The LSU Faculty Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution to recommend the university switch to a new student grading system that awards different scores for “plus and minus” letter grades.
The 26-14 vote, with four faculty members abstaining, passed despite opposition from LSU Student Government, which has argued that a new incremental grading system could hurt “borderline” students.
Additionally, the Faculty Senate proposal gives professors the option of not using the new grading system, leading some to believe the university would be embarking on a path to widespread inconsistency in grading should the plus and minus system be adopted.
Tuesday’s vote is a milestone in a debate that has raged among LSU faculty for the majority of the year.
Those faculty members supporting the switch argued it would allow for more accuracy and flexibility in assigning final grades for students.
LSU System President and Baton Rouge campus Chancellor William Jenkins weighed in on the subject before the vote, but declined to take a position as he called it “very much a Faculty Senate issue.”
“I will support whatever their decision is,” Jenkins said.
Under the new grading system, an A or B grade would still correlate with a 4.0 or 3.0 grade-point average, respectively, while an A- would mean a 3.7 and a B+ would score a 3.3 in the proposed change.
Currently, a B+ and a B- both result in a 3.0 score at LSU.
The new system was proposed by Don Chance, an LSU finance professor, who argued Tuesday that a plus and minus grading system, with 12 grading increments rather than five, is a more reliable indicator of academic performance.
The vast majority of research universities use the plus and minus system, Chance said, including some of the country’s most elite institutions, such as Harvard University and Stanford University.
The only so-called elite research school he could find that didn’t use the plus and minus system is the private Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., he said.
Thomas Rodgers, director of academic affairs for LSU Student Government argued that because some professors could opt out of giving plus and minus grades, students would flock to take classes taught by professors using their preferred grading system.
Rodgers said the result of that could be played out as students compete to get into outside graduate programs. Situations could arise where two students both score a 91 in a course but one of them is assigned an A while the other is given an A-.
Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, who only votes to break a tie, said he personally prefers switching to the new system.
But Cope acknowledged that dissenting faculty members have raised legitimate concerns in light of the 2010 LA GRAD Act, which ties state funding to school performance and allows colleges to raise tuition in exchange for reaching certain goals, such as increased graduation and retention rates.
Cope said faculty members are concerned that some students who earn lower grades as a result of a plus-minus system would leave school.
“The university is under pressure to retain students and people are fearful of anything that might move GPA one way or the other,” Cope said.
The next step is for the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee to discuss the grading system with representatives of the Office of Academic Affairs and Provost Stuart Bell later this month.