Not always a plus

By Emily Hoover |

I’ve never been so bummed about getting an A.

This might sound strange, but as a graduating senior with big plans for graduate school, it frightens me to think a pesky little minus might get in my way. And I don’t mean math class. Luckily, I passed both of the mathematics requirements for an English major my freshman year.

The pesky little minus I’m lamenting as my semester comes to a close is, in fact, an A— in my Media Law class. I should be proud, I know, considering it’s a core requirement for my journalism minor and is still, technically, an A.

But I’m not.

Everyone is proud of me, including my parents, my fiancée, even my boss at work.

While everyone’s giving me gold stars left and right, I’m stuck with this inexorable, nauseating feeling of inadequacy. It’s not because I’m a perfectionist. Well, maybe a little. Mostly, it’s because of the new plus and minus system here at Flagler, implemented most torturously during the fall semester of my senior year.

According to Ivan Kelly, dean of academic affairs, the Faculty Senate—with approval from the college president, William Abare— voted to include the new grading system last March.

“Professors felt there was too great a range, for example from an 80 to an 89, to have students receive the same grade of B,” Kelly said in an email interview. “They wanted to reward students who had done better within that range as well as indicate students who had not done as well in that range.”

I agree. It’s not fair for some students to work rigorously to achieve an 87 or 88 when some students don’t study, doodle in their notebooks and waltz in late after a long night at Panama Hatties and squeak by with an 80.

But as a student who has worked diligently to secure a 3.85 GPA with a major and double minor, combined with a full-time job and a co-editor position at the Gargoyle, I could care less about those slackers. Let them stroll through the world of academia. They’ll learn after tossing that cap in the air and taking a little stroll in the real world. If they don’t, it’s not Flagler’s problem, in my humble opinion.

What concerns me is my own future. In my English classes, maintaining a high A has never been an issue because I’ll read antiquated British poetry like nobody’s business.

Media Law, on the other hand, has been—hands down—the toughest class I’ve taken at Flagler. It’s an interesting subject, but memorizing the outcome of 20 or more court cases to apply in a hypothetical legal scenario isn’t really my strong point. I don’t like law unless I need it to get out of trouble. As a result, I’ve had to work twice as hard to make B’s on the quizzes, a 91 on the group multi-media presentation and a 90 on the last exam. I have exactly a 90 in the class, a grade I would consider a gift—the reward of which Kelly speaks.

I have to make a 90 on my comprehensive final exam to keep my gift, a feat I’ll gladly pursue, because that’s what I do. But for some reason, I don’t feel as good about this A as I have previously.

Perhaps that’s because I feel like I’m being punished for working hard at a subject I knew virtually nothing about, prior to the class, yet still conquered.

Perhaps it’s because my high A in British Romantic Literature will remain as such, a 4.0, while my Media Law grade will bring my GPA down to 3.7 for that class, affecting my weighted GPA for the entire semester–lowering it.

Perhaps it’s because I worked just as hard for that 90 as I did for the 98 and I’m just a wee bit bitter.

According to Kelly, classes taken at Flagler from fall 1969 to spring 2011 will be flat range grades, 90-100, for example. Classes from fall 2011 on will have the plus and minus weight, giving an A the range of 93-100 and an A- the range of 93-90.

Half of my transcript, when graduate schools look at it, will read A or B, while my last semester will stick out, peppered with mathematical symbols that bear no real meaning.

I know I should be griping about something else, like Occupy Wall Street or the Penn State scandal, but I can’t help wondering why the Faculty Senate decided to implement this now.

Kelly said Flagler has been debating the grading system for 20 years and he said he doubts every constituent approves of it.

“In the end, the faculty in favor of the change prevailed over those who were opposed to it,” he said.

Kelly also said Flagler has to agree on one grading system and could not give lower level classes the plus or minus weight, allowing seniors and juniors to earn flat range grades. Tracking which students would receive which points could cause larger problems, he said.

Yet, it would have been a lot easier on the upperclassmen—especially those applying to business school, law school, and other graduate programs—to miss out on all the fun. It would have been nice if the administration implemented the new policy for the current freshmen, the class of 2015, and on.

As I prepare for a long weekend of studying and writing—reaching for the indolence of Winter Break—I know an A- is pretty good and I shouldn’t really be complaining. I know one pesky minus will not result a rejection from graduate school. I also know some students have more important things to worry about, like passing.

So I’ll step off my soapbox, remembering Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

So it goes.

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