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Commentary: An Open Letter to President Garland Regarding the WP/WF Issue

Last spring, the University Senate approved a resolution to modify Miami University’s procedures for assigning WP/WF grades. This resolution introduced a W+ grade, in which the "+" represents the letter grade a student was earning after the 60 percent juncture in the semester. This "grade" will not be calculated in his/her GPA. My concern is that this resolution is not in the best interests of Miami University for the following reasons:

1. This change is antithetical to the central mission of the university. In two State of the University addresses, you reported that you wanted to raise Miami’s standards. With the new policy, just the opposite effect will occur, as students will be more likely to drop courses to protect their GPAs. The Senate resolution will exacerbate this grade inflation problem because few Ds and Fs will be assigned if students can drop any course as late as the last day of class with no grade consequence.

2. Miami’s credibility will be diminished by this new policy. Robert Kubat, the university registrar, reports that neither he nor his counterparts at several other universities is aware of any school that employs this type of grading system. As the Senate resolution does not reflect accepted practice at other institutions, and as personnel (e.g., graduate/professional school committees) from these institutions grapple with interpreting these pretend grades, Miami’s reputation and prestige will decrease significantly.

3. The Senate Resolution is classist. More affluent students will be able to drop classes in which they are not satisfied with their grades as they can afford to re-take classes more readily than their less wealthy counterparts.

4. One function of a university is to impart and reflect certain core values (e.g., responsibility for one’s actions, fairness, and the pre-eminence of learning). In contrast to these values, the Senate resolution lets students drop courses with no grade consequence, creates a mismatch between educational behaviors and outcomes, and tells students that they are investing in grades more than they are investing in being educated liberally.

Students will also be affected negatively by the Senate resolution for the following reasons:
1. In a class with a group project, a student who drops a course in which he/she is performing below his/her expectations (though not necessarily failing) will harm his/her remaining group members who will have to pick up the pieces. Lowered morale also is a likely student outcome in this situation.

2. The value of a degree from Miami will decrease as employers and other schools question legitimately how to interpret students’ class performance. Senate members have acknowledged that graduate/professional schools may recalculate students’ GPAs when their representatives see these "W+" grades, taking away the supposed GPA benefit and calling Miami’s credibility into question.

3. There will be increased pressure, in subsequent semesters (especially on those departments with high demand), for courses when students re-take classes in which they received a "W+" grade. Other students may have greater difficulty obtaining needed courses.

Finally, faculty members will be affected adversely by the Senate resolution for the following reasons:

1. The resolution does not reflect the wishes of the faculty. The referendum vote to repeal the resolution was 185-87. Unfortunately, 25 percent of the faculty had to vote to repeal the resolution to achieve that goal (192 such votes were needed), so it was upheld (not by faculty preference, but by inaction by 65 percent of the faculty). Most faculty members (and anyone with knowledge of sampling and probability can attest to this claim) at Miami do not want the Senate resolution to be implemented.

2. The impact on faculty members when students drop their courses with no grade consequence will, in my opinion, be demoralizing. Multiple values, ranging from fairness to responsibility/accountability to learning (as opposed to consumerism) will be violated.

3. The Senate resolution represents a poor compromise which evolved from a handful of faculty members who were concerned that their colleagues were not assigning WP/WF grades in a consistent or equitable manner. Ironically, faculty members will still be pressured to assign "grades" in a manner that lacks consistency and fairness under the Senate resolution. For instance, a student might attempt to persuade a faculty member to "please give me a WC rather than a WD since it does not count anyway." One faculty member might grant this request, while another faculty member might not.

In light of these concerns, I am requesting that you take whatever actions you believe are appropriate to produce meaningful discussion of this important issue and produce an outcome that is consistent with Miami University’s mission and reputation for quality and rigor.

Sincerely,

Larry Nadler
professor, communication

Date Published: 10/11/2001
Volume: 21   Number: 11

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