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In my university, some, but not all, professors upload online the grades of every student and their names next to them a few days before making them final at the end of the semester. This is done to give a chance to the students to point out any mistakes the professor may have made.

No one other than the students can see the final grades. When the professor uploads the non-final grades, they are visible by everyone.

Since few people get good grades, others are jealous of them. Long story short, I really have an issue with this.

Is it unreasonable to ask my professors to email my grades instead of uploading them online, like they do with everyone else? What other alternatives do I have?

I live in a European country.

  • 1
    This depends on the country you're in, I've that in the US there are some signs that you can sign to prevent others from publicly revealing your grades. – Olorun Oct 12 '15 at 4:12
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    @Olorun: In fact, in the US it is illegal for the school to publicly reveal your grades unless you have signed something allowing them to do so. – Nate Eldredge Oct 12 '15 at 4:33
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    @Olorun: Still not allowed, under US law. Grades and similar data can't be shared with anyone except the student and authorized university employees. Not even the student's parents are allowed access. – Nate Eldredge Oct 12 '15 at 4:39
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    In the UK, not even the Royal Family are exempt. Results at Cambridge for every examination used to be posted on display to the general public (including "Wales, H.R.H" when he was an undergraduate) for about a week after the final exams. The results for all students of my old college are printed in full in the college alumni magazine every year. – alephzero Oct 12 '15 at 19:04
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    "A European country." Which one? The UK? Belarus? – David Richerby Oct 12 '15 at 21:11
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My experience from European universities is that even there, the grades should not be posted by name, but instead by a student ID number. However, in most cases, the university requires the public posting of the grades in such a manner (for exactly the reasons you suggest—to allow for petitioning of changes in grade).

Moreover, because of the large number of students who may be taking a course, it can be highly impractical for the teaching staff to respond to individual requests for reporting grades by email. (Imagine having to send out 1800 emails for a single course!)

Consequently, while you might ask for anonymizing of the grade reports by student ID instead of name, I think it would be unfair to ask the professors to report individual grades by email, unless you have an exceptional and demonstrated need for such an email (for instance, you are unable to get your grade because of extended absence without Internet access).

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    it can be highly impractical for the teaching staff to respond to individual requests for reporting grades by email - In the US, where posting student grades by ID is illegal, we use an LMS like moodle or blackboard, not email, to make students aware of interim grades. Do they not use LMSes in Europe? Why not? – ff524 Oct 12 '15 at 5:10
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    @aeismail: Hmm, my (German) faculty uses a software, which double as grade-submission system and to inform the students of their grades. – Wrzlprmft Oct 12 '15 at 5:27
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    @O.R.Mapper Student IDs are too easy to infer from multiple result lists and can be hard to keep secret for other reasons. Thus, their usage for public application or announcement lists should be forbidden. What's really needed are unique keys per exam. (My university has been dragging their feet and only reacting in small ways. We've been using exam IDs for years now, and it's very liberating in several ways.) – Raphael Oct 12 '15 at 10:06
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    @ff524 many universities in Europe use secured web portals to communicate grades. But just because there's a system doesn't mean lecturers will use it. – Cape Code Oct 12 '15 at 11:26
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    My experience in French universities is that the grades are just displayed publicly outside the secretary's office, and anyone who walks by (student, professor, janitor, random passerby) can see what grade everyone got. I think it's rather hard to generalize something to all of Europe. – user9646 Oct 12 '15 at 11:50
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Yes, it's unreasonable. Any request for special treatment for you personally is unreasonable unless it is grounded in genuine need: e.g. a disability or an acute change in personal circumstances.

If you feel strongly that this practice is wrong you should instead seek to change the practice for all students through the usual university channels for seeking change and raising grievances.

Other posters have suggested that posting results is illegal under data protection legislation, they are wrong; Data Protection legislation does not forbid the posting of exam results in Europe in general although specific countries in Europe may have stricter limits.

