College of Arts and Sciences

Educational Policy Meeting

 

Minutes of the 397th Meeting

Thursday, May 10th, 2004

____________________________________________________

 

MEMBERS.

PRESENT:  Joe Burns, Michael Connolly, Lisa Cuklanz, Thomas McGuinness, Michael Martin, Gilda Morelli, Robert Murphy, Ourida Mostefai, Clare O'Connor, William Petri, Jennie Purnell, David Quigley, Joseph Quinn, Grace Simmons, Eileen Sweeney, Barbara Viechnicki.

ABSENT:  Paul Davidovits, Andrea Defusco-Sullivan, Vincent Dimaggio, Solomon Friedberg, Omar Gonzales, Mary Daniel O'Keeffe.

ON LEAVE:  Clare Dunsford.

 

CALL TO ORDER:  Dean Quinn called the meeting to order at 2:40 P.M.

 

MINUTES:  Minutes for the meeting of February 18th 2004 were approved subject to corrections offered by Dean Quinn and Bob Murphy. 

 

 

SUBCOMMITTEE REPORTS: 

 

APPEALS. Jennie Purnell stated that the subcommittee had only heard one case all year adding that the case had been resolved. Ourida Mostefai stated that the faculty member involved had asked to see the letter from the subcommittee to the associate deans. There followed a very brief discussion of procedure in view of this request.

 

HONORS.  Bob Murphy represented the subcommittee’s data on grade inflation stating that the problems noted at the previous meeting had been corrected. He also presented new data comparing grades between the sections of multi-section courses. Murphy noted that the corrected data did not alter the original picture of the steady rise in cumulative GPAs adding

  • that in the spring of 2003 50% of the students in A&S had 3.46 or better cumulative GPAs
  • and that about 46% of all grades granted were either “A” or “A-”.

 

Murphy stated that the subcommittee did not recommend any specific policies to control or alter grading practices but that the committee did recommend informing the faculty of the grading patterns within their departments and across the college. He added that the committee also discussed adding grade distribution information to student transcripts.

 

David Quigley stated he had been truly shocked when he read the data, noted that similar issues had now led Princeton to discuss taking specific measures to control grade inflation, and added that BC needed to undertake a serious campus wide discussion of grading practices. Noting that any discussion of grading policy must be public, Ourida Mostfai stated that grades needed to be considered from two different perspectives:

  • that of the students who feel pressure to have very high GPAs on transcripts used for graduate school and employment applications
  • and that of the faculty who sense that course satisfaction correlates to the students grades.

 

Michael Martin stated that it would be very hard to impose any averages or standards given that there was not even agreement among faculty on a philosophy of grading and added that any policy which imposed a grade average could have serious repercussions for BC’s admissions. Bob Murphy noted that there was a question as to how grades are read by graduate school admissions committees and prospective employers. Dean Quinn stated that the policy in some professional schools of imposing a course grade average would not work in A&S departments.

 

Michael Connolly stated that we could use a model of course design assessment setting goals for courses and measuring success at attaining those goals. Joe Burns stated that Latin Honors were awarded not according to fixed GPA as in many schools but as a percentage of the class. He added that students were ranked within their class but noted that the difference between students was frequently hundredths of a point. David Quigley stated that the issue was really one of compression.

 

Gilda Morelli and Michael Martin stated that the data revealed that the inflation or compression in grades could be explained by faculty expectations remaining flat while the measurable quality of students consistently rose.

 

Dean Quinn summarized the findings of the study as follows

  • over the college, by all measures, grades have been steadily rising,
  • the quality of the students entering BC was increasing along with the grades,
  • there were significant grading differences among departments and within departments,
  • there were also large differences between different sections of the same course, relative to the GPA of the students in the class,
  • and that no school canvassed by the subcommittee had done more than provide information to the faculty or expand the information available in the students’ transcripts.

 

He then asked, “Now what?” Several members responded there needed to be a campus wide discussion. Grace Simmons added that this discussion must include the students. Michael Connolly noted that one quick patch would be to change the grading on undergraduate theses to “satisfactory/unsatisfactory”.

 

Dean Quinn closed the discussion by thanking Bob Murphy and his subcommittee for all their work and by stating that this study would be sent to the AVP and to the department chairs with encouragement to begin discussion at the departmental level.

