Professors unwilling to give easy A#039;s

by Beacon Staff • March 18, 2009

Students may have low expectations for what kind of work will get them A's in classes, according to a recent study from the University of California-Irvine.

The study found college students tend to expect higher grades in classes than professors feel their work merits.

A third of students surveyed said they expected B's for attending lectures, and four out of 10 said they deserved B's for completing required reading. Emerson conducted its own study as well, which found that approximately half of grades given in the 2006-2007 school year were A's.

At Emerson, one student went as far as filing a discrimination charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination after receiving a C+ in a class.

The student claimed she was given the low grade for being Canadian, according to a spokeswomen for MCAD.

Cases like this arise, Emerson students interviewed for this story said, because students feel entitled to decent grades for functioning in a collegiate environment.

Cosmo Bjorkenheim, a sophomore film major, said she believes professors should weigh the amount of effort they see a student expends when calculating course grades.

"If you do all of your work and contribute 110 percent, I think you should at least get a B- for what you've done," Bjorkenheim said.

Mike Brown, an assistant professor in the journalism department, said in an e-mail that he has encountered students who think the most basic effort should merit an A, an idea that they are sadly mistaken in his classes.

"Learning is based on working hard. Working hard is the basic expectation for learning in college, " Brown said.

However, some students agree with Bjorkenheim that grading can be unfair because it does not take into account how much effort a student puts into a course, even if that effort does not result in what a professor considers to be A-level material.

Chair of the writing, literature and publishing department Daniel Tobin disagrees.

"Effort is significant and should be considered, but might not translate into the grade they [students] want," Tobin said, adding that performance on assignments will ultimately determine grades, and not simply effort alone.

Junior political communication major Collin Gately suggested that having a good relationship with professors may help students have a more realistic expectation of their grade, and prevent any unhappy surprises at the end of the semester.

"Most of my professors haven't been easy, but their expectations [for student performance] have been pretty clear at the beginning," he said.

Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, an assistant professor in the performing arts department, has not encountered students who seem to feel entitled to better grades during her time at Emerson.

As a theater education professor, Schroeder-Arce said she primarily works with upperclassmen who are invested in their classes and interested in their course material.

"I have high expectations and my students generally rise to them," she said.

Schroeder-Arce suggested that since Emerson students are often involved in specialty classes directly relevant to the careers they plan on pursuing, they are more likely to be truly committed to classes and less likely to fall victim to false senses of entitlement.

On the flip side of the issue, interim chair of the journalism department Janet Kolodzy said one argument among the administration is in fact whether too many students are actually receiving A's, after Emerson's Task Force on Quality Baccalaureate Education released it's "Report on Baccalaureate Excellence at Emerson College" in January.

The report showed 49.8% of grades given by the college in the 2006-2007 academic year were A's. The Faculty Assembly is scheduled to discuss the task force report further when they meet on March 24.

"Our students should be better than average," Kolodzy said. "We need to set high expectations and have standards."