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Records don’t corroborate a professor’s claims of pressures to inflate grades

Earlier this year, The Signal reported on a professor’s allegations of grade inflation within the College of Arts and Sciences. 

The professor, who declined to be named in fear of retribution, said their department was given a written directive — corroborated by a document obtained by The Signal — to keep drop, withdrawal and fail (DWF) percentages below 12%. 

“Telling us not to give out Ds and Fs is a pressure to grade inflate,” they said in April. “Now, you’re under pressure to give out grades people don’t deserve. And so, the grades become meaningless.”

The source also alleged that if these percentages were ignored, there could be consequences from CAS Dean Sara Rosen.

But after further investigation, little evidence has been found to support the professor’s claim that consequences would be levied against those who ignored the directive.

The professor did not provide a comment by press time.

According to the source, contract renewals and graduate budgets were at stake for those who refused to follow DWF requirements.

However, after examining both factors from 2015 to 2019, neither have seen the negative effects described in the original claims. The four-year period was examined because Rosen arrived in 2016 and the professor considered Rosen the primary source of retaliation.

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On non-renewals, firing and staffing 

The professor claimed that faculty who don’t adhere to DWF directives could face retaliation by having their contracts not renewed — effectively terminating them — or by having their department not receive adequate staffing. 

For unknown reasons, one tenure track professor’s contract wasn’t renewed in January of this year. 

Three non-tenure track professors’ contracts weren’t renewed, dating from May 2015 to May 2016. However, the decisions not to renew these faculty took place before Rosen’s arrival in August 2016. 

One of the faculty who wasn’t renewed, and wished to remain anonymous, said they were aware of the pressure to increase student graduation rates. They said the department chair suggested dropping courses from the curriculum that may slow students’ progress toward graduation. 

This was being done at the time when Georgia State was consolidating with Georgia Perimeter College, according to the former professor. 

“At that time, Georgia State claimed to have a graduation rate of 47% but the graduate rate of Georgia Perimeter was about 9%,” they said. “The administrators hoped that Georgia State would help increase the graduation rate of Georgia Perimeter. There was a concern that such measures may ‘water down’ the Georgia State degree.” 

The source did not want to disclose why they are no longer employed at Georgia State. 

The original source and the professor who wasn’t renewed also claimed that, in response to noncompliance with grade directives, departments may not receive adequate replacements when faculty quit or retire — leaving the department short-staffed. 

Seven people have retired since Rosen began in August 2016. Only a few people have been hired since then, but there are many reasons why a department might not have new teachers or applicants. 

Since Rosen began in August 2016, there have been no non-renewals of any non-tenure track faculty. Since the DWF directives on which the original source’s claims were given in 2017, the non-renewals that did occur before Rosen’s arrival do not appear to be connected to grade directives.

Since there has only been one non-renewal and no terminations of professors since Rosen began, the professor’s claims on this account appear unsubstantiated.  

 

On department budget and graduate funding 

The professor also claimed that departments that either didn’t follow DWF directives or failed to keep them below 12% could experience cuts to graduate funding. 

Records detailing the graduate funding for the communication department from fiscal years 2015 to 2019 show that the graduate budget was cut nearly in half in 2017 compared to the previous year. 

However, this figure is only because the film and theatre majors split from the communication department within the CAS and merged into the College of the Arts, meaning film and theatre had to take their share of the graduate budget with them. 

Since 2017, each department has operated from its own budget. In 2018, however, about $3,000 more of the communication department’s budget was deducted and given again to the COTA film and theatre budget. In 2019, the communication department’s budget remained the same. 

Fred Mote, CAS assistant dean for finance and administration, provided further background for the budget split and explained more about how department budgets and graduate funding work.

According to Mote, for the 2017-18 budget, the CAS set up separate accounts, one for journalism and speech and another for film and theatre, with the budgets divided by enrollment levels at 67% and 33% accordingly.

When the 2018-2019 budget was created and more funds were being removed from the communication department graduate budget to redistribute to COTA for film and theatre, journalism and speech majors comprised the larger percentage of the graduate budget since they had more enrollment than film and theatre.

A refinement of the budget, which brought the communication department’s share down to 64% from 67% and film and theatre’s share up from 33% to 36%, explains the additional $3,000 that was removed from the communication department’s graduate budget in 2018.

Overall, there were two changes in the communication department’s budget: once in 2017, when film and theatre split from the department, and again in 2018, when $3,000 was deducted from the communication department for use in film and theatre. 

The process for the redistribution of funds was overseen by former Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives Robin Morris and in consultation and agreement with both CAS Dean Rosen and COTA Dean Wade Weast. 

Regarding budgets for departments as a whole, these are formed on a historical basis, meaning the new budget is informed by needs already known from the previous budgets. 

“Before the proposed new budget is submitted, the dean meets with chairs or directors to make adjustments based on a host of factors, including but not limited to enrollment trends, retirements or resignations in faculty and staff and new initiative funding from the university,” Mote said. 

An example of an enrollment trend that would affect a budget proposal is when a department experiences a tremendous amount of growth for several years and the college and university respond by adding graduate funds to help support an increased number of labs needed. 

To determine how graduate funding will be distributed throughout a department and how to adjust as enrollment trends dictate, department chairs and directors work with graduate directors. 

Mote has never heard of any departments receiving less graduate funding because of high DWF rates or noncompliance with directives. 

“DWF rates have not been used as a factor in budgeting graduate funding in [CAS],” Mote said. 

At the time the three communication department faculty weren’t renewed, there were no negative changes in the graduate budget. And the graduate budget actually increased by $6,000 during the 2015-2016 period.