 

ACADEMIC AFFAIRS.  Eileen Sweeney presented the subcommittee’s report on the use of undergraduates as teaching assistants and graders and distributed the results of questionnaires sent to departments and to the students who held undergraduate teaching assistantships. She noted that in 1988 the EPC had decided that students should not be responsible for grading but allowed for exceptions on a case by case review by the dean where the course was designed specifically to give students teaching experience. She also added that in some cases compliance had been superficial at best.

 

Presenting the results of the departmental questionnaires, Sweeney noted that the two largest users of UGTAs were Mathematics and Communication.

  • She noted that all 37 Mathematics UGTAs are called “graders” and are paid for tutoring and grading homework in core courses.
  • She also noted that 11 of the 38 Communication UGTAs were paid for tutoring, leading WebCT discussion groups, taking attendance and grading objective exams. The remaining Communication UGTAs served in a variety of courses, including upper division courses, and performed a variety of functions including tutoring, leading discussions, making technical presentations, and grading.

 

Sweeney stated that the Communication department was unhappy with this and had made a proposal to have Sociology graduate students serve as paid TAs but that the university had not funded the proposed program. She also stated that the Communication Department felt that given the high student to faculty ratio the use of undergraduates as teaching assistants gave some of their best majors a “capstone” experience.

 

Sweeney stated that Films Studies Program and Fine Arts Department used undergraduate TAs to make technical presentations in areas of film production and photographic technology and technique. She added that Introduction to Feminisms, Black Studies, PULSE, and Courage to Know all used undergraduates to lead discussions as a “method of learning”.

 

Presenting the results of the student questionnaires, Sweeney noted there seemed to be discrepancies between the views of the students and those of the departments and faculty involved:

  • students claim they are more involved in grading though all insist the faculty member has the final say,
  • students also defended their comparative competence in the areas with which they were involved,
  • and they claimed to be less closely supervised than the departments claimed.

 

Sweeney outlined the issues as follows

  • The type of work done by UGTAs, especially grading, presents concerns over privacy, competence, and objectivity.
  • The type of compensation, payment versus credit, presents concerns over
    • the learning experience of the UGTAs,
    • the rate of compensation and the amount of credit
    • and course level of the credit given.

Sweeney added that the departments thought eliminating course credit would make it difficult to find enough qualified UGTAs.

 

Dean Quinn outlined the issues he saw as follows

  • the number of undergraduates involved,
  • their involvement in grading,
  • the granting of credit rather than payment,
  • the allowance of repeat credit for working the same course,
  • and the failure of the university to fund alternatives proposed by departments.

 

Dave Quigley questioned whether this was a proper capstone experience in any major. Dean Quinn stated it was not. Michael Connolly noted that there was a difference between being a teaching assistant and being a course assistant and stated that students might mark objective assignments but should not grade. Bill Petri noted that in the case of internships, credit was limited to one credit per internship to a maximum of three credits.

 

Joe Quinn asked if a student’s course participation was considered in the course grades when UGTAs were discussion leaders. Sweeney responded that leading discussions in did necessarily mean the UGTAs were directly involved in grading. Gilda Morelli expressed concern about anonymity of the UGTAs. Joe Burns and Michael Martin stated that the use of undergraduates as TAs produced unwanted social pressures.

 

Joe Burns asked why some courses needed six TAs. Sweeney replied that in some cases UGTAs tutored and held office hours. Bill Petri stated that tutoring should be paid for as in the Academic Development Center. Barbara Viechnicki noted there were differences in the rates of compensation for the paid UGTAs. Joe Quinn stated that the cost of paying all UGTAs needed to be calculated and that Mick Smyer should be approached for money to hire graduate students.

 

Dean Quinn thanked the subcommittee for its work.

 

THANKS. Dean Quinn thanked all the members of the EPC for a productive year. He gave a special thank-you to Michael Connolly, Bob Murphy, and Clare O’Connor whose terms expired with this meeting.

 

ADJOURNMENT.  Dean Quinn adjourned the meeting at 4:25 p.m.

 

Respectively submitted,

 

 

Michael Martin

Secretary to the EPC