Grade Manipulation Scandal Rocks Spelman CollegeBy Joy Liwanag
Kendrick Morales, a former assistant professor of economics at Spelman College, has raised serious allegations against the institution, claiming that grades in his courses were manipulated without his prior knowledge. Morales contends that after voicing his concerns, he was abruptly dismissed without the opportunity to appeal, leaving him grappling with questions surrounding academic freedom.
Morales' Tenure at Spelman
Morales, who served at Spelman, a historically Black college for women, for two years, alleges that the issue of grade manipulation emerged during the fall of 2021, casting a shadow over his otherwise promising tenure-track position. Calculations provided by Morales indicate that a significant percentage of upperclassmen, including seniors in a thesis class, were on the verge of failing some of his courses, even after he had scaled up their scores.
The former assistant professor asserts that the college intervened surreptitiously to further inflate grades in two of his classes. An email provided by Morales suggests that this might be a broader issue at Spelman, with the then president of Spelman's Faculty Council acknowledging similar experiences among council members. However, there has been no response from the implicated parties.
Spelman's Neither Confirms Nor Denies Allegations
In response to inquiries by Inside Higher Ed, Spelman College released