Baa Ram U. last year eliminated the distinctions on the lower end of the grade scale: C-, D+, and D-. (I can’t believe we ever had a D-. What’s the point of assigning a grade that’s less than 1.0?) I completely support these changes: once you’re operating at a C level or below, the shades of grey between C, D, and F become indistinguishable.
Once upon a time, when I was a first-year graduate T.A. at Ben Franklin U. (and all of 22 years old myself), I was assigned to T.A. an upper-division course in U.S. foreign policy, and this course required a research paper. Yes, this professor decided that a course with 360 students and 6 T.A.s with 60 students each should have a 10-15 page research paper, despite the fact that plagiarism was rampant among the students. (Two friends + two different T.A.s = half the work! Several cases had been detected the previous year only because some of the T.A.s happened to share a house, and one walked by a stack of papers belonging to the other T.A. and thought that the top paper looked awfully familiar. And, one of the plagiarists caught that year was a Master’s degree candidate!) In any case, one of my high flyers (who was honest, to his credit) approached me a day before the paper was due, and told me he hadn’t started his research. I worked with him on finding a topic, but of course, warned him that this paper would be very difficult to pull together in 24 hours. He turned something in–something that was obviously the product of an all-nighter of fevered typing of random quotations from the several books spread out on his lap. It was a terrible paper and made no sense, but I thought I had to throw the kid a bone for turning something in.
That bone was a D+.
What was I thinking? What’s the point of a “plus” on the backside of a D? Does that make the D any easier to swallow? No, in fact, I think it’s worse–it’s the most insulting grade ever. A D+ says, “your work is a total piece of crap, plus!” “Your work is barely passable, sorta!” Students may be submitting D grade work, but they’re not stupid: there’s no way to put a shine on that turd. In my defense, remember that I was only 22 years old, just a year or two ahead of the college juniors and seniors who were my students. Well, Mr. D+ came to see me in my final office hours to inform me that he was going to go to the professor to protest the grade. He was convinced that I was prejudiced against him, since I knew he had only started the research for the paper a day before it was due. I assured him that his grade accurately reflected his actual performance, and encouraged him to go to the professor with his paper. Bluff called, and I never heard from him (or from the professor) about the paper again.
But, Mr. D+ taught me a lesson, and that lesson is that sometimes you have to just cowgirl up and heat up your “D” firebrand. Leave the plusses out of it.