By AUDREY JENKINS – STAFF WRITER
In a true show of college unity, Centre administration and students alike convened in Vahlkamp Theatre Wed., April 16, at 7 p.m. for an enlightening Academic Policy Q&A session about issues such as the sliding grade scale, the rumored limit on how many “A’s” a professor may give in one class, course evaluations, and the current policy on AP credits. Senior Senator and co-planner of the event Gwynne Rose acted as the moderator for the event. Using a list of questions and concerns gathered from the student body and consolidated into four overarching topics of discussion, Rose presented each individual topic from the podium and then opened the floor to her three panelists — Dean Stephanie Fabritius, Dean Beth Glazier-McDonald, and Dean Mary Gulley. In a very relaxed, informative, and even enjoyable dialogue, the Deans then proceeded to answer each of the questions, combining their wealth of knowledge to provide students with a holistic picture of the oft-confused academic policy of Centre College.
The reaction to their efforts was astounding. In what can best be described as a give-and-take effort between two groups of people that share a mutual respect and love of the institution of learning that is Centre College, the Deans and attending students engaged in a constructive dialogue that answered questions, dissolved rumors, and even opened up future channels of discourse. Truly, the Q&A session was a collaborative effort. While Rose read from a list of questions to spawn dialogue, these questions were only the beginning of the forum. As soon as the Deans would answer a particular question, it would spark another question or idea that could then be discussed and wrestled with in such a way that it fostered community growth and cooperation, rather than creating rifts between administration and students.
The first issue addressed in the forum was the question of the sliding grade scale. A “sliding grade scale” is one in which there are plusses and minuses attached to grade letters, as opposed to just having straight letter grades with no other qualifications. In response to the question of why it exists at Centre, the Deans unanimously agreed that it was because it actually benefits the students to have plusses and minuses figured into the grading scale. “For many of us who deal with classroom grading, giving someone who has an 89 a ‘B’ would seem unfair because it’s so much closer to an ‘A’ than a ‘B.’ There is a stark difference in my mind between an 89 and an 81, and having the plus/minus distinction actually allows us to take that into account when assigning grades. It’s an advantage for students,” Fabritius said. Both Glazier-McDonald and Gulley agreed that while some students may perceive the “sliding scale” as a disadvantage, it actually functions in quite different ways. “Having that borderline grade between a straight ‘A’ and a straight ‘B’ is very helpful because then you can reward students for doing well. In this situation it’s about the rewards, not the punishments,” Gulley said. Glazier-McDonald agreed, adding, “Sure, you can make arguments about the sliding scale hurting your GPA because of the ‘minuses’ that you may receive, but you can also make just as many arguments for the fact that it actually helps your grade.”
The rumored limit on how many “A’s” a professor may distribute amongst one class of students was the second topic of discussion. Although this rumor that professors are told that they can only give out a certain number of “A” grades per class is a fairly wide-spread suspicion amongst students, the Deans were adamant that such a policy simply does not exist. If classes seem to be difficult at Centre, especially in comparison to other schools, the Deans think it may be because Centre students truly are exceptional students who invite the challenge simply by holding themselves to higher standards. “In 2001, I caught an intro to psychology course both at Centre and another neighboring school at the same time. It was the same exact course, but I taught it at two different colleges. I walked out of my first day of class at Centre thinking, ‘Okay, this is a completely different game because of the way that students engage with the material…’ It’s that type of dynamic. The students here are engaging and challenging the material and so the professors engage with the students and provide challenging class material. It’s the culture of Centre. We never sit our professors down and tell them to be tough on their students — it’s an interactive process in which professors teach and you respond and then they adjust according to what you give back,” Gulley said. Dean Fabritius agreed that while it may appear that professors are just unnaturally difficult in class, the actual teaching process is much more complex than that. “You make your class more challenging, you back off some. It’s a dance, an interaction. We [as professors] take our cues from you, you take cues from us. We don’t tell professors how hard they have to be, but they will invite to rise to the challenge,” Fabritius said.
From this discussion of the “‘A’ limit’” rose a question from junior Emily Bickel about whether internship programs, fellowships, graduate schools, etc. that students may apply to for the summer or post-graduation take into account the difficult of Centre when considering Centre students’ GPAs. In response, Gulley mentioned a fact sheet that is published every year as a joint effort from a couple Centre offices that actually lists the average GPA at Centre, (which is roughly a 3.03) and talks a little bit about the challenging academic environment of Centre. “This sheet is a very good description of Centre and its culture, and it’s a way to let employers know what kind of school Centre is,” Gulley said. Fabritius agreed and said that she will often mention the institutional quality of Centre whenever she writes recommendation letters so that those less familiar with Centre will also realize the merit of the Centre education.
The third topic of discussion was the end of the year course evaluations. Course evaluations have historically been a bit controversial because many people dislike filling them out, in part because they take a fair amount of time to complete and in part because it’s not always obvious to students that they matter at all beyond their use as a way for students to get their grades on time. However, one of the strongest points the Deans wanted to make during the forum was that the course evaluations are extremely helpful and that they are incredibly grateful for Centre students’ diligence in filling them out. “For the first three years that a professor is at Centre, five out of six of their courses are evaluated. Then for the next three years, four out of six are evaluated. Once they are tenured, two courses are reviewed annually. I read every single one of these evaluations,” Glazier-McDonald said. “The division chair reads the evaluation in his/her division. We review every single faculty member annually and give them a rating and a large part of this rating is your evaluations. Most faculty members receive good-excellent ratings, but we would never know this without you because your evaluations are invaluable as we assess faculty members. 98% of the evaluations I read are done extremely well. You all take evaluations very seriously and we appreciate it so much.” Glazier-McDonald also thought it was important that students understand that each evaluation is completely anonymous. “No one ever knows who wrote what. We use a random number generator and everyone gets a number. [For example,] I have no idea who student nine is … Faculty eventually receive the evaluations, but not until after they have already turned in final grades,” Glazier-McDonald said.
This topic of course evaluations raised many questions, such as what you should do if you feel that you have been treated unfairly by a professor or want to evaluate someone before the end of the term, and the Deans were in agreement that the individual should merely send an email to one of the Deans and it would be handled from there with the utmost delicacy.
The fourth and final topic of discussion was the policy on AP credits. This year, many first-years were upset that some of their AP credits that have traditionally transferred to Centre in the past were not accepted into the credit count this year. The Deans explained that the college simply put a limit on how many credits could transfer to Centre from outside sources. “You can only get 24 credits from AP, IB, etc. Some of the AP credit is dependent upon specific courses and programs, and of course if the course doesn’t line up to a course at Centre, we can’t count it,” Glazier-McDonald said. The Deans also referred curious students to the heads or at least professors of the specific discipline that they want their credits to transfer to because these professors may be more knowledgeable about their specific discipline’s choice to exclude AP credit.
Other topics surfaced during the forum, including the Shanghai study abroad program, study abroad programs in general, the system for challenging a grade, etc. However, even as there was a vast array of different issues raised, one thing that remained the same was the Deans’ willingness to take student opinion seriously and the students’ willingness to respect the Deans. All in all, it was a very successful event that will hopefully be only the beginning of a continued line of open communication between students and college administration.