Plus/minus system awaits finalization

Because of student opposition, faculty and staff are unsure of when the proposed plus/minus grading system will go into effect, said a Faculty Senate member.Andrew Fort, past chairman and member of the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee, said the issue has not been finalized because of the negative student reaction.

David Grant, a religion professor who first presented the proposal, said the system was supposed to go into effect next fall but will probably be implemented later on next year.

Grant said students have misconceptions about how much the grading system will affect them.

“There seems to be this impression that students will lose their scholarships, or that it will be more difficult to get into graduate school,” Grant said. “But I don’t think it’s going to affect students as much as they think it will.”

Grant said 80 percent of the top 120 schools as ranked by U.S. News and World Report use the plus/minus scale.

Suzy Lockwood, chair of the Faculty Senate and Executive Committee member, said the conflict is an opportunity for students and professors to work together.

“There are a variety of different things causing concern among students,” Lockwood said. “It’s not just this issue versus that issue.”

Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said listening to students’ opinions is the most important action professors can take now.

Donovan said professors are given the power to design their own curriculum and the plus/minus grading system would be an extension of that because professors would have the choice to grade on the plus/minus scale.

But Heather Santi, freshman communication and religion major, said she is not sure that would be a good idea.

“It could be a logistical nightmare if we have professors grading on different scales,” Santi said.

Jace Thompson, newly elected president of the Student Government Association, said he agreed.

“Students don’t understand how the plus/minus system will better represent them if faculty don’t use it across the board,” Thompson said.

Bob Neilson, chair of the Academic Excellence Committee, said the majority of students’ concerns are reasonable, but students do not understand the issue well enough.

He said the new grading system would only change grades for students who are on the borderline between letter grades.

“If students take the time to talk to professors individually about it, they will find very little will actually change,” Neilson said.

Fort echoed Neilson’s sentiments.

Fort said there wouldn’t be a huge shift in the grading system because professors already have the freedom to grade how they want.

“It will be an extension of a policy that is already in place,” Fort said. “To say professors have to grade plus/minus would be the same as forcing professors to give a curve. They already have a choice on how to grade students.”

But not all professors agree with the proposed plan.

David Bedford, a Spanish and Latin American studies professor, said he worries the system will punish those students who work hard to make 92s and 93s because they won’t get as much credit under plus/minus.

“I wonder how it will be fair to students,” Bedford said.

Still other professors say a 4.0 should be a more coveted goal, and the plus/minus grading system would make it just that.

“A 4.0 is not guaranteed, nor is it necessary, ” said Nadia Lahutsky, a religion professor.

But Thompson said students’ main concern is not the grades themselves but whether the grading system will be fair.

“This is the most talked about issue I’ve seen on campus,” said Thompson, a junior accounting and finance major.

Thompson said students aren’t necessarily opposed to changing the system, but they aren’t convinced the new one will be fair.

“Students are curious to see how this will work out,” Thompson said. “They’re afraid the grading won’t be consistent.”

Thompson said the debate threatens the relationship between students and staff.

“We all want TCU to be the best university, but we don’t want it at the expense of faculty and student relationships,” Thompson said.

Donovan said he agreed.

“What makes TCU is not football, not the buildings, but rather what we have going on inside the buildings – our students and professors,” Donovan said. “The worse thing we can do is break that.”

Lockwood said the Executive Committee plans to meet soon to discuss where to go next with the issue.