We’d Give You an F in Handling Adversity

1191508025We’ve all had the professor that hates us for no good reason. Maybe he hates you because you have an ease with the ladies he never had. Maybe he fears that you’re smarter than him. Whatever the reason, he won’t give you that easy A you feel you deserve.

As college students, we never liked that guy, but we have since moved on. But, then, we’re not Brian Marquis, a 51-year-old legal studies and sociology student at UMass, who actually decided to make a federal case out of it.

Oh yes, he did:

[Brian] Marquis, a 51-year-old paralegal seeking bachelor’s degrees in legal studies and sociology, filed a 15-count lawsuit in US District Court in Springfield in January after a teaching assistant graded a political philosophy class on a curve and turned Marquis’s A-minus into a C. Marquis contends that the university violated his civil rights and contractual rights and intentionally inflicted “emotional distress.”

If we sued everyone who intentionally inflicted us with emotional distress, we’d be in court all the time. Life is full of emotional distress, chief–deal with it. A district court judge already dismissed the suit for being complete bullshit, but Marquis is considering pressing on in his Quixotic quest for justice.

“This is not something I relish. . . This is not an issue of me walking into court and saying, ‘I don’t like the way this professor grades this paper,’ which is purely their academic prerogative. This is an issue where the empirical data was quite clear and convincing to any reasonable mind that my performance was well within a higher range.”

What happened, exactly?

Based on that formula, Marquis figured he scored a 92.5 percent, or an A-minus. But when the Lanesborough resident checked his grade online in early January, he saw a C and e-mailed [teaching assistant Jeremy] Cushing to complain.

Cushing wrote back that he graded the students more stringently on the third exam because they had had a full semester to learn how to write for a philosophy class. As a result, Cushing wrote, Marquis got an 84 for the class. But the students’ numerical scores struck Cushing as too high, so he graded everyone on a curve before assigning letter grades. Marquis ended up with a C.

This is what happens when you deal with philosophy majors– they get really deep about the meaning of success and the meaningless value we assign to numbers. If this were algebra, maybe the 84 would have stood.

While we kind of feel for Marquis getting screwed out of the B, if his case succeeds it will set a frightening precedent for colleges everywhere.

Phillip Bricker, chairman of the philosophy department and one of eight defendants in the suit, said it had already caused enough damage. “I think suing over a grade is somewhat absurd,” he said. “It ended up just wasting a lot of people’s time and money.”. . .

“If every student that didn’t like his or her grade started to do this, we’d have to hire, I don’t know, 25,000 attorneys,” [UMass ombudsman Catharine] Porter said.

Exactly. All we need is every special snowflake in every college or university in Massachusetts taking professors to court whenever they don’t get the grade they want. While it would surely make a lot of legal work for Marquis when he graduates UMass, it would tie the system up and cause society as we know it to end.

Come see us after class, Mr. Marquis. You can audit the Boston Daily course in handling bad times. It involves pizza and beer, and we don’t grade on a curve.