Laurie Taylor Column

April 6, 2007

From: Jamie Targett

Subject: Maintaining standards

As you will be aware, this university is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic excellence. However, in order that this commitment is fully consonant with the university's other key goal of maximising income at any cost, it has been decided to issue the following set of "failure guidelines":

1. Not answering the question

Although this is a traditional reason for the award of low marks, it can place too great an emphasis on "situational specificity". Check carefully and you may discover that the answer in front of you successfully answers another question on the paper or perhaps a question that you might have considered asking in other circumstances.

2. Outright failures

Staff are warned against adopting an overly "essentialist" view of failure. All failures, like all successes, are relative. Examine your "fails" carefully to see if they might not, in the grand scheme of things, be relative successes.

3. Poor spelling

Staff should beware of the dangers of "linguistic ethnocentrism". We would hardly fail a student who spoke in a distinctive accent. Why, therefore, should we penalise students who display an individualistic (and often wholly original) approach to spelling?

4. Final destinations

There are certain vocational areas in which an ability to speak and write clear English has no discernible association with career progress. Staff should therefore be prepared to exercise especial leniency when marking examination papers in the following disciplines: medicine, politics and management.

5. External examiners

Although this university fully supports the use of external examiners, it should be remembered that visiting academics may not be fully familiar with features of the Poppleton value system such as "giving the benefit of the doubt" and "turning a blind eye".

6. Deep understanding

There are times when the full meaning of a written answer can be grasped only by a "deep hermeneutic analysis" of the text. This is properly performed by the Head of Department and can produce quite remarkable increases in marks.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Jamie Targett (Direcotr of Coprorate Affairs)

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