For students who are unsatisfied with their final grades, Georgetown offers a more productive alternative to writing an angry post on RateMyProfessors.com.
The university’s grade appeal system allows students to dispute a questionable grade within 30 calendar days of the first semester after the grade was assigned.
To appeal a grade, a student must first reach out to his professor to check for miscalculations. If the issue is not resolved after this initial conversation, a student can make a formal appeal by sending a letter to the chair of the professor’s department explaining the discrepancy. If the department chair is unable to resolve the issue informally between the professor and the student, the chair, at the request of the student, can create an appeals committee of three faculty members who make a final decision.
“Normally, [the chair] appoints a committee of professors competent in the field who may have taught the same course [and] certainly know how to make an adjudication as to whether this was a fair grade,” Dean of the College Chester Gillis said.
The dean only becomes a part of the process if the department chair does not report the committee’s decision within 74 days after the start of the following semester.
Chair of the department of philosophy Wayne Davis said the committee step ensures the appeal process remains unbiased.
“When you have a committee, it is a group of faculty members that review the students’ work,” Davis said. “Committee review is a generally accepted way of resolving issues because they have general impartiality.”
But Michael Nemirovsky (COL ’15), who attempted to appeal a theology grade last year, said that the design of the appeals process makes it difficult for students to prove their case.
“Throughout the process I felt like I was being continuously discouraged,” he said. “It would most likely be impossible [to win the appeal] just because of the way the appeal process was structured.”
Although Gillis declined to comment on the number of grades that are appealed every year, he said that most grades ultimately remain unchanged.
“In the cases I had, they upheld the professor’s judgment every time,” he said.
According to Georgetown’s Undergraduate Bulletin for the 2012-2013 academic year, which addresses the grading policies for all undergraduate students regardless of the school, grading errors can serve as the basis for an appeal, but most claims focus on syllabus content.
“The [university] gives a fairly strict definition of the process for a grade appeal,” Steven Singer, chair of the biology department, said. “The grounds for an appeal [are] that the professor is not following the terms of the syllabus as opposed to the professor [marking] a question wrong that [the student] knows is right.”
Nancy Hinojos (SFS ’15), a student who is currently appealing a grade in the department of theology, based her appeal on a syllabus’ failure to describe the grading policy thoroughly.
“There was a lot of ambiguity in the syllabus in terms of how we were going to be graded,” Hinojos said. “It was very unclear as to how our grades would be distributed in terms of assignments, what we did in class, the weight, the type of distribution and the point system we were going to be graded on.”
Students who appeal grades must prove that a professor did not grade according to the syllabus, but this can be a difficult feat when a professor’s syllabus is sparse or unclear.
Nemirovsky had similar problems.
“The only basis you can appeal a grade on is when [you can say], ‘My teacher said I will be graded this way, and yet my grade was calculated a different way,’” Nemirovsky said. “[Those are] the only grounds you can appeal it on. If that’s not your problem, then you’re out of luck.”
According to Davis, the process is designed to compel students and professors to hash out their disagreements in person.
“It requires the student and faculty member to talk and get a resolution, which is good, since that interaction is really where the conflict should be resolved,” Davis said.
But Hinojos expressed frustration with the fact that formal appeals are emailed to department chairs, not presented in person.
“It’s so impersonal, and the whole discussion is really done virtually through the [appeal] letter,” Hinojos said. “I think it would be a lot more effective if all of us sat down and talked about it.”
Despite their criticisms, both Hinojos and Nemirovsky said they are glad the university offers the appeal process as an option.
“The process was very clearly sketched out,” Nemirovsky said. “There really are no surprises if you read the handbook and look at the process. It’s exactly what it says it’s going to be.”
Hinojos echoed Nemirovsky.
“I like how you get another shot for other people to look at it,” Hinojos said. “When you have more people thinking about it and looking at it with different perspectives, there’s a little more fairness.”