student threats

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confused:
I recently had a phone call from a graduate student who failed his final examination and the course (business) for having done nothing all semester.

The course grade was comprised 50% of a final take-home exam and 50% of student group work. This student showed up only for the final exam and thus had to get an A on the exam to pass the course. He got an F.

Our university policy is that students are allowed to retake final exams for courses one time, provided they were absent for a just reason. However, failures are allowed to retake the exam as well. The grade is figured once again the same way as in the course description (50% of the final grade) with no penalty, except that this is shown on their record.

The student retook the exam and got a D, for a final grade of an F again.

I received a phone call from him a few days ago, and he was absolutely shocked that "I failed him" and demanded that I give him the chance to improve his grade by submitting the missing 50% of coursework. I politely refused, and reminded him that he had an entire semester, this is a graduate course, and my obligations ended with the final examination, and in his case, with the retake. He insisted that I should count the final grade as his course grade, which I refused. Well, he then blew a fuse and began to insist that I am inhumane, that he has personally spoken with our dean, who told him that he should be able to resubmit all the coursework (one month after the end of the course?), and that I should "listen to my superiors". I reminded him again, that he is not my superior and of the way that the final grade is calculated. He then began to threaten me "Who do you think you are?", "I will go to the dean again with this," "I'll make sure you can't do this," and so on, at which point I too was short from blowing a fuse (he kept me on the phone and whined for over 10 minutes), cut him off and said, "thank you and good bye." I hung up the phone.

Good thing that there were two people in the office at the time - our secretary and a colleague, to whom I relayed the conversation. We looked up our academic policy just in case, and indeed, the student has no right to retake the course.

I am afraid that this student will try to take this further, since he now has failed the course and will either have to drop out or come back next year. Since he has threatened me with an apparent conversation with the dean, I wonder whether this might be a case of personal ties between the student and the dean, and whether the chips will be on his side when he files and appeal. Any suggestions as to what I should do? Just wait and see, or discuss this matter further with someone before it escalates?

Watcher:

I haven't taught for very long but I have watched and listened to stories at other institutions, etc. I have had people tell me of similar threats - and there have even been cases of students suing faculty.

Anyway, I would document all of this before it gets to the next stage. I would talk to the chair and see what he/she suggests (at least they know this is coming if it does go to the next level - and may have suggestions).

I am also inclined to think that the student is bluffing. I knew someone a few years back who confronted two students for cheating. One of the students became beligerant and cited that the parent was a lawyer, they would have her job, blah blah blah - to which the faculty member replied - 'Really? Oh good, that is my next step - to call your parents" The students apparently backed down immediately.

Older CC:
I would get to the Dean before the student does and explain exactly what happened. If the student does call, then the Dean will already have the facts (and the bias towards your side).

Jimster:

As I understand the situation, the final grade was 50 percent group work, which the student did not participate in.  To me, that would already be an automatic F.  

In any case, the key document is your syllabus.  It is, in a sense, a contract between you and your class.  As long as your grading policy was clearly spelled out, you have nothing at all to worry about.

B.F.:
I doubt that the student has personal ties with the dean. It is not unusual for a student to threaten to go to the dean or the chair. In my experience, they usually haven't, but I agree with those who have posted that you should be prepared in case he does. Actually, going to the dean would be a very bad move for him because it will bring his poor performance to their attention.

Your case is so clear cut that I don't think you should worry too much. A student only showing up for the final exam, especially in a graduate class, is so ridiculous, that I doubt that the student is going to get anywhere with his claims. Document the conversation you had with him and document any future conversations you have with him. Let your supervisor know of your conversation and the hostile nature that the student displayed.

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