Yes, a UGA professor did post policy that allowed students to set own grades to ease stress

A UGA professor’s grading policy designed to relieve stress has created a lot of stress for the university after it went viral today.

I have to admit that I did not believe it when I read last night that University of Georgia professor Richard Watson, a respected researcher in the business school, was going to allow students to decide their own grades in an effort to ease their stress, especially after I hunted down student reviews that describe his classes as tough.

Yet, there was an online story that went viral after being picked up by the Drudge Report that quoted his syllabi for two courses as saying:

“if students feel “unduly stressed by a grade for any assessable material or the overall course,” they can “email the instructor indicating what grade [they] think is appropriate, and it will be so changed” with “no explanation” being required.

“If in a group meeting, you feel stressed by your group’s dynamics, you should leave the meeting immediately and need offer no explanation to the group members,” the policy adds, saying such students can “discontinue all further group work” with their remaining grade being “based totally on non-group work.”

“Tests and exams” will be “open book and open notes” and “designed to assess low level mastery of the course material” (This is not that unusual, as much of what is taught in advanced college classes transcends the book. I took “open book” tests in college and, believe me, those exams weren’t necessarily easier.)

The online accounts lacked any verification from either the professor or UGA so I waited to report on the issue until UGA confirmed this morning these were Watson’s “actual words.” I was about 97 percent certain the story was based on a misunderstanding or misreading so I wanted to talk to UGA before I wrote anything.

Turns out I was way wrong. They were Watson’s actual words.

UGA shared this statement this morning: “The professor has removed this language from the syllabus. In addition, the University of Georgia applies very high standards in its curricular delivery, including a university-wide policy that mandates all faculty employ a grading system based on transparent and pre-defined coursework.”

I pressed UGA for a more detailed explanation as the whole thing still doesn’t make sense to me and received this statement around 1 p.m. from Benjamin C. Ayers, Terry College of Business Dean and Earl Davis Chair in Taxation:

I want to assure you that the University of Georgia and the Terry College of Business remain steadfastly committed to academic excellence in the classroom and maintaining the highest standards of academic rigor in our undergraduate and graduate programs.

A recent online report published a syllabus that a Terry College of Business professor had placed on his website. The syllabus stated that his grading policy would allow students inappropriate input into the assignment of their own grades. I want you to know that the syllabus did not conform with the University’s rigorous expectations and policy regarding academic standards for grading. I have explained this discrepancy to the professor, and he has removed the statement from his syllabus. Rest assured that this ill-advised proposal will not be implemented in any Terry classroom.

The University of Georgia upholds strict guidelines and academic policies to promote a culture of academic rigor, integrity and honesty. These are core values of the institution.

I still am surprised. Why would a professor noted for his strict attendance policies retreat on grades? Watson is the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy. His bio states:

The University of Georgia has been very supportive of my academic career, and I have published over 180 articles in leading academic and practitioner journals, written or edited more than 10 books (including a data management text book and the first book on Energy Informatics). I have served as a senior editor for MIS Quarterly and was co-conference chair for International Conference on Information Systems 2004 and Americas Conference on Information Systems 2014. I have been President of the Association for Information Systems. My current research interests are ecological sustainability, energy informatics, and information systems leadership.

I am trying to talk to Watson today to clarify his motivations and rationale. Some folks are suggesting the University of Georgia professor’s “stress reduction” policies were satire in the Jonathan Swift tradition — a professor has to keep students calm now that they could be armed in class with the new campus carry law.

So why UGA wouldn’t just tell us this or let the professor do so?

Here is my theory: His so-called stress reduction policies — which may be farce — set off all the people who believe universities are liberal hothouses turning out adults incapable of crossing the street alone.
UGA is having enough problems dealing with those folks and perhaps did not want to trigger the Second Amendment crowd. (I wrote gun editorials for 11 years. That is a fervent group.)

I am warming to this theory. I still do not believe those policies were in earnest given all that I have learned about Dr. Watson.

I also want to share this response from a reader,  who says this happens elsewhere:

I don’t think what the UGA professor is doing is quite as unusual or unheard of as you suggest. There’s a ton of research that says that focus on grades rather than learning produces poor outcomes, and there are entire private high schools and colleges (Commonwealth and Hampshire in Massachusetts) that – for this reason – avoid letter grades entirely and rely on professors written student evaluations. At my Ivy league university one of the most respected history professors told students at the beginning of class that they would all receive an A, and students in that class worked incredibly hard and learned a lot, but not out of fear of failing, because they wanted to learn and they were free to really dig into what interested them.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

69 comments
bicami
bicami

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Astropig
Astropig

"Here is my theory: His so-called stress reduction policies — which may be farce — set off all the people who believe universities are liberal hothouses turning out adults incapable of crossing the street alone."


