All William Groombridge ever wanted was an explanation: Why did he get a B-plus in his energy policy course at Montreal’s Concordia University, when his 81 per cent qualified for an A-minus, according to the school’s grading scheme?
It’s not like he had a lot at stake. The 41-year-old computer programmer runs his own web development business in Quebec’s largest city. The only reason he’s enrolled part-time is to keep his brain “exercised.”
But after six months of door knocks and phone calls and emails, with no clear answer, Groombridge reached his wit’s end.
Now he’s suing the school.
“I’m the charging elephant that keeps getting closer and closer and bigger and scarier and noisier,” said Groombridge.
He is taking Concordia to Quebec small claims court, demanding to be reimbursed $342 — the amount he paid to take the course during the 2011 fall semester. He argues the school arbitrarily downgraded his final mark to meet an unofficial grade quota imposed by the chair of political science, Csaba Nikolenyi.
He asserts his concerns were “brushed off” by the department.
“They never did officially say that there was this policy,” said Groombridge. “It seems artificial and it’s not based on merit.”
Christine Mota, Concordia’s media relations director, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter, as it is before the courts. She did say Concordia has “no global policy” on grading, and that any grading schemes are set on a departmental basis.
Mota said that Groombridge has never filed a formal complaint through the school’s grade evaluation process.
Concordia argues in its statement of defence that it can change grades when an error has been made, and the altered final mark was the result of a routine bell curve, said Groombridge.
But he’s not buying it. If a bell curve was used, all students marks would have shifted to reflect the chosen distribution. Instead, only Groombridge and three others had their grades dropped, he said.
Groombridge first learned he’d been shunted out of the A-zone in January, one month after completing his final exam in the energy policy course.
In an email, Groombridge’s professor Felix von Geyer told him that the political science chair surveyed the marks for the course, then told him “the norm” for the department restricts A’s to “no more than 25 per cent” of students in a given course.
Upon learning this, von Geyer dropped Groombridge to a B-plus. “(Nikolenyi) suggested that I review it, and I did,” von Geyer wrote.
Von Geyer added he’s never heard of any firm quota in the department, and only lowered the marks after Nikolenyi suggested the grades were too high.
Nikolenyi said Monday he couldn’t comment since the case was before the courts.
The practice of restricting the number of students that get top marks varies from school to school. The University of Toronto explicitly outlaws quotas in its grade distribution guidelines, while at Western University, some courses must place average marks in a predetermined range — between 72 and 77 per cent for third-year Media, Information and Technoculture courses, for example.
For Groombridge, the issue prompted him to switch majors to economics. He is currently awaiting a trial date.
“The only thing I can really ask them for is a refund,” he said. “I can’t sue them to change my grade.”