Professor exposes grade inflation at SCSU

This morning, the St. Cloud Times published Professor Phyllis van Buren’s monthly column as part of the Times Writers Group. Prof. van Buren’s column this month was an extensive dissertation on the transcript fiasco at St. Cloud State. Readers of this blog know that that’s a subject that I’ve investigated and written about extensively.

I take great pride in the fact that many of the things I’ve written are things that Dr. van Buren included in her article. Here’s an example:

Two years ago, a student in my class completed all requirements but the final, requesting to take the final in early January. She did not then nor in April, when another faculty member contacted me on her behalf for yet another chance. Her grade for the semester was a solid F — even if she would have earned 100 percent on the written final.


However, a year later, she requested a withdrawal for all her courses. I provided detailed evidence that she had completed the semester and reasons for denying the appeal. I later received an email that her request had been granted despite my recommendation. I contacted the registrar’s office to learn that two professors had denied her request and two had complied. Yet a W was awarded for all four classes. My prompt reaction re-instated the earned grade for my class.

I’ve talked with a handful of SCSU professors about this type of situation. Each has told me that a student that requests extra time to complete the work for their course, then doesn’t complete the work for the class, will get an F as their final grade barring something extraordinary happening.

It’s obvious that there weren’t any extenuating or mitigating circumstances involved in Prof. van Buren’s decision. If mitigating circumstances existed, the administration’s decision would’ve been upheld. It wasn’t.

I also have read recent Meet & Confer notes between university administration and faculty. I have searched the university’s Web page for policies and procedures. I have spoken with people who attended the M&C meetings, and I have listened to a recorded conversation about the ways to amend records to improve students’ GPA for admission to programs.

The University’s Meet & Confer minutes helped me piece the puzzle together. Dr. van Buren was exactly right in going through those minutes for information about the Potter administration’s stonewalling. I wrote here about how the Potter administration didn’t think this was worthy of an investigation:

Admin: Sure so then we have as to what kind of data is relevant and we go there and we can collect the information so that it makes sense for you. The other thing is I won’t call it an investigation I would call analysis.

When students’ participation in a class disappears, that’s justification to investigate. As for the “recorded conversation about ways to amend records to improve students’ GPA for admission to programs”, I’ve had a tip about who they’re talking about. Without independent verification, though, I won’t speculate.

Meet & Confer sessions are held regularly between the Faculty Association and St. Cloud State’s administration. On every agenda of M&C minutes from October 2012 through this May, the topic of grades changes appeared.

The minutes show there is a lot of finger-pointing and the need for data sharing and adherence to policies and practices by students, faculty and administration. There are two main issues. One involves changing grades, usually to a W. The other involves the possibility of dropping classes from transcripts without informing faculty.

University spokesman Adam Hammer tried explaining the fiasco this way:

In addressing this concern at a meet and confirm meeting conducted amongst university professors and administration, Hammer said the cause for concern primarily dealt with late drops and withdrawals.

According to Dr. van Buren and Dr. Leenay, late drops and withdrawals are only part of the problem. Dr. van Buren’s and Dr. Leenay’s biggest concern is with students’ participation in classes getting whitewashed. That’s a way to inflate students’ grade and it isn’t acceptable.

Thanks to Dr. van Buren’s article, people are finally getting a picture of what’s actually happening at SCSU instead of getting the Potter administration’s spin of what’s happening on campus.

If the Potter administration won’t admit that grades are disappearing, then the legislature will have to intervene. The House and Senate Higher Education committees will have to intervene because, if they don’t, they’ll send the signal that administrations can do whatever they want. That isn’t acceptable.

Cross-posted at LFR