All of us have likely had an issue with grading "on the curve" at one time or another, but what is one to do if "the empirical data was quite clear and convincing to any reasonable mind that [one’s] performance was well within a higher range" than reflected in one’s final grade? One’s course is clear.
In January, Brian Marquis, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, filed a 15-count class-action lawsuit in federal court after he got a C instead of the A- he thought he deserved in his political philosophy class. In the suit, Marquis, acting on behalf of himself and Does 1-25,000 (all of whom apparently agree that Brian should have gotten a better grade), alleges that the practice of grading on the curve, as implemented by defendant and teaching assistant Jeremy Cushing, violated the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments; 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981-83, 1985, and 1986; 18 U.S.C. § 241 (conspiracy to do the foregoing); the Massachusetts consumer protection law; and common-law doctrines including promissory estoppel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Coincidentally, Marquis is a paralegal who has returned to college to get a degree in legal studies.
Marquis alleges that Cushing set forth a grading formula at the start of last semester under which, by Marquis’s calculation, he should have scored a 92.5, "translating, by universally accepted standards," into an A-. Whilst reviewing his fall 2006 grades, however, "Plaintiff noticed a grade of C in the . . . Problems in Social Thought" class. "On or about 10 January 2007," the complaint continues, "Plaintiff e-mailed Cushing with this apparent discrepancy and ask[ed] him to reevaluate, or in the alternative, explain the method used . . . ." Cushing responded that, by his calculations, Marquis had scored an 84, not 92.5, but that Cushing had graded on a curve in any event. And he told Marquis that "I thought your grade (of C) was a good reflection of your work." The school’s ombudsman did not agree with Marquis that he had a grievance.
Next stop, federal court. The key paragraph of the complaint is really paragraph 23, in which Marquis describes the harm. Scarring his transcript with a C "has left Plaintiff’s undergraduate transcript as a dismal record of non-achievement. . . . [T]he chances of any student with C letter grades seeking admission to graduate school is remote. . . . Since Plaintiff did not earn a C final letter grade, he should not have to bear the burden of carrying this beast around with him forever."
Those of you who have been worrying about "grade inflation," take note: the Scarlet Letter used to be an A.
Last week, after what the Boston Globe described as a "brief hearing," Judge Michael Ponsor dismissed the lawsuit. Marquis later discussed the case with a reporter for the Globe, delivering the quote above as to the clear-and-convincingness of the empirical data and so forth. (The article notes that Marquis "salts his comments with ‘strike that.’") Marquis also said that he is considering an appeal.