“If you haven’t had Professor N., you haven’t experienced true hell,” Ashley, an animal science senior who wishes her last name to remain anonymous said. “This guy is a real dick. Not only is he an egomaniac, but he is blind to students’ concerns with extremely unrealistic expectations.”

Throughout most of the history of higher education, colleges have neglected to care what students thought of their teachers’ performances. The Puritan ministers who instructed students in America’s first colleges never asked, or cared, if they were approachable enough.

Times have changed. With student evaluations, both in class and on the Internet, via Web sites such as, students now have the ability to directly grade their professors. But how much should customer satisfaction affect education?

In general, Cal Poly is continuously committed to upholding a community designed to promote educational goals, according to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Web site.

It is the instructor’s responsibility to provide a classroom conducive to learning for all students, Adrienne Miller, coordinator of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, said.

The most common forms of infractions and problems for student academic rights involve grades, plagiarism and meeting graduation requirements on time.

Ashley is usually a straight-A student. Throughout her academic career she has been satisfied with her professors. However, she still clearly remembers her worst academic experience during her freshmen year of college, in which she received a C.

“My teacher curved grades. This sounds great, but he did not curve each individual test, rather the entire class, so I had absolutely no idea what I was getting in the class until the very end,” she said.

On most of her tests, she scored somewhere in the middle of the class averages, which ranged between 56 and 66 percent.

“I wasn’t upset because I got a C,” she said. “But because for me as a student, I didn’t miss one lecture, took careful notes, and read all of the material for tests. To put in the time and the effort and still end up unsatisfied was the worst.”

For a general education class, the structure of the course tests was also aggravating to her.

“The tests were completely multiple choice, 50 questions on each. Most of the questions had five or six answers, and the choices ranged from ‘all of these,’ ‘none of these’ or, just to throw you off, ‘two of these,’ so you really needed to know every single detail about everything that was covered.”

When dealing with problems similar to Ashley’s, issues with grades should first be discussed directly with your professor.

If a dispute escalates, it is brought to the attention of the department chair, then the dean’s office and ultimately the Fairness Board. The Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs has the last say, informing the Fairness Board on what action, if any, has been taken.

The Fairness Board was established to hear grievances of students who believe their academic rights have been denied or violated, according to the Policies on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals.

The Board is comprised of one tenured or tenure-track faculty member from each college and one tenured or tenure-track member from Student Affairs, all appointed by the chair of the Academic Senate for two-year terms. Two student members are also selected by Associated Students Inc., the Fairness Board Web site states. The Board hears appeals based on the belief that the instructor has made a mistake, shown bad faith or incompetence or been unfair, according to theWeb site.

David Conn, Vice Provost for Academic Programs, leads the Academic Programs Office, whose mission it is to improve academics. With the Fairness Board, the presumption is that the faculty member is correct. The burden of proof is on the student, Conn said.

In order for a dispute to have merit when it reaches the Fairness Board, it has to be more than hearsay. It is up to the student to demonstrate, with witnesses and a testament, that he or she was treated unfairly.

Sometimes professors re-examine their grade books and see if there are errors, Debra Valencia-Laver, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts, said.

“Academic disputes don’t often reach the Fairness Board,” Valencia-Laver said. “Maybe three or four times a quarter.”

Many students come into school with the mindset that they’ve worked hard and deserve the highest mark. To most, an A is meeting the standard requirements, not a C.

“It’s not necessarily, ‘Did you get the grade you deserve,’” said Valencia-Laver.

Academic Dishonesty
It’s as easy as copy, paste and print. With universal access to the Internet, increased stress and expectations, student plagiarism and cheating raise questions of academic integrity.

Learning to think and work independently is part of the educational process, according to the Policies on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals.

As a student, you are responsible for the work you turn in. However, plagiarism isn’t a black and white issue. The main problem students have with plagiarism is that they don’t know how to correctly cite their sources, Miller said.

“When people copy, cut and paste, make sure to copy the URL with the citation,” she said. “It’s like getting information from a book. You would remember the name of the book, like you should remember the URL of a Web site.”

Cal Poly’s policy with cheating and plagiarism requires students receive an “F” course grade and be prevented from further attending the course.

The instructor is obligated to place evidence of the cheating in writing before the Vice President of Student Affairs with copies to the department head of the student’s major. The Vice President of Student Affairs determines if any disciplinary action is required in addition to the failing grade. Examples of additional disciplinary actions include required counseling, special assignments and loss of membership in organizations.

The main problem students have with plagiarism is that they don’t know how to correctly cite their sources, Miller said. There are unique situations that she has dealt with regarding plagiarism of a student’s own work.

“You can actually plagiarize yourself if you turn in the same work for two classes,” she said.

To combat this, you can ask the professor if you can use the same research, even if the focus is a little different Valencia-Laver advised.

More and more students are going through the graduation ceremony only to realize later that they haven’t actually graduated.

Wendy Spradlin, academic advisor for the College of Liberal Arts, calls this the “so sorry letter.” The main problem, she says, is that students must realize that they have to do a graduation check at least four quarters in advance, no exceptions.

“If you are graduating in fall of 2010, in fall of 2009, you must fill out your graduation requirement,” Spradlin said.

Problems that commonly arise involve community college transcripts and advance placement classes not transferring over. Often, if you put in your graduation request too late, even by a quarter, the evaluations office doesn’t have time to complete your request.

To stay up to date, you can track your graduation progress using your poly profile on the my.calpoly Web site, Spradlin said. Communication is key to avoiding academic disputes.

“The main thing is people want students to succeed but that level of responsibility comes with students putting forth their best work, something they were thoughtful about,” Valencia-Laver said.

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