Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Recusing and grading

In the previous posting on recusing, I responded to the comments

of an anonymous other.  He has invoked the option to respond to

my comments; his response follows.  I will give a relatively brief

response after his comment.

“A big, big problem with blogs is that it
is virtually never possible to be short and that replies never end. 
Even a short published note can only garner a published reply if a
gatekeeper cannot foresee good answers to the reply.

In this instance, Professor Dank did not interpret recusal as I
would–or as anyone would–and so he ends up with knocking down a
nonsensical position that, as he notes, no one in the academy actually

In a legal or quasi-legal setting, recusal is a formal action, often
announced with an opinion, and with some other authority making the
decision as to the replacement judge.

In the ethical setting, recusal is an inaction, not announced, and not
handed over to come campus authority.  The professor simply goes to a
trusted colleague who grades like he does and asks–informally–for an
opinion; that opinion becomes the student’s grade.  This type of thing
happens all the time in academe for many reasons, although the formal
variety does not and yes would only create problems and conflicts.

Let me respond to a few select remarks within Professor Dank’s text:

“Of course, the professor should have foreseen the definite possibility
that he or she would be unable to dispassionately grade a student who
he or she is romantically involved with.  If  this is the case, such
should have been communicated ahead of time to the student and if such
involvement occurs then the student would be treated differentially and
would not have the  same grader as all the other students have in
class.   Recusal in this sort of situation does not appear to me to be
an honorable way to acquit oneself; such is not honorable since the
relationship is violated and as well as the student.”

No; the relationship is not violated; the colleague need not even be
told why his opinion is being sought.  Nor is the student
violated–unless Professor Dank feels uniquely situated as *the* Grader
par excellence.  There are many equally competent faculty members, are
there not?  Moreover, I am sure this was foreseen and discussed with
the student in *this* case.  My point was that since recusal is needed
when things are not foreseen or are not foreseeable, it cannot be right
that it is *per se* unethical to recuse one’s self.

“One simply does not unilaterally exile a student into never-never

Why does Professor Dank consider a Grader other than himself a form of
exile?  And why are all other faculty “never-never land”?  The student
stays in the class, takes the test with the class; the grading is not
done in-class anyway.  Where does exile come in?

“If this is to be done, the student-professor relationship is no longer
a private one and will end up being subsumed under the mantel of
insitutional authority.  If there is differential treatment, it should
of the last resort and is indicative that the professor is now in deep
trouble as well as the student.”

Here, the formal version of recusal is assumed.  And, the deep trouble
may simply be a heated romance.

“In addition, it does become relevant that recusal from grading in a
university is almost unheard of.  Of course, in legal situations
recusal is frequently employed.  In my 35 years of university teaching
I never heard of a situation of recusal occurring or being
contemplated.  Also, in said 35 years, I cannot recollect being privy
to any discussion of the issue, nor receiving any official university
notifications about the issue.  Is the recusal process referred to in
Faculty Handbooks?”

What I meant is not a “process” and would never be in a Book of

“It  wasn’t easy to give a poor grade to students who I liked, but such
was the case.”

There is equal alarm at a self-imposed backlash resulting in a harsher
grade.  A neutral arbiter (not “arbitrator”, the legal equivalent) is
often best.


Albeit a brief response.  I did not consider myself THE grader or a star grader or an outstanding grader.  I did think of myself as a dispassionate grader.  To be honest, I did not become a professor because of the grading component, because of my love of grading or because I wanted to do to others what had been done to me over and over again.   I do not know if my former colleagues were more competent or less competent graders than myself.  Grading was simply not discussed.  Hiring committees did not seek out candidates who were outstanding graders.  The fact of the matter is that in higher ed, students are interested in grading and seek out those who they consider to be “outstanding” graders.  The chasm between students and professors as to the importance of grading is huge.

In any case, I never liked to grade students.  I wish I could have farmed out grading to others, such as TAs or grading machines.  But I could not do this since I was the one who taught my students, I had to be the one to grade my students.  I knew what happened in the class better than any other potential grader; I was there all the time, and there was no one who could be interchangeable with me.  In the first session of most of my classes, I told my students that if you want to get a poor grade do not come to class regularly; you are conning yourself if you think otherwise.  I would have been conning myself and my students if I had a professor grade any of my students who had not attended all of my class lectures. 

My respondent writes of grading exams and one grader being equal to another. His concerns are just not germane to my situation which was in part outlined above.  I generally did not give exams, and when I did, in-class material was a major component of the exam.  I could not ask a colleague to grade such an exam.  Grades were to a significant degree based on papers and other projects.  Asking another prof to grade  a particular student would not work; one could only grade what one was familiar with.  Asking a colleague I should not be asking to do all this work while giving no reason why this student merits such special attention is other worldly.  By my own standards, I could not give a student special attention since I was committed to not having any dating relationship impact on the class; the relationship had nothing to do with the class.  My special other may be special in many ways, but she is not a special student.  Treating her as a special student would be a betrayal of my ethics.  Professors are entitled to a private life free of institutional surveillance.  Subjecting ones significant other to special treatment in class subverts privacy and invites institutional surveillance.

Enough said.

September 1, 2007 - Posted by | grading, recusal

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