Many departments offer classes with multiple sections that are taught by different faculty members. Significant variation in content and grading standards among instructors for such courses can cause enrollment imbalances and problems in subsequent courses.

If the course serves as a pre-requisite for other courses in the department, and content is not somewhat consistent, instructors of subsequent courses might erroneously assume that students have been exposed to certain content, which can be frustrating for students and professors.

If grading standards vary widely, unhealthy enrollment patterns may arise. Sections taught by professors who are perceived as “easy” graders may fill up with juniors and seniors and have long waiting lists of students who wish to add the class. Sections taught by “tough” graders may contain freshmen and sophomores and may not have an adequate number of students to make the sections viable, since students may wait for access to their preferred instructors.

The department Chair is responsible for coordinating the departmental conversation about standards for course content and grading among different instructors. Such conversations must attempt to balance the academic freedom of an individual instructor and the needs of the department. Syllabi and other course materials are helpful in monitoring course content, while grade distributions and student opinion surveys are helpful in discerning variations in grading standards. The Chair must exercise care, however, since grade differences by themselves do not necessarily indicate a difference in grading standards. Students who take classes from very effective instructors, or more experienced students, might earn higher grades.

From time to time, the Chair may have to speak with individual faculty members about their grading standards or course content. In such circumstances, explaining the need for some degree of coordination among sections and presenting the evidence that a correction is needed is likely to produce more favorable results than accusations or unsupported claims.

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