Late on Friday afternoon, I got a phone call from one of my students. Let's call him George. The conversation began with a compliment. "Thanks Prof. S for the great semester," followed by an interesting bit of autobiography. "I am a liberal arts major, but I am going to medical school next year." So far, so good.
But then the ask. What follows was appalling.
"I'm calling because I'm one tenth of a point away from graduating Magna Cum Laude. You gave me an A- in your course and if you change the grade to A, I'll graduate with high honors." George's exams and final paper were graded by one of my highly competent (and probably exceedingly generous) TAs. It's possible (but not probable) that his grade was unjust. In any case, George did not claim that he had been treated unfairly. In this respect, at least, he was honest. In all of my years of teaching, I have only modified a TA's grade once, when the student presented me with unassailable evidence that her TA had a personal beef with her and, as a result, had given her an unwarranted grade.
Back to George: I was probably too soft on the kid. Rather than berating him for last-minute grade grubbing, or going to the registrar and lowering his grade for impudence, I gave him my conventional line on grade changes, namely that if he wants me to reconsider a grade, he needs to offer me an intellectual rationale, put it in writing, and take the risk that I might be a harsher grader than my teaching assistant. I haven't heard from him since. I'm sure that he went on in his search for the weakest link. I hope he didn't succeed.
Were it not for the Buckley Amendment, which protects students' privacy, I would have shouted his name from the rooftops and through the blogosphere from sea to shining sea. Instead, to you George, I wish you a most unhappy graduation. I hope that someday your cheating catches up to you. May you struggle mightily through your medical school courses (which are graded on a curve with little recourse for aggrieved grade grubbers). Should you graduate and pass your board certifications without cheating, may you find a medical position that doesn't require contact with patients, but if so, may your practice be marred by countless, costly, time-wasting malpractice suits. Good bye.