April 23, 2013

A-plus initiative fails to pass the Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate despite support from business school

By Simon Isham–

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SGA president-elect Carrie Mattingly presents the details of her A-plus initiative before the Faculty Senate. Mattingly has been developing the initiative since her freshman year.

For those who are hoping to receive a GPA boost from earning A-pluses, the future looks a little more bleak. The “A-plus initiative,” as it has come to be known, which is spearheaded by incoming Student Body President Carrie Mattingly, was dismissed by the Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate on April 19.

The initiative had some support from individual  faculty members, but it was clear from the vote that the proposal had failed to pass.

Before the meeting, Mattingly said that whatever the outcome, she would not be bringing the A-plus initiative back onto the slate next year.

Professor Brian Leung led the meeting as a proxy in place of Professor Tom Byers, the usual parliamentarian for the A & S Senate.

When the meeting began, Mattingly was invited to the podium to give a brief, but detailed, presentation of her initiative, which seeks to raise the quality-point value of an A-plus from the current value of 4.0 to a value of 4.3. An A-minus is valued at 3.7 quality points.

“There is no means by which a student can ever make up for the grade of an A-minus,” said Mattingly. “Even if that student is a 4.0 student or a straight-A student otherwise at many other institutions in the state, and several of our benchmark institutions.” Mattingly said that Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Morehead State University and Murray State University all operate on a ten-point scale with no pluses or minuses. Northern Kentucky University operates on a similar scale to U of L but does not recognize the grade of A-plus on student transcripts.

Part of Mattingly’s proposal is also to truncate GPA’s so that the cumulative number is not allowed to exceed 4.0, even with the 4.3 grade boost, as she believes that exceeding this limit would cause U of L students to be seen as less competitive when applying to graduate degree programs at other institutions.

“I don’t want you to think of it as punishing a student for an A-minus — an A-minus is actually a really great grade. But I also know that an A-plus is an even better grade,” said Mattingly.

As she told the Cardinal for our Feb. 6 issue, Mattingly maintains a 4.0 GPA.

Before the assembly was called to order, Dr. Natalie Polzer, professor of Jewish Studies, told the Cardinal that she believed that students who worked hard enough to achieve an A-plus ought to be rewarded for their efforts.

“It depends on how (professors) award A-pluses,” said Polzer. “I don’t give A-pluses to students who got that grade because of extra credit. It takes an outstanding student to deserve an A-plus. It doesn’t happen often in my classes, but it does happen.”

After Mattingly’s presentation concluded, however, Polzer was among the first to express her reservations about the details of the proposal.

“Just a point of information … The plurality of students receive A’s. More students receive A’s than any other grade, is that correct information?” Polzer asked.

“Yes, that is correct information,” Mattingly replied.

“That’s not the bell curve,” said Polzer, eliciting a few chuckles from around the room.

“When I taught classes at McGill (University in Montreal) of 500 to 1,000 students, you had a thing called the bell curve, and your grades were a B-minus average — that meant you had a normal curve — and all the other grades went this way or that way. That’s how I was trained, statistically, to plot out grades. Maybe the bell curve is different at U of L, I don’t know.

“I find it rather shocking that more students are earning A’s than any other grade. That’s news to me,” she said.
“That’s our fault,” said someone else.

Matthieu Dalle of the French section of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages spoke up in favor of the proposal.

“I’ve been here 11 years, and I’ve only given two A-pluses. I think an A is excellent work, but an A-plus should be perfection or near-perfection, and that should be recognized. It would be our responsibility, then, to not give A-pluses to students who really don’t deserve it, who don’t attain near-perfection. But I think the motion on the floor is totally reasonable,” he said.

Though the motion did not ultimately pass the Senate, it may have opened the eyes of the Arts and Sciences faculty to the notion that there may be a fundamental issue with the way grades are being awarded.

The initiative could still pass: Provost Shirley Willihnganz has the power institute the policy in spite of the Senate vote, if she desired; however, members of Mattingly’s initiative campaign consider this an unlikely scenario, since it would involve deciding against the faculty. Instead, they believe that seeking the approval of other academic units will increase their chances for success.

Mattingly will meet with the Faculty Senates of the Speed School of Engineering, the Kent School of Social Work, and the College of Education and Human Development throughout the remainder of the month. She did not need to meet with the Faculty Senate of the School of Business because they contacted her to say that she had their full support.
The next two meetings concerning the A-plus initiative will occur on Reading Day, April 23.

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Photo by Simon Isham/The Louisville Cardinal

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