Duluth drags feet on grading

by Jim Martyka

A new plus-minus grading policy which once seemed likely for the University system is stalled, as Duluth campus officials wait to consider the proposed changes.
The Morris, Crookston and Twin Cities campus assemblies passed the policy at their quarterly meetings in October. But members of the Duluth Campus Assembly cancelled their October meeting because of a lack of pressing business, said Tim Holst, the associate dean in the College of Science and Engineering at Duluth. The Duluth assembly will probably look at the policy during winter quarter.
The main feature of the new grading policy is the adoption of the plus-minus system for grade-point averages. Currently, the University doesn’t include pluses or minuses on its five-grade A-F scale.
The pluses and minuses would alter the grade points of each letter grade. For example, an A- would be a 3.67 instead of being counted as an A, which would remain at 4.00 grade points.
The grading policy also includes several minor changes regarding student transcripts.
After members of the Twin Cities Campus Assembly passed the grading policy last month, they forwarded it to Duluth with the expectation that it would pass and go into effect next fall.
But Holst said the main reason they aren’t immediately considering the changes is that Duluth already has a grading policy similar to the one proposed. “(Grading policy) is not a big issue in Duluth,” he said. “There were only minor changes that are different than what we have now.”
Duluth already uses a plus-minus system. Wayne Jeffwein, who is the chairman of the executive committee of the Duluth Campus Assembly, said Duluth’s grading system is different from other University campuses partially because it has a unionized faculty.
Steve Hedman, the associate vice chancellor at Duluth, said his campus is basically autonomous from the rest of the University system. “Since we are a union and we don’t have representation on the University Senate, we really don’t have to look at (the grading policy),” Hedman said. “We are really not governed by the University Senate.”
“When the issue of grading policy came up, we discussed our position with President (Nils) Hasselmo and decided that we could have whatever (grading) policy is best for us,” Jeffwein said.
After the Duluth assembly cancelled its October meeting, the question arose as to whether or not the other campus assemblies can enact the policy without Duluth’s approval. Laura Koch, chairwoman of the University Senate committee on educational policy, said this question needs to be addressed soon. “We assume Duluth will pass it, but there is no way to be positive,” she said.
Should Duluth pass the grading policy during its winter meeting, it will go to the University Senate, which includes representatives from all four campuses, for review. The senate will then officially announce that every campus assembly passed the proposal. At that point the new grading system would become official University policy for all schools except the Law School and the medical schools.
If the University implements the new system, it would mark the adoption of a plan which has been in the works for several months.
The educational policy committee first presented the grading policy idea to the full senate at a meeting in early May. At that time, committee members said this was the first of several grading policy revisions that they would present to the Senate over the next year. After brief discussion at the meeting, the University Senate approved a motion to ask the four campus assemblies to view the policy and report to them by fall quarter.
The Morris assembly approved the proposal first, followed by the Twin Cities and Crookston assemblies shortly thereafter. Koch said the policy was well-received on campus partially because it includes provisions to make the grading policy less cumbersome.
Under the proposal, all of the policies concerning student grades and transcripts, such as those dealing with transfer students or incompletes, would be combined into one policy. Currently, several separate policies exist for each provision.
“We want to have all of the policies put together so it is absolutely clear what the grading policy is,” Koch said.
The new policy would also affect the way University professors assign grades because they would have to be more specific in their evaluation of student performance.
At the Twin Cities assembly meeting in October, John Anderson, a professor in the biochemistry department, expressed concern about this likely circumstance. “It may be difficult to distinguish between an A- and a B+ on an essay exam,” he said. “This may put a lot of pressure on professors.”
Koch said another problem with the policy is the fact that it does not offer an A+ to those students who do exceptionally well in a class. The policy lists the highest grade as a 4.00.
A main concern among students about the new policy is whether it will hurt or improve grade point averages in general.
College of Liberal Arts freshman Matt Weiss said he felt the policy might not be a good idea for the University. “It’s going to put a lot more unnecessary pressure on students to do better in classes,” he said.
But other students said the change would be for the better. “This will show more accurately what you earned in a class,” said Institute of Technology sophomore Eric Corwin.
Koch noted that a plus-minus grading policy is not a novel idea. “More than two-thirds of the universities in the country are using this type of policy,” she said.