address of University
City, State, Zip Code
RE: Grade change request for Biology 101
Dear Name of Professor:
This is a formal request that you change my grade in Biology 101 for the fall semester DATE from a C to a B. I understand why you gave me a C grade, but I hope you will change it because of certain circumstances that were beyond my control.
I received an A on every class test as well as an A on my project about the endangered frogs in this county. However, because I was not able to take the final exam, I received an F and my final grade was a C.
The reason I could not take the exam is that I was in the hospital with a concussion after an automobile accident. The accident was not my fault, and I am well now, but I was under care for two weeks, during which the final exam was held. I have enclosed copies of my medical records.
I believe that if I had been able to sit for the exam, I would have made an A or B+ grade based on my other coursework. I would be happy to take the exam at any time if you would be willing to give it to me privately.
I am a pre-med student, and a C grade in any pre-med course will greatly hamper my chances of being admitted to medical school. I would very much like to meet with you at any time that is convenient for you to discuss the possibility of my grade being raised.
I can be reached at Email Address or at Phone Number. Thank you for considering my request.
Your Printed Name
List of Enclosures: Medical Records
How do professors respond to regrade requests? One department encourages instructors to pass them up the chain.
Tired of students asking for a grade change for no particular reason — other than a non-A might ruin their holiday? Clemson University’s English department has an idea.
Rather, it has a template.
“Dear All (especially lecturers),” begins an email circulated by Jonathan Beecher Field, associate professor of English, during his stint as director of undergraduate studies. “As the semester winds down, it’s as good a time as any to remind you that the department supports you and your grading decisions. Grading writing is inherently subjective. Subjective is not the same thing as unfair. You teach in the Clemson English department because we trust your judgment. Assigning a grade is the end of teaching a class, not the beginning of a negotiation.”
As these “conversations go back and forth,” Field added, “they become less productive and more volatile. As a way of ending such conversations, feel free to respond to any and all undergraduate grade complaints with an email like this.”
Field included the following template for instructors to use with students asking for or demanding a final grade change.
Field’s tradition has been continued by the department’s current director of undergraduate studies, Walt Hunter, assistant professor of English, who sends out a nearly identical email (his template says students also may contact the associate chair).
Horror stories about students demanding better grades certainly exist, but neither Field nor Hunter had any to share this week (both said they were relatively rare).
Instead, Field said he was more inspired to write his original email by empathy for non-tenure-track professors. Across academe, these professors’ future course assignments are most reliant on positive student feedback (a major criticism of standard student evaluations of teaching). So they’re therefore more vulnerable to student complaints about grades. They’re also more likely to feel like they don’t have departmental support.
As director of undergraduate studies, Field said he shared the message with his colleagues near the end of the semester “to let them know the department supported them.” Rather than have an unhappy student “go back and forth with an instructor, the instructor can refer them to someone else in the department. If the student is still unhappy, they can talk to the associate chair, and then chair and so on.”
Field didn’t recall a complaint going beyond the associate chair. But the idea, he said, “is to have a structure where the student can express their frustration without beating up an instructor.”
Hunter said the note makes clear to “faculty of all ranks that the department supports them in their daily work in the classroom.” A few students “inevitably” can be “unhappy or frustrated with their final semester grades and ask for further explanation. Usually this amounts to a small handful of cases each year. I always offer to meet with the students and listen to them.”
Chris Blattman, Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at the University of Chicago, has policy-like statements about his approach to Ph.D. advising and whether or not he’ll write you a letter of recommendation and more on his impeccably organized website. But he said Wednesday that he’d never received guidance from any department he’s taught in on handling regrade requests.
Calling Clemson English’s approach “interesting,” Blattman said, “It sounds to me like they are encouraging a conversation to happen, but recognize that sometimes that conversation has to end with the instructor simply saying that they followed common criteria for the entire class.”
Does Blattman entertain grade changes? He said he and most people he knows generally do. But short of a grading error, he said, most regrade requests are “really chances to clarify the grade in terms of the student’s relative performance.”
Blattman added via email, “Implicitly the question is usually ‘Why didn’t I get an A?’ and then I provide more context and detail. This might be because my grading rubric wasn’t transparent enough. But seldom do I receive a well thought out regrading request.”
They’re free to ask. I correct clerical errors. If they want regrading it’s with fresh eyes, with the understanding the new grade could be higher or lower.
Yes, but like @familyunequal I let them know their grade could go down when I reconsider. I’d add that I’m hardly ever asked. Also, in a twenty year career, I doubt I’ve made an adjustment up or down more than a few times.
Yes. They have a right to make an argument. And we have to be able to rationally defend the grades we give based on course objectives. That being said, grade changes are rare. I’ve been known to make a math error now and then, but I’m otherwise careful about the grades I give.
Jennifer Diascro, associate academic director at the University of California’s Washington Program, said she has required students who want her to change their grades to demonstrate their knowledge of the material and how they think they have been misjudged. It’s an exercise in making compelling arguments, she said, and a bit of a sincerity test, as it “takes time and energy.”
