Issue 37 - 2005-02-17

Engineering prof cries foul on student grade change

By Peter Vogt
News Writer

After a professor in the Faculty of Engineering refused to change two of his students’ grades, the faculty administration decided to make the changes itself.

Last winter, Professor Jeremy Cooperstock gave two graduate students in the bottom quarter of his Artificial Intelligence course a grade of C+ for the term.

The grades were based on Cooperstock’s own grading scale, which does not directly correspond to the University’s guidelines.

The students complained that numerically, they deserved a higher grade. Cooperstock was then asked to change the grades to a B, the passing grade for graduate students.

Cooperstock refused to change the grades, on the grounds that professors in the faculty can legitimately determine their course grading scales without notifying the students or the administration.

“I have never posted this scheme on the course outline as I wished to retain the flexibility to modify it subject to the final marks distribution,” said Cooperstock in defence of his grading method, which he explained allows for an overall evaluation of students, rather than one based solely on examination marks.

He was angry that Dean of Engineering John Gruzleski overrode his initial decision, with little consideration for those students who worked hard for their grades.

“This is both unfair to the remaining students in the class, whose grades were not similarly inflated, as well as to all students who took the course in previous years,” he said.

In a move unusual for faculty administration, Dean of Engineering John Gruzleski asserted that the students had the right to be graded according to University guidelines.

“Because of the way this course had been marked, I took an executive decision to change the grades and pass them in the course, because I felt that they had not been told what the equivalency was going to be,” said Gruzleski. “They had every right to expect the published equivalency to apply to them.”

The rationale for this decision lies in the ambiguity of grading rules for 500-level courses in the Faculty of Engineering, in which both graduate and undergraduate students can enrol.

Traditionally, grading at the undergraduate level in Engineering is based on individual evaluations such as “good” or “fair,” rather than numeric marking. Graduate courses, on the other hand, follow the grading equivalence scale described in the Graduate Studies and Post-Doctoral booklet.

Gruzleski felt that, in this case, the graduate students had a right to expect that they would be graded according to the graduate studies booklet, not Cooperstock’s scale.

“I just felt it was the fair thing to do under those circumstances,” he said. “Normally, when a grade is changed, it is the professor that does it – this was a very exceptional circumstance. It was one that I did with reluctance. I felt that justice was best served by following the course I did.”

But Cooperstock defended his grading scale, pointing out that most professors of 500-level engineering courses deviate from the grading system described in the graduate handbook, and that none inform students of their grading scales.

The faculty is now trying to clear up the ambiguity in grading 500-level courses. David Frost, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the Faculty of Engineering, says that the administration hopes to pass a resolution on the matter before the exam period.