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This Professor Gets A Zero On Being Reasonable

, , , | Learning | May 15, 2020

During my junior year of college, I have a class taught by a professor who is pretty much universally hated because of his petty, super-strict grading policy. If you don’t write EXACTLY what he expects you to write — literally down to the letter — your answer is wrong. For example, if he expects you to write, “Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,” and you write, “Gettysburg, PA,” he marks it as a wrong answer.

After our midterm exam, the professor hands out our graded exams and asks if anyone has any questions about their grade.

Student #1: “You marked me as zero percent, even though I know I got these answers right.”

Professor: “Well, I suspect you cheated somehow, and per my syllabus and the school’s policies, any cheating is an automatic zero.”

Student #1: “But I didn’t cheat! How can you even say that?”

Professor: “I’ve told all of you before that the highest grade any student has ever received on this midterm is eighty percent, and the average is usually only sixty-five or seventy percent. You got a ninety-eight. That’s too high, and the only way you could have gotten it is by cheating.”

We all defend [Student #1] because, despite what the professor said, most of us were able to score in the eighties. It wasn’t a particularly difficult test at all; he just made it impossible to do better because of his strict grading.

Professor: “Enough of this! [Student #1], I could be reporting you to the [department] dean on suspicion of cheating. I felt that a zero score would be sufficient punishment, but if it’s not, I will be reporting you. Moving on.”

After class, a few of us who had extra time, including [Student #1], went to the department dean’s office to ask him what we could do about the situation. The dean offered to grade [Student #1]’s exam himself and said that, based on his grading, the ninety-eight percent was entirely accurate. He agreed to speak to the professor about it.

While we don’t know what happened in their discussion, the professor’s grading became much more lenient for the rest of the semester, though many students suspected that the dean had actually taken over grading the exams instead of trusting the professor to do his own grading. 

At the end of the semester, it was announced that the professor would be taking an indefinite sabbatical. To my knowledge, he has not yet returned to the school, and it’s been five years since then.

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