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Navigating A Grade Dispute In College

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Hey everyone, Brennan here,

There's many experiences and situations that happen at colleges and universities that don't come with a standard "play book."

Some examples of these situations can be:

  1. Grade disputes

  2. Conflicts with faculty and staff

  3. Conflicts with peers

  4. Ideological/Political discrimination

  5. Sexual assault

  6. Disciplinary cases

In today's lesson, we will cover grade disputes. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I am not giving legal advice. This is just one perspective and you can take whatever course of action that you want to take.

What is a grade dispute?

A grade dispute occurs when a student disagrees with a grade given for an assignment. We know that the professor is the one who gave this grade, and usually there are notes accompanying why the professor gave that grade. If you aren't certain if you want to contest a grade here's a few questions to ask yourself: Are professor's always correct? Nope. Can a professor have bias? Yep. Can a professor make a mistake? Yes. If you know you deserved a higher grade, there is nothing wrong with asking for an increase.

Here's our suggested process for requesting a grade change for an assignment:

1a.) If there were no notes on your assignment:

- Email your professor asking for their reasoning behind giving you that grade.

1b.) If there were notes:

- Find the areas that you disagree with. Take note of exactly what you did correctly, which they marked you down for. Make your arguments. If you think that you used the class terminology correctly, then say that. If you think your sentence structure was acceptable, then say that.

2.) Professor's response:

- Your professor should respond within a few days (if there aren't vacations). If they don't respond, then send them another email on the same email chain in 5 days.

- Your professor will have 3 types of responses:

  1. They will agree with you on your arguments and agree to change the grade.

  2. They will disagree with you and make counter arguments.

  3. They will forward you immediately to the Chair of the Department.

Depending how stubborn you are, you might want to give up if you get an "Option 2" from your professor. If this will make or break your grade and GPA, then you might want to persist.

If you get an "Response #1"

- Thank your professor. If they agree to work with you/negotiate, they are probably humble and a gem.

If you get an "Response #2"

- Send another email and request that they forward the situation to the "Department Chair." You can make counter arguments in this email.

- They will either hold their ground on their previous notes which they wrote on the assignment or they will present new arguments.

If you get an "Response #3"

- This is a good option, and it will get here eventually if you get a "2" situation.

3.) Department Chair Communication:

- The department chair will review previous emails (why it's important to do this by email) and will respond to you with a confirmation or deny.

- If the Department Chair denies the grade change, then request the "Dean" to review the request.

- At this point you can most likely be allowed to appeal to the Ombudsman Office if you don't want to spend time "climbing the ladder."

4.) Dean Communication:

- The Dean will be the highest authority you can go before needing to go to the Ombudsman (at most schools in California) to appeal.

- The Dean is friends with the Chair and the faculty, so the Dean will be VERY unlikely to overrule a lower decision. Overruling a decision would likely be seen as being disrespectful to the faculty and Chair (we're talking pack behavior here folks), and unless they're a total beauty, will likely confirm the lower decision.

5.) Ombudsman:

- The Ombudsman Office will do a formal mediation process, they usually want to see that you have contacted multiple different authorities about the appeal.

- Ombudsman are regulated by a national organization, so their procedures will be similar.

- At San Diego State University for example, they will have a mediation period and then take the appeal to a board to determine the outcome.

One more time to clarify:

  1. Explain to professor why grade should be higher

  2. Appeal to Department Chair

  3. Appeal to Dean

  4. Appeal to Ombudsman Office

  5. Request a board to determine the case

Here is the page for San Diego State University where you search departments.

Here is the link for the overall directory search at SDSU.

- Type your department (biology, chemistry, math, etc.)

- Click the link and go to their page

- Look for "contact" and you will find the Chair's contact info

If you need advising for specific cases, please call me at 619-797-6050. I give free consultations. Check us out:

Thank you for reading champions,

Brennan C. Pearson

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