U of A prof pressured to resign over grades

A University of Alberta professor who was reportedly asked to resign after he spoke out against his department for lowering student grades has hired legal representation in what looks like an ongoing battle.

U of A math and statistics tenured professor Mikhail Kovalyov clashed with the school last semester after he sent out e-mails to students and department officials voicing his opposition to grading policies, according to a report by the Edmonton Journal.

Kovalyov, who is listed as a professor on the U of A’s math department website, informed his first-year math class their grades had been lowered after he submitted them to the department.

He was reportedly asked repeatedly over several years to bring down his class average, failing more students to stay in-line with the department’s grade distribution policy.

Attorney James Heelan said his client, Kovalyov, is not in a position to address any media inquires at this time.

Jamie Hanlon from the U of A public affairs department said university officials would not comment on the story as it develops.

U of A Students’ Union vice-president academic James Eastham said the prevailing feeling on campus regarding Kovalyov is one of “confusion.”

“Students don’t necessarily know the entire grading process,” he said. “The recent story has brought up that grades are approved by the department before they’re finalized.”

Eastham pointed to a report published last June by Provost’s Fellow Robert Luth, which looked at the U of A’s grading policies and suggested principles for change. Eastham said Luth hoped to push the school to be more “transparent and fair” in its grading processes so students know what they are being graded on.

“It’s not just students that are confused about the policies around grading but faculty as well, whether the U of A mandates a certain grade distribution or whether that’s a recommendation,” Eastham added.

Though some university instructors grade to a distribution, the University of Calgary does not require such grading schemes, according to associate vice-provost enrolment David Johnston.

“There are no guidelines in terms of what the average grade is supposed to be,” he said. “The faculty member is required to say up front how they’re going to grade.”

Science department senior communications manager Leanne Yohemas said U of C instructors are not expected to meet a certain average and have final say on their grades. The grading policy, she said, is to “reward knowledge, and that’s it.”

U of C Students’ Union vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy said, in general, professors should follow the university’s policies.

“But [the professor] also needs to do what is fair. They know their students the best, they have a lot of experience teaching and they should be able to make a judgement,” she said. “We shouldn’t underestimate professors, but I think students do sometimes.”

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