Sharp readers will notice that the author is covering for the perpetrator (whom she admires) by turning the blame for such a stupid move back on people she despises.


He wrote this.Time for him to take the consequences.


This is why nobody trusts the media anymore.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I agree with the posts of rmalamud and BurringstonBroch:  this is a sarcastic response to the campus carry law just imposed on USG schools by our legislature, that a chaired Full Professor is allowing himself to voice just before he retires. Rereading Professor Watson's now-deleted message, I am struck by how often he mentions student "stress" to normal classroom situations. And he also voices the fear often expressed by professors who now face students who may be carrying guns. I wonder how many emails he's gotten from colleagues saying: Right on!




Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf


" I wonder how many emails he's gotten from colleagues saying: Right on!"


That's a good question.Maybe those colleagues that sent those emails could take a stroll over to an economics professors office and ask them how much a Terry degree will be worth in the business world if all the profs there start doing stuff like this and make UGA look like one of those scam, for-profit "business" "schools".Because this is the kind of stuff that they do.


What is a brand? Your brand is your reputation.This guy has tarnished the Terry brand.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

If the Professor intended his syllabus as sarcasm, let's hope for his student's sakes that he is a more competent instructor than social commentator.

I think it more likely he is preparing to retire and decided to do as he wanted, and damn the consequences. He has been at UGA for 28 years, is tenured, and appears to be 69 years old.

Astropig
Astropig

@BurroughstonBroch


Astrowife had this prof for a couple of classes when she went to Terry back in the 'aughts. I told her about this and sent her the story while she was on a business trip overseas.She told me that this surprised and disappointed her.There were several group projects involved in getting her MBA and she said that it's hard to overstate the importance of group functions as a tool to teach and mentor workers in the fine art of teamwork and coordination,especially in engineering.(Most engineering projects involve a pretty diverse team).


If this was intended as sarcasm or some kind or opaque or quasi-political statement,I'd just gently point out that when people look up to you and respect you,the expectations for your public persona are different.They're higher and more demanding.Fair or not,you can tarnish an image and reputation a lot faster and more completely than you can build one.


Just my thoughts.(Astrowife's,too)

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"Why would a professor noted for his strict attendance policies retreat on grades?"

It really sounds to me as though this professor wrote this in frustration to spoof the idiocy that seems to permeate college campuses nowadays.  Perhaps his superiors gave him a bad evaluation for "being tough" and this was his response.


"UGA is having enough problems dealing with those folks and perhaps did not want to trigger the Second Amendment crowd."

Leave it to Maureen to work in her anti-gun bias into a topic that had no relation to  campus carry.  And she calls the Second Amendment crowd a "fervent group".  I can imagine the tenor of Maureen's gun editorials that she wrote for 11 years.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney @Lee_CPA2 

Well, she did a whale of a job.Gun ownership,self defense training and concealed carry permits are skyrocketing,we now have Campus Carry in her baliwick and the fastest growing groups of gun owners are women and liberals (seriously).

I see an "employee of the month" in her future real soon.

Amber McCollum
Amber McCollum

Letter grades or not, learning needs to be assessed. If there were, as in the last paragraph's example, a different form of evaluation; that would have been on the syllabus. I keep thinking, and really hoping, it was a joke. I mean the part about leaving the group is the icing on the cake.

David Altamirano
David Altamirano

....I will cling to the idea that the news is false or he was making a statement. I ask that you let me keep my illusion if it is real.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

For the information of this reading audience, I had an English professor in a university in NYC in the 1960s who had no attendance requirement in order to pass his class.  Students simply had to pass the end of semester exam in order to receive credit for his course.  Since I was intent on "getting my money's worth," I did attend all of his classes, but most of the students did not. 


 I found the differences in educational criteria to insure intellectual growth of college level students remarkably different in NYC and in Georgia in the 1960s, half a century ago.  I had attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, New York University, and The City College of the City University of New York in the 1960s.


Both CCNY and NYU required a B+ or better overall high school average in order to be accepted to matriculate at each university.  NYU was/is a private university and CCNY was/is a public university.

redweather
redweather

Maybe professor Watson has a lot of football and basketball players signing up for his classes? Just a wild guess.

redweather
redweather

"At my Ivy league university one of the most respected history professors told students at the beginning of class that they would all receive an A, and students in that class worked incredibly hard and learned a lot, but not out of fear of failing, because they wanted to learn and they were free to really dig into what interested them."


Yeah, right. 

Rebekah Miller Setser
Rebekah Miller Setser

Honestly, to me, this seemed like it was dripping with sarcasm. Like every piece of it was satirical in response to an increase in fragility. I mean, surely he wasn't being serious??

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I am glad I received most of my higher education in New York City instead of in Georgia. I made the correct decision when I left Georgia in 1963 in order to grow intellectually, returning in 1970.

