Anonymous grading sparks debate at Senate

a/McGill/News by

The possibility of anonymous exam grading gave rise to debate at Senate last Wednesday.

Discussion stemmed from a report by the Academic Policy Committee, which concluded that there should be no university-wide policy on anonymous evaluations.

Anonymous grading policies have been implemented at other universities worldwide and in McGill’s Faculty of Law. The primary intention is to combat potential biases against students based on personal information that allows the marker to identify the student, their race, or their gender.

According to Provost Anthony Masi, members of the committee did not deem such a policy appropriate for implementation at the university level because grading is under the jurisdiction of individual faculties.

“Suggestions were raised concerning how to deal with this in a manner that would not be too cumbersome,” he said. “We’re not willing to say this should become university policy through the normal mechanisms. Faculties have the right to do that if they so choose.”

Some senators, however, argued against the committee’s conclusions.

“The basis that we should leave this to the faculties to decide—I’m not sure that’s a good justification for not implementing a policy that affects assessment, because assessment is something that affects all students,” Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Representative Jonathan Mooney said.

Masi argued that more evidence is needed before the committee can move forward with further recommendations.

“We have no evidence that there is bias in grading at McGill,” he said. “If we had that empirical information, it would be very helpful [.…] I will undertake a McGill study to demonstrate it.”

Other senators argued that McGill does not need a new study to move forward on the issue.

“There is data that shows this worldwide,” Cameron Butler, Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS) representative, said. “There are no reasons to consider that McGill is somehow outside of the realm of social injustice, [so] we can logically assume that these issues exist at McGill.”

Faculty of Arts representative  and Political Science professor Catherine Lu said providing faculty with potential strategies for avoiding bias would be a more effective solution.

“I’m not sure it’s going to really help to try to figure out empirically [through] a study at McGill whether there is bias,” she said. “We have to think of strategies that actually work given the way that we actually do things in our system.”

University priorities

Senate also critiqued and made suggestions for the university’s priorities following a presentation by Principal Suzanne Fortier on McGill’s proposed priorities for the future.

These include emphasizing research; improving the university’s partnerships with alumni and other universities; and maintaining and improving McGill’s physical and digital infrastructure.

Some senators questioned the value of these priorities, noting their lack of substantive, qualitative measures.

“A few things I’ve seen are a bit fluffy and ought to be more well-rounded in what exactly we hope to achieve,” Mooney said. “‘Position McGill research teams at the forefront of knowledge’—that sounds great, but what does it mean? And how are we going to measure that?”

According to Fortier, community approval of these values will lead to another round of consultation to create a concrete plan and to set targets and timelines for reporting on progress.

“We need to know first and foremost: can we at this point mobilize around these areas?” she said.

Other senators praised the document’s emphasis on improving academic advising, and stressed the importance of developing concrete results on this topic.

“Students have been very underrepresented in getting advising services,” Faculty of Arts Advisor Ruth Kuzaitis said. “In our particular faculty the ratio is 2,000 students to one advisor [.…] It’s very unfortunate to see students go through their university studies without ever encountering an advisor [to] help navigate a complex system.”

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens assured senators that concrete steps for improving advising should be in action within the next year.

“We already are moving on some things—for example […] we’re building an advising checklist for incoming students,” he said. “We’re going to put an emphasis on pre-arrival advising or early advising so we avoid the bottleneck later on, [and] we’re developing a series of simulators for incoming students.”