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    This guideline document from FU Berlin explains that publishing exam grades by permanent student ID numbers does not fulfil German legal privacy requirements. Likewise, this document from the central data protection agency for universities in the German state of Baden-Württemberg says exam results can legally only be published online with prior written consent by the student. ("publish" in the sense of making publicly accessible) – O. R. Mapper Oct 12 '15 at 15:56
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    According to this FAQ by the state agency for privacy in Schleswig-Holstein, the same (prior written consent) is also required for reading out a grade aloud in front of a schoolclass in Germany. Lastly, this explanation by the data security officer of the Swiss Canton of Basel-Stadt suggests publishing a non-anonymized list of exam results online is just as illegal in Switzerland. – O. R. Mapper Oct 12 '15 at 16:06
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    @O.R.Mapper Still doesn't mean it's forbidden in Europe or the EU generally. As a matter of fact, it's common and accepted in France or the UK so even if you want to argue it ought to change in principle, it's not by any means obvious it's illegal or immediately useful to the OP to know this. – Relaxed Oct 12 '15 at 22:07
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    @Relaxed: My commens were meant to clarify the earlier version of this answer that insinuated it is generally not forbidden in Europe, as well as the current version that, while adding a restriction later on, still claims the desire uttered by the OP is "unreasonable", assumes it is "special treatment for [one person] personally", and that the notion of posting exam results being in conflict with data protection legislation a generally "wrong" claim. The answer is probably meant to express the correct ideas, but at least in the current state, I think the my references are still helpful. – O. R. Mapper Oct 12 '15 at 23:03
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    "Yes, it's unreasonable. Any request for special treatment for you personally is unreasonable" I wouldn't call a request for privacy unreasonable. I find your answer very peculiar... How can privacy not be 'for you personally'?? – Stijn de Witt Oct 13 '15 at 8:56
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I think your request is very reasonable and what your professors do is unethical and likely illegal¹ (not that I would recommend outright suing before trying to talk to people).

A solution you could advertise to your professors and that neither requires any software nor a big additional effort is the following:

  • In addition to their names, students give some arbitrary name or similar on their exam sheets that they can remember, e.g., Paul Erdős, Ichabod Numberwrangler, Robert'); DROP TABLE STUDENTS;-- or AxPeYvs2`{P97_E$T+!?tj0YY.

  • When the grades are published, this name is used instead of their real name. In the unlikely event that two students chose an identical name, use an initial or similar to distinguish them in an unrevealing way (or use e-mail).


¹ I am not familiar with every legislation and it may depend on the exact circumstances, but for example this document from the central data-protection agency of the universities of a German states that even publishing results in connection with the student ID needs a written consenst from the student.

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    The illegal aspect of this depends of the country: when I was student in France about 10 years ago, it was common that the grades are posted in a corridor, and everybody can see them. I don't know if the practice changed – Taladris Oct 12 '15 at 5:59
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    @Taladris: That does not necessarily contradict it being illegal. There are a lot of common practices that only survive because nobody is suing. For example the physics department in my university organises physics lab courses for medical students and they have to be organised in an entire different manner, because you can rely on some of those students suing whenever there is a slight chance of success. – Wrzlprmft Oct 12 '15 at 7:21
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    "not that I would recommend suing" -- why not? Have the student union pick up the suit. It's all but certain to succeed; this practice is in violation with EU law (iirc, cf Directive 95/46/EC). Some professors won't change their habits unless the sky falls down on them; well, we can arrange that. (Usually, the serious suggestion of a pending lawsuit will cause the head of the university to fold, and stern words to the offending parties follow.) – Raphael Oct 12 '15 at 9:58
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    @Raphael: Because, if I understand the situation correctly, suing would be a disproportional step of escalation. You can try talking to the professors or the department first or have the student union do it. If that fails, you can still sue. (Also note that I only do not recommend suing and do not recommend not suing.) – Wrzlprmft Oct 12 '15 at 10:38
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: As I noted earlier, some medical students in my country will use every chance for suing if it means that they may be able to continue studying despite failing their physics course three times. This is sad and has ridiculous consequences affecting all students, but it’s sadly very real. – Wrzlprmft Oct 12 '15 at 16:40
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It is fine to ask your professor if there is some way to keep the grades confidential when they are posted. As others say, perhaps they could be posted as an ID, or maybe the professor has access to a way to easily send it as an email.

However, keep in mind that there is a strong possibility that you will receive a negative answer.

You seem concerned about peer harassment, but most people at the college level can, and will, act like grown adults. If you do happen to encounter harassment, just staying professional should remind them of this. If not, there are avenues you can take to report harassment, but they sometimes vary - so you'd have to check your own school's policies and procedures.

Congratulations on your achievement

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If what the professor is doing is legal in your country, and he is unwilling to accommodate your request, you should petition the institutional hierarchy, dean, president, or such for a change in policy. If you have a student governance committee/senate/parliament, you could approach them to approach the university to change the policy to use student ID's. In the U.S., published student IDs should cannot be the students federal ID number, aka social security number, nor a portion of that number. This requires a structural change to the computerized student records system and may take years to effect. In the interim, a system of nick names could be devised so that only YOU and your prof knows the whose nickname is whose. Also, most electronic databases have a record number assigned to each record, i.e. each student has a different record number, somewhat akin to a line number in a paper and pencil grade book. The prof could display that record number instead of a name. Maybe not the best solution, but probably the easiest to effect in the short term. He only needs to communicate students' record numbers to each student privately. Be mindful that, whatever the alias system is used, the ordering of the names on the posted list should not be in the real name alphabetical order. If your name is Aaron Aardvaark, or Zybignu Zzypata, most can detect who is first or last on the list. Beyond the university, you can petition your local senator or MP, as the case may be for a national or state law. That, again could take years.

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