My life would have been over before Georgia catches up to the intellectual concepts I learned in the 1960s in NYC. It is amazing what repression will do to stifle the expansion of thought.

altAJC2
altAJC2

Jeez. UGA parents can hope employers somehow didn't notice the media story. Or that they confuse UGA with ... 

Pathetically comic Evergreen State College?

liberal4life
liberal4life

Grades do get in the way of learning. Grades don't always (more often?) tell students' level of understanding.

Babycat
Babycat

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

More response from the University of Georgia to a business professor's online policies, now since removed, on reducing stressors in his classes by easing grading and class work rules. This was released just now by Benjamin C. Ayers, Terry College of Business | Dean and Earl Davis Chair in Taxation:


I want to assure you that the University of Georgia and the Terry College of Business remain steadfastly committed to academic excellence in the classroom and maintaining the highest standards of academic rigor in our undergraduate and graduate programs.

A recent online report published a syllabus that a Terry College of Business professor had placed on his website. The syllabus stated that his grading policy would allow students inappropriate input into the assignment of their own grades. I want you to know that the syllabus did not conform with the University’s rigorous expectations and policy regarding academic standards for grading. I have explained this discrepancy to the professor, and he has removed the statement from his syllabus. Rest assured that this ill-advised proposal will not be implemented in any Terry classroom.

The University of Georgia upholds strict guidelines and academic policies to promote a culture of academic rigor, integrity and honesty. These are core values of the institution.

rmalamud
rmalamud

I wonder if he meant this as a (subtle) response to Campus Carry.  Profs are trying to reduce "triggers" (such as stress, conflict) for gun-toting lunatics in their classrooms.  It has the flavor of a Jonathan Swift satire . . 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@rmalamud


That is quite a reach.  I doubt it.  Professor Watson's ideas regarding grading are not unique to him, nor to this decade, nor to this state.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@rmalamud Did not see your comment before I just posted that this could well be a satirical response to campus carry. That may explain UGA's mirthless response. 

Moreofthesame
Moreofthesame

My high school senior constantly tells me doesn't learn much, and that's its all about the grades.  She can't wait to finish high school.  And this is a kid, when I walked into her room this summer was reading up on nuclear fusion in the sun.  She loves learning, HATES high school

Outspoken Mom
Outspoken Mom

@Moreofthesame If we got rid of the Milestones, which counts for 20% of her grade in high school, and gave the classrooms back to the teachers to TEACH (and not to the invalid and unreliable test that they never see) she would probably love school again. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

I just added this comment to the blog, but wanted to share it here as I think there is a lot of focus on grades, especially in Georgia where students are desperate to hold onto HOPE:


Here is the comment:


I don't think what the UGA professor is doing is quite as unusual or unheard of as you suggest. There's a ton of research that says that focus on grades rather than learning produces poor outcomes, and there are entire private high schools and colleges (Commonwealth and Hampshire in Massachusetts) that - for this reason - avoid letter grades entirely and rely on professors written student evaluations. At my Ivy League university one of the most respected history professors told students at the beginning of class that they would all receive an A, and students in that class worked incredibly hard and learned a lot, but not out of fear of failing, because they wanted to learn and they were free to really dig into what interested them.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MaureenDowney


I love it when professors are courageous enough to explore genuine originality in their thinking, instead of simply playing it safe with "acceptable" norms of thought.  Most who have taken graduate level courses have learned from their academic experiences that the seeking of grades hinders higher levels of thought and hinders exploration of thought beyond that of given, "acceptable" norms. 


Bravo to this courageous professor, Professor Watson.  I once had a principal who experimented with allowing his teachers to set their own yearly evaluations.  The purpose?  Minimize fear and set free creativity in the classroom.

Babycat
Babycat

@MaureenDowney I get that but where is the command of the material.  Don't think I would want an accountant handling my books if they don't fully understand the subject!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @MaureenDowney


Yes, teachers should be evaluated.  Yes, teachers should know the subject matter they teach.


I do not think simply in dichotomies.  This is a complex matter that could use some degree of experimentation, along with the stability of traditional mores of evaluation of teachers.  That which does not progress will regress.  Seldom does anything remain static.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @MaureenDowney


Some are; some are not.  We must teach to individual needs just as we must assess schools on an individual basis analyzing the particular factors involved in the dynamics of a specific school, and of a specific student, and of a specific teacher.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @MaureenDowney  Starik, aren't you really writing about K-12 schools? This isn't relevant to colleges and Universities, especially UGA. In colleges and universities, all teachers are evaluated by their students, every term.  And of course, college professors know the subjects they're teaching.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaureenDowney

"At my Ivy League university one of the most respected history professors told students at the beginning of class that they would all receive an A, ...."

So.  You have two resume's.  One from a candidate that attended the school above.  One from a candidate that attended a school that gave "real grades".  Both candidates had 4.0 gpa's.  Which would you hire?