A Chemistry professor retroactively lowered the grades of his entire class after it was discovered that a grading error caused the grades of those enrolled to be inflated.
On April 6, Chemistry Professor Seth Cohen emailed students enrolled in his Winter Quarter CHEM 7L class about a grading error that caused the grades for those enrolled to be be higher than intended.
According to the UC San Diego Academic Regulations and Policies, “All grades except I and IP are final when filed by instructors. However, a final grade may be corrected when a clerical or procedural error is discovered.” Prior to the grade changes, the Course and Professor Evaluation (CAPE) averages for both sections of CHEM 7L were a B+, and afterwards, according to Cohen, “The class average was a B.”
The error occurred when Professor Cohen was transferring grades from TritonEd to the Registrar’s office. A curve was applied when the class was intended to be graded on an absolute scale, resulting in inflated grades. The mistake was quickly fixed, but was met with student outcry.
Cohen maintained that the only solution to the grading mishap was to upload the correct grades earned by the students. However, along with the department Vice Chair of Education and Student Affairs Director, he has agreed that students who failed the course after the correction was made will not be dropped from current course(s) that list CHEM 7L as a prerequisite. Out of 587 students, only 2.2 percent reportedly received a non-passing (D or F) grade.
“As one might expect, I have received inquiries from some students about the error. I have tried to address each one promptly and clearly,” Cohen said. “I certainly sympathize with the false expectations the error created and truly appreciate the students’ understanding and maturity.”
Kevin Roman, a student who took CHEM 7L last quarter and who is trying to combat the grade changes through a petition, said, “[Cohen’s] syllabus does not communicate clear grade cutoffs and he had mentioned several times in lectures that there would likely be a curve in favor of the students, which led to students believing their grades were final.”
Two petitions have also been circulating to try to revert the grade changes, with one of the petitions garnering over 260 signatures so far.
Lynnay Consul, a student studying Environmental Engineering who took CHEM 7L last quarter, said, “If he had the jurisdiction to lower the cutoff, then he could have left the grades curved, instead of changing it.”
Consul acknowledges that Professor Cohen made a small mistake, but it affects the grades of other students, citing how students pursuing medical school are invested in their grades and that half a letter grade change can be detrimental to their goals.
“I think Cohen made a small mistake in entering the grades, as we all make small mistakes and it adversely affects our grade,” Consul said. “It just feels very insensitive that he would stress students out like this after he is the one who made the mistake.”
Natalie Lam is a Staff Writer at The Triton.