Unless she’s made an “obvious mistake in grading something, I’m not inclined to change it,” however, she said. “Evaluating work, especially written work, is often subjective and it’s simply not fair to other students who are equally subject to my subjectivity to change grades for single students.”
Diascro mused as to whether certain kind of institutions see more requests, namely private versus public. In her own experience, she’s had “loads” of grade requests in certain jobs and few to none in others.
That said, Diascro added that she’s “pleasantly surprised” at how receptive students are to her arguments about fairness, and that most just seem to want to make sure they’re being treated fairly.
(Photo: By Thinkstock)
Got a grade dispute? Think before you act.
What will you do if you feel like a professor has done you wrong over a grade?
As a tenured faculty member and author of a student-professor communication blog with grade disputes as the number-one write-in question, I’ve found that most students want to a) go for the prof’s jugular or b) go all “Better Call Saul” (Breaking Bad, anyone?) and practically threaten legal action.
Both options may make you feel better, but they won’t solve the problem. Even worse, you’ll face unnecessary embarrassment, and, if rage goes too far, possible disciplinary action. Then a bad grade will be the least of your worries. Instead, here are five ways to resolve a grade dispute without a lynch mob or litigation:
Step 1: Research the official college procedure for grade disputes.
Every college has an official policy in place for your battle. Your college’s website, student handbook, ed-planning office, registrar or student senate can give you guidelines and help interpret them. Familiarizing yourself with the policy will be critical; the committee, dean or vice president determining your grade’s fate will follow it precisely.
One student learned this when a professor pulled an after-term grade standard switch, thus lowering the student’s grade by a letter. The dean cited the grade dispute policy, but the student hadn’t researched it. Once the student realized the policy was easily found on the university website, that student went into the next meeting better informed.
Step 2: Go up the correct ladder.
The college president. The Board of Trustees. The human resources director.
Mad students go straight to the top to complain. In most businesses, that’s what you do: Fire off an email to an HR director, like one upset student mistakenly did. But colleges are not like other businesses. Going to the king or queen of the castle just makes a student look like a joker. Even more frustrating? The higher-up respects the chain of command, themselves, so they only go back down the ladder.
Take their lead. The official grade-dispute policy will tell you your first point of contact — likely your professor. The professor’s division or department chair is next. You can even say, “With respect, I would like to take this matter further and I understand based on the college policy that I have the right to see your division/department chair.” From there, a dean or vice president of academic affairs usually gets involved and in some colleges, there is a vice president for student affairs. The college president . leads the college.
Step 3: Maintain key evidence.
A student just wrote in about what sounds like a valid grade dispute, but when I asked about necessary documentation (i.e. copies of exams, graded work with professor’s notes, a syllabus) to build a case, the student said, “I didn’t save any of that.” Without the critical paper trail, you can’t substantiate your claim.
Let’s look at the other side. If your professor is in the right, he or she will have every piece of paper imaginable. I’ve been there! A student once accused me of discrimination over a C grade. Fortunately, I had tangible proof that the outcome derived from perpetual outlines with disjointed thesis-body and citation issues — not racism. Think like your professor. Save everything!
Step 4: Argue the charge you can prove and win.
Another student wanted to dispute a discrepancy between a percentage changed on an assignment over the syllabus “contract” — a clear mathematical issue. The college policy stated that the student needed to pick a “charge,” i.e., bad faith, error or fraud. I recommended “error” since that is the easiest to prove. The student experienced such run-around by the professor and other college officials, they wanted to select bad faith, fraud and even “malice.”
I worried that the student was sabotaging themselves because proving intent is practically impossible, unless you’re a lawyer (were we back to calling Saul?). I knew the committee wouldn’t reconsider one charge in favor of another; they would deny the entire dispute based on lack of proof. Despite your fury, think of your end goal: resolution. Let the committee easily review and cleanly decide your case.
Step 5: Keep the “big relationship picture” in mind.
I know how furious and powerless students often feel about grade disputes. But there are a few fundamental truths about college culture.
Truth #1: That dean or division chair you bash today for not helping your case could be your professor tomorrow. Division chairs are often just faculty. Deans, at times, teach classes. You may also loathe that professor today due to this grade dispute, but may need a recommendation letter from him tomorrow or you could end up retaking a class from that prof. Stranger things have happened.
Truth #2: Getting faculty fired takes an act of Congress, particularly for those who have tenure, and even for adjuncts. Part-time faculty often teach at hours that full-time, tenured faculty don’t want to teach and those spots are not re-filled easily. This grade dispute — even if your professor is 1,000% in the wrong — is probably not going to kill his or her career. He or she may receive disciplinary action if the issue is repetitive.
Bottom line: Don’t destroy your education or your reputation over a grade dispute. If you do not prevail, know that you have the right to be fully informed about the reasons why without feeling like the underdog. If you communicate professionally and rationally, you have every chance for a positive outcome.
Ellen Bremen, M.A. is tenured communication studies faculty at Highline Community College in Seattle, Wash., and the author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success. Ellen blogs with insider student-professor communication tips as The Chatty Professor and madly tweets @ChattyProf.
This story originally appeared on the USA TODAY College blog, a news source produced for college students by student journalists. The blog closed in September of 2017.