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I (foolishly) corrected my physics professor as he was about to teach fifty students a blatantly wrong simplification, and since then he's been out to get me. I get grades of 20% or lower on tests where I get all the answers right, but don't solve the problems in precisely the way he wants.

He answers all my questions with banal truisms ("Just use the provided equations and pick a decent reference frame and you'll get the right answer"), and even makes an effort to leave before collecting my assignments.

I'm afraid to complain, because he has a lot of political connections on campus, but I'm terrified that he's going to blemish my perfect GPA. Also, I can't withdraw from the class without falling behind in my coursework and needing to stay an extra semester.

What course of action would best protect my grades, and my future, from a vindictive professor?

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    In any disagreement with your professor, if you find that you are right, apologize at once! (Yes, this is mix-quoted from a very old joke.) – Bob Brown Feb 7 '17 at 18:51
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    You corrected him in front of 50 students? And in which way? Questions of form matter here. – Captain Emacs Feb 7 '17 at 18:56
  • Is there a way to make an appeal to the grades that you are getting? Even if you corrected him very inappropriately, there are other formal ways for him to "seek justice", lowering a grade for it (if it is really what's happening) is childish, unethical and unprofessional at best. – Marko Karbevski Feb 7 '17 at 19:03
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    You got a grade of 20% on a test where you got everything right. Is this for real? Because that's something you need to bring up with an academic dean ASAP – Compass Feb 7 '17 at 19:49
  • I once actually dropped out of a program because I could not stand the outdated version of computer science they were teaching. But it's not my class, it's their class. Doesn't matter what I thought about it or how right I was. I had to do it their way to get the A. It happens. Rein it in a bit and see if you can't find some middle ground. Doubt the prof is actually out to get you. – Dave Kanter Feb 7 '17 at 21:13
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Without knowing the professor, my bet is that you - unfortunately - will have little possibility mending your relationship with him. Maybe he is a believer in second chances, but judging from your description, I doubt it.

The first thing you need is a reality check - are you really being treated unfairly. You need to get a hold of some more senior students or friendly faculty members, it could either be at your own university or in an online community. Show them your graded coursework and the syllabus, and have them asses whether you are actually being treated unfairly. If you get down marked by 80 % or more, it should be obvious.

If you are, then your should contact your local dean immediately. Let him or her know the full story, it is their job to listen and deal with these things. Make it clear that you would like to just get this over with as easy as possible, but you don't feel safe taking the exam with this particular professor. If you are lucky, they have a procedure ready for these things. When you approach the dean, stay descriptive, and don't feel like you have to fight for your right. It should not matter, but unfortunately it does.

Make up your mind in advance whether or not you would be ok with transferring to another course. Even though it may slow you down a bit - or force you to read faster - it may be your best option.

When all this is done and over, just stay clear of that professor, and you should be ok. If I should guess, I would say that unless this is a very young professor, this is not the first occurrence of such a situation, and the professor will have a 'rumor', even among his political connections. You should be very unlucky if this comes back to bite you, and it would also be very unlikely that the professor would actually go out of his way to harm you.

  • The professor eats lunch with the dean. They're tennis friends – Tim Feb 8 '17 at 2:33
  • Then you can be sure that the dean also knows about the profs more unpleasant traits. Just keep it calm and give an explanation similar to the one you gave in the question. – nabla Feb 8 '17 at 7:09
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I think the only way to go is to rectify your relationship with said professor (or to suck it up).

Trying to fight the grades out will most certainly not be productive. If your tests are anything else than multiple choice, you will have a hard time to appeal the grading. "Everything correct but different derivation" may mean many different things and I can imagine many situations where you have 1) no chance to appeal or even 2) the deduction in points may be justified (e.g. if the point of the problem was to show that you mastered a certain technique but you preferred to use another technique).

So, how to get the relationship back on rails? Since I don't know too much detail, I can't get too concrete. But was is clear from what you've written: You interrupted the professor in a way that he found inappropriate (note, there is no judgment here, as to what you actually did). You can honestly apologize to him - no problem with that (and be careful, not to draw the subject matter, i.e. the "blatantly wrong derivation" into play here).

Only if you can manage to get the apology through you may start to discuss the "wrong derivation" on plain grounds. As I understand, derivation may be wrong but still be useful. Many derivations use simplification to get some point across. Sometimes it is even useful, to first teach an oversimplification and then, at some later point, show the more complete picture.

As to how to get the chance to apologize again depends. Going to office hours seems good. You may also ask for an appointment via email. I would not suggest to catch the professor after or before class, and also not to discuss the matter on to phone. Having a good email conversation may turn out to be very difficult.

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