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From my observations comparing syllabi, grades, and coursework with a few of my peers, their professor's section of the same class has a significantly lighter work-load, more lenient grading policy, and a higher overall class-average (we're talking a letter-grade higher).

Do I have a case for a legitimate grievance?

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  • 2
    A different professor, correct? How large is each section? Tens or hundreds?
    – Buffy
    Feb 29 '20 at 21:07
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    You don’t have a case, because you’re lucky to have a professor who wants you to work hard and learn a lot from their class. It’s the students in the other section who have something to complain about.
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 29 '20 at 22:48
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    Are you in school to get an education or to get a grade? What happens when students from each professor take the next level course?
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 29 '20 at 22:50
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    You guys are assuming the harder-grader, higher-work-load giving professor is a better teacher than the other. In my experience those things aren't particularly correlated.
    – Jeff
    Feb 29 '20 at 22:53
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    @RealMech it’s not clear to me how these extra details change anything, except that now it sounds like you might be suggesting that what’s bothering you is not that the workload is heavy but that it focuses on tedious calculations that aren’t conceptually important to the material of the course. Is that true? In general, I think it’s important that you clarify to yourself exactly what it is you’re upset about. E.g., if the teacher isn’t teaching well, that’s a valid complaint. But hard exams and heavy workload by themselves are unlikely to be seen as actionable or necessarily even a bad thing.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 1 '20 at 2:22
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I'm certain your university has some sort of student affairs or advising. That's who you should talk to.

I teach a class that has another section taught by another professor, and we've worked hard to align the workload and grading. We did so initially at the behest of the department and our own student advising dean. Both of us found the request perfectly fair.

A few points to consider though:

  • Are the classes really identical? It sounds like they are from what you wrote, but be sure.
  • Has this been a long-time situation? If it has been, it's possible the department is well aware of the issue and has been unable to bring about change. In that case there's no harm in adding your voice to it, but temper your expectations.
  • Is one of the instructors a new professor/post doc/grad student? It's possible they're new to this and aren't aware that the difference is a problem.
  • If you're unable to get anything changed it may just be something you have to accept (or change sections) - tenured faculty often get a lot of leeway in how they handle their classes.

Regardless, if you're going to do anything, don't confront the professors until you've spoken with student affairs or advising. This isn't something you should be putting your own reputation on the line for, and certainly not with anything like a formal grievance.

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It is hard to say and depends on the culture of your institution. But I think it more likely that you would do worse by making any formal complaint than otherwise. You might even be laughed out of the department head's office for making a complaint. But who can say. Professors are pretty independent in such things, though sometimes they do try to coordinate the workload if nothing else.

And what would you hope to accomplish? Toughening up the other section? Getting one of the professors disciplined? Switching in mid stream?

Being loved by some students and professors and hated by others? Lots of possible outcomes here.

And few of us from this distance can say if the "tougher" standards you might be facing are an advantage for you or a disadvantage. If you meet a high standard you learn more.

Being a tough instructor is different from being an incompetent one.

And, a secret. Some professors seem tougher than they are, making adjustments when it comes to final grades if the overall distribution of grades is too low.

I guess my best advice is to grumble to yourself if it helps, but use this as an opportunity to improve your understanding. Especially if this is an important course.

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