Photo credit: thebarrowboy via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Should College Students Be Able to Grade Themselves? One Professor Thinks So…


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

In a recent Liberty Minute entitled “I Deserve an A,” Helen Krieble talks about a college professor’s decision to let his students choose their own grades this fall semester:

A student in Georgia complained that tests and grades were stressful, so the professor adopted a new “stress-reduction” policy: Students who feel stressed about tests can decide their own grades. If they feel any stress, they’re welcome to leave without explanation and with no effect on their grade. A stress-free environment may sound good, but life is not stress-free.

A look through the lens of liberty reveals the vital importance of stress and risk and how to handle them. Our American system limits the power of government because we believe ordinary people can govern themselves, but they cannot do so unless they learn how to take responsibility for their own actions.

If you want a stress-free life, you need a binkie and a stroller and someone else deciding where you go.

It seems absurd — a college professor letting failing students determine their own passing grade — but that’s exactly what Univeristy of Georgia Professor Richard Watson was planning on letting students in two of his fall business classes do.

To begin with, all of Watson’s tests were to be open book, open notes, and open laptops. He also admitted that he designs his tests so that the majority of students can complete them in half of their allotted time and only expects them to achieve a “low level mastery of the course material.”

Despite these incredibly lax testing standards, Watson explained in his syllabus that he would still let his students choose their own grades because “emotional reactions to stressful situations can have profound consequences for all involved.” Students desiring a higher grade are simply requested that they wait 24 hours after the test before emailing Watson their choice for their grade. No explanation is required.

Additionally, Watson would allow any student who feels stressed while working on a group project to leave the meeting whenever they want and discontinue working with the group. Watson would then base their grade entirely on non-group work.

CSC Media Group first reported on Watson’s “stress-reduction policy” calling it a “stunning but not-to-surprising [sic] example of the deteriorating quality of education and discipline in America’s universities.” Shortly after news broke of Watson’s ridiculous policy, Terry College of Business Dean Benjamin Ayers released a statement criticizing Watson’s policy for being “an ill-advised proposal” and Watson was forced to edit his syllabus.

Ayers was wise in ending Watson’s policy. Had it been allowed to go into effect, the students would have learned very little about the course material and absolutely nothing about responsibility. And even if any students chose to study for the tests, which would have been highly unlikely, they would have received the same grade as those who did not study at all and failed the test but still requested an ‘A.’ Everyone would get the same grade, much like a participation award. However, since students could decide not to participate in group projects, this participation award would not even require participation.

Watson’s policy represents a concerning trend of college professors and faculty treating students as toddlers, rather than adults. From canceling classes to allow students to cope with election results, to giving students “safe spaces” where they supposedly won’t have to encounter anyone with whom they disagree, Watson’s policy of letting students choose their own grades is just the latest example of colleges not preparing students well for the “real world” after graduation. Imagine the quality of work one of Watson’s former students would perform for his employer if he expects to be able to “choose” how good his boss says his work is.

Although to struggling college students Watson’s policy might seem like a dream come true, in reality it would not benefit them and would only foster laziness and irresponsibility. Professors need to treat students like adults, and if students are too immature to accept the responsibilities and stress that comes with being adults, then maybe they should follow Krieble’s suggestion and climb back into their strollers.

Photo credit: thebarrowboy via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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