Headliners: Jan. 10-14

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U of A prof fights admin on flunking students

Tannara Yelland — CUP Prairies & Northern Bureau Chief

SASKATOON (CUP) — Mikhail Kovalyov has seen the sometimes-unpleasant effect of standing up for his students.

The University of Alberta professor has been asked to retire early after a conflict with university administration regarding what he sees as the arbitrary grading process at the U of A.

“I tried to reason with the department,” Kovalyov said, “but there was no reasoning.”

The trouble began in 2004, when the university instituted a new grading policy. The policy has a recommended grade distribution and sets a mean grade of B-, or 2.62 on the four-point scale used at the U of A. Kovalyov says he has done his best to hew to this policy since its adoption.

“In the past several years, however,” Kovalyov wrote in a letter to media outlets, “practically every semester after I handed in grades, I received an email from [math department Faculty Service Officer] Dr. McNeilly ‘suggesting’ that I lower the grades assigned and fail more students.”

Kovalyov says he has balked at the suggestion as it goes against both the university’s grading policy and the grading policy he announces to his students at the beginning of each term.

“Since I announced each term my policy of adhering to the [university’s] suggested grade distribution, it was my obligation to do so.”

Several years of conflict between Kovalyov and the U of A math department ensued. Kovalyov says that in 2009 McNeilly told him that instead of aiming for the grading policy’s suggested mean grade of 2.62, Kovalyov should try for a mean grade of 2.0 in each class.

Following this new instruction, Kovalyov handed in grades for a first-year calculus class that had an average of 2.1. He says he had made his final harder and had marked it more strictly in an effort to adhere to the grading requirements, and this had resulted in 17 students failing already.

“I then received an email that the grades I had assigned had been lowered even further,” Kovalyov said. “They were considerably lowered, to an average of 1.7, and many students failed who deserved to pass. The committee lowering the grades didn’t look at a single student’s exam.”

He sent out another email offering support to his students, and accompanied one student to his appeal. According to Kovalyov, that was the point when “all hell broke loose.” Kovalyov was suspended from teaching and offered an early retirement package, in effect an attempt to have him resign early.

U of A vice-provost Colleen Skidmore would not comment on any of the specifics of this case, citing the fact that it is a faculty issue and, as such, is confidential.

She did say that “a professor’s final marks are unofficial until they’ve been approved by a faculty council,” which is often delegated to the dean of a college.

(Originally appeared on the newswire Jan. 7 — but we love a prof standing up for students.)


Plagiarism outbreak at King’s causes campus backlash

Katrina Pyne — The Dalhousie Gazette (Dalhousie University)

HALIFAX (CUP) — A recent plagiarism outbreak at the University of King’s College has faculty more worried about the reaction than the plagiarism itself.

In early December, seven students in the King’s Foundation Year Program were accused of plagiarizing on an essay due two days after their mid-term evaluations.

Peggy Heller is the director of FYP, a comprehensive program attended by all first-year King’s students. She says she was appalled to hear the comments of students and faculty members who wanted to see the students expelled even before the disciplinary hearings.

Heller said that because word spread so quickly through the media, it made it hard for the university to deal with the situation properly.

“It’s not fair to the students,” she said.

There has been backlash from both the academic community and the media on the way King’s has chosen to deal with the issue. Some students have felt that the university was too lenient on the seven accused students.

However, Heller says that they treated it as any other first plagiarism offence.

“We would never expel someone for a first offence unless maybe they were running a plagiarism ring.”

For both Dalhousie University and King’s, the hearings for first time offences have an educational value to them. Every offence is treated on an individual basis involving the academic integrity officer working closely with the student and instructor.

King’s currently does not require students to submit to Turnitin.com, a company that detects plagiarism electronically by comparing student work against their database. Heller says that they are considering using Turnitin.com as a tool in the future.

“I’m sure just having Turnitin.com as an option would discourage students from plagiarism, but the idea of putting students through a security checkpoint is humiliating,” said Heller.

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