Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to wheel and deal with unappealing appeals

"No fair!"

Ahh, my two favorite words between Kindergarten and junior high. Then I turned 15, got a job working in a coalmine and realized how good I'd had it before the black lung and Pneumoconiosis set in.

Just like Devo!

"How long can this go on?!"

I'm exaggerating a smidge, but just to prove the larger point that no matter how much you hate school, no matter how arbitrary or cruel you believe the teacher to be, no matter how intellectually or physically demanding the studies, a job always makes school look like Mardi Gras.

It's true: if you have a problem at school, there will always be someone to listen, and if you have a complaint at work, there will always be someone to fire you.

When I used to yell, "No fair!" at my dad, he'd say, "You got a complaint? Take it to the complaint department!" Clever, because it didn't exist.

Your boss might very well say the same thing, knowing that there is no complaint department at work either. But we actually have a complaint department at school - Student Services, which does a lot of other things as well.

(RRC's policies and guidelines are laid out right here.)

But do not go gently into that good night, m'lords and m'ladies, because appealing grades is a touchy matter, for a number of reasons:
  • Teachers tend to think of themselves as students' employers. Students may think of themselves as consumers and instructors as providers.
  • Students need teachers' goodwill and recommendations to get a job and, by definition, may not like grades to begin with. The teacher might actually be unfair. Or both.
Therein lies the groundwork for fun, fun, fun. Let's party!

Fair play's my game!

Let it be said that I'm for anything that allows someone to appeal unfairness - in the academic environment and society at large. Who wants to be treated unfairly? Not me!

Of course, I don't want to treat anyone unfairly and like to think, as David Beckham once got paid to say, "Fair play's my game!"

But if teaching has taught me anything, it's that two people can see the exact same thing, but interpret it completely differently:

So, if someone thinks that I've been unfair, I'd genuinely like to know about it and even find out if I'm wrong.

That said, my belief is that a marks or grade appeal should be a last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted - including a good, old-fashioned discussion, perhaps over coffee, which always makes everything feel better.

Hell, I feel better just thinking about it!

This is where most informal "appeals" come to an end. You come to some sort of agreement and move on - split the difference, see the other person's point of view, or agree to disagree.

I'm sure that here is where some grudges are born, but as Cougar sang before he became Mellencamp, "Oh, yeah: life goes on!"

The governor called - he wants his phone back

Yesterday, I wrote about the nightmare of the legalese-based course outline (see post below).

Part of the greater push into this territory is owing to the extremely rare (but not unknown!) student who looks for loopholes when all hope is (almost but not quite) lost.

In my limited experience, the institutional marks appeal is the equivalent of waiting for the governor to call when you're already sitting in the electric chair: at this point, we all kind of know where this is going, but - you never know - the governor might actually call this time!

The first sign that something is amiss is that the appeal has become "institutional." Most "appeals" are normal discussions like the one I outline above.

So, the person who launches an institutional appeal is usually someone who has already had that discussion, but who still feels:
  • Desperate (in danger of failing, perhaps);
  • Hard done by (because it feels like no one listened or because the instructor disagreed);
  • Wants to prove a point or "get even;"
  • All of the above
So, it's unlikely that "tightening up the rules" would dissuade a person who feels any of these things - when it reaches this point it's about other things, real or imagined.

It's extremely rare for an emotion-based appeal to be successful, for reasons you can see come to life every afternoon on Judge Judy:
  • "He stole my pen!"
  • "I did not!"
  • "He stole my pen!"
  • "I did not!"
The good-old days, they were terrible

It's worth noting here that I'm not just an instructor in CreComm, I'm a grad. I liked it so much, I bought the company!

When I graduated from CreComm in the early 90s, appeals didn't exist (or if they did, no one had ever heard of them). Let me put it this way: if you got an F, it never magically turned into a D. In fact, if you complained, it became an F-minus.

Sure, we'd complain to other students and gossip about the same things CreComm students do now, but it was unheard of for a student to "file a formal appeal" about a mark or disciplinary action. If an instructor got mad, we were afraid and felt lucky to get away from the situation drawing breath.

The only mark that ever truly shocked me was in my very last semester of TV class; after being on the honor roll for my entire CreComm career, I was awarded a big, fat D, knocking me off the roll on my last attempt.

Today, the situation would be ripe for appeal: the instructor didn't give out assignments in writing, missed class a lot, and - believe it or not - couldn't work the TV equipment.

So, I took the rare move of...graduating and forgetting about it. The upshot? Nothing: no one has ever asked to see my CreComm marks transcript. No one! So my blemished record actually only exists in my mind - and this blog.

Had I complained, I would have only accomplished the not-very-hard task of pissing off my teacher and the upshot would have been the same thing, plus an angry instructor.

I recently mentioned this story to the CreComm chair - my boss - who just laughed said, "She probably just entered the mark wrong."

So my D might actually be a typo? Great, now I have to draw that little line across my transcript and make it look like a B - no appeal required.

All's well that ends well!


  1. Not to mention another *very* important reason not to piss off your CreComm instuctors--some of them are very powerful people that you will encounter again and again, especially if you stay in the city. Like that TV instructor, for instance. Let's just say that I am *very* glad to be on good terms with her!

    Good post, Kenton!

  2. Great post!

    I've never appealed a grade before, and I don't think I ever would. Generally I feel that the grades I receive are fair, and I learn a lot from them, based on the comments left on my assignments.

    The only time I've ever felt a grade was even potentially unfair was when I was in a University History class. It wasn't a bad grade necessarily - but I'd worked harder on that paper than I'd ever worked on anything before (at least, before CreComm), and thought it was the best paper I'd ever written. I'm still proud of the paper, though since then my writing skills have improved tremendously.

  3. I should have also said: the best way for an instructor to guard against appeals is to actually read every word and let it sink in before slapping a mark on a paper.

    Should be a given, but...


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