Victory at the University of Nevada-Reno · 26 May 2004

Student Successfully Appeals Politically-Charged Grade

Editor's Note: Students for Academic Freedom is pleased to be able to bring you the story of University of Nevada-Reno student Jeremy Rosenstengel who successfully contested the negative grades he and several classmates received after taking a pro-Second Amendment stance on a test question asking students to apply utilitarian arguments to the issue of gun control. With SAF's help, Jeremy was able to successfully argue that the professor's grading was unfair, and his test score was raised from 70% to 100%. This example will hopefully be helpful to other students who face political discrimination in the classroom. The correspondence between Jeremy and SAF National Campus Director Sara Dogan is printed below, with his permission.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a senior studying business at the University of Nevada Reno. I and many of my classmates have recently had difficulty with an instructor regarding a test in an advanced organizational behavior class. On this test we were asked "to argue the gun control issue" using the Utilitarian and Right and Duties approach to moral reasoning. I and several classmates took a pro-second amendment approach to argue against gun control and subsequently received lower grades than those that argued for gun control. I asked the instructor to reevaluate the tests and we received a slightly higher score, but still significantly less than those argued for greater gun control.

My main argument against gun control was the fact that countries like the U.K. and Australia have seen significant increases in violent crime since outlawing guns. On my test the instructor noted that this simply isn't the case. I also wrote that no matter what laws are enacted that criminals will still find ways to obtain firearms and use them improperly and that increased gun control legislation only hurts those who follow the law. The instructor made no comment about my argument being flawed, only that her research didn't support my claims. I feel that our test were evaluated using her personal opinion and that if we didn't agree with her perspective we would receive a lower grade.

I would appreciate any help, guidance or research that you could provide me and my class mates so that we can receive just evaluation of our work.

Regards,
Jeremy Rosenstengel


Dear Jeremy,

It certainly appears that your professor is allowing her personal beliefs about gun control to affect her grading, which is an abuse of her position as an instructor. There is a lot of contentious debate on this subject, and it is wrong of her to claim that there is only one correct answer to this question. If you think that having another discussion with her would help, you could try bringing in some printouts of the research you used for your paper, and try to use the point I mentioned previously-that since there is great disagreement among experts in this field, the position you take should not in any way compromise your grade. You might bring in John Lott's "More Guns Less Crime" as further evidence. For further info, do a search for gun control on the Cato website (www.cato.org) Here are a couple articles: http://www.cato.org/dailys/05-13-00.html
http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa109.html

If she still won't budge, or if you think that a second conversation with her wouldn't prove fruitful, I would try taking this issue to the head of the department. Among the points you should make is the question of why she chose this issue of gun control as the topic for your paper. It is an extremely contentious issue, and perhaps a less politically-charged question would have been more appropriate. I would also argue that the reason for writing your paper was ostensibly to test your understanding of utilitarianism, etc, and not your personal beliefs on the gun issue.

If you think more publicity on this case would be helpful, we could publish an account of your case on our website (leaving out your name if you would prefer) but giving the professor's name and email address, so that readers can contact her with their thoughts.

Also, as a more long-term solution to the problem of partisanship in the classroom, I would be happy to help you and your classmates to start up a Students for Academic Freedom Chapter. You can find more info on how to do this in our new organizational handbook, which is available on our website.

Best Regards,
Sara


Dear Sara,

I just wanted to send you a quick note to thank you for your help and to let you know that I was able to persuade my instructor to reevaluate our tests in a fair and unbiased manner. The links to the studies and reports proved to be crucial in our attempts to persuade her to reconsider her grading policies, which she initially resisted. While she still questions the validity of our argument and the facts of the studies, she realized that any controversial issue such as gun control will produce opposing views. As you know schools of higher education are intended to be places where opposing views can be presented and evaluated, however it has been my experience that some ideas and opinions are not equal to others.

I cannot not thank you enough for taking the time and effort to help me and my fellow classmates address this crucial issue. I want you to know how important the work you and people like Mr. Horowitz is to preserving our educational institutions and how instrumental your actions are in preserving our liberties and rights in society in general.

Sincerely,
Jeremy Rosenstengel

P.S. As a graduating senior of UNR I wish I had only know of SAF earlier in my education….