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If You Want To Be Graded Fairly, Don't Have a Baby

uc davis, pregnancy poll

Dr. Edward C. Feldman

A particularly disturbing story was published in Inside Higher Ed today about a woman whose college class was allowed to vote on the final grade she should receive.  That fact alone is troubling, but the reason why the class was allowed to vote on their colleague’s grade is even more upsetting.  The professor, Dr. Edward C. Feldman, chair of the medicine and epidemiology departments at the veterinary school at UC Davis, didn’t know how to handle the fact that the woman would miss part of the semester due to giving birth.

Inside Higher Ed called Feldman and told him “that his handling of the situation had been of concern to many students,” to which he replied, “I don’t care what people say.  It is between me, my students and my school.”  He offered no comment or explanation as to why he thought forcing other students to vote to determine the grade of a pregnant peer was appropriate.

Here’s the astonishing email and grading poll he had the class presidents send to their peers:

One of our classmates recently gave birth and will be out of class for an unknown period of time.  This means she will undoubtedly miss one, or more, or all quizzes in VMD 444.  Dr. Feldman is not sure how to handle this and has requested the class give input and vote.  He has provided us with 6 options on which to vote and is open to any other ideas you may have…. Below are listed the options that Dr. Feldman has suggested.  Please reserve comment on these options and provide us your opinion on them by voting when the time comes.

a) automatic A final grade
b) automatic B final grade
c) automatic C final grade
d) graded the same as everyone else: best 6 quiz scores out of a possible 7 quiz scores (each quiz only given only once in class with no repeats)
e) just take a % of quiz scores (for example: your classmate takes 4 quizzes, averages 9/10 points = 90% = A)
f) give that student a single final exam at the end of the quarter (however this option is only available to this one student, all others are graded on the best 6 quiz scores and the % that results)

Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor at UC Davis, told Inside Higher Ed that “its veterinary school (at which 85 percent of students are female) in fact has ways of helping students who become mothers.”  She said, “During a student’s pregnancy, the school customarily works with her to help catch up after being away for childbirth or to arrange for an extended leave after which she can resume her academic program.”

The email was forwarded by a student in the UC Davis program to a science blogger known as Isis who wrote about it on her site.  Isis says friends had been circulating and discussing the email and poll, suggesting that “Dr. Feldman had not spoken with (the student) before he asked the class presidents to send out the poll” and that “the professor asked the class to participate in the poll while the relevant student was sitting in his class and that he basically ignored her when she pointed out that she was present and absences wouldn’t be an issue.”  Yikes.  I smell a lawsuit!  Or maybe a firing?  Something, I hope, rather than the classic academic answer to problematic professors: sweeping their abuses under the rug.

I’m with the rest of the Jezebel readers who voted in their poll that letting the class vote on a student mom’s grade was e) all of the above, ie. “a way of implying that her pregnancy was a foolish decision and worthy of punishment, a way of making fun of her, discriminatory and just plain stupid.”

Photo: UC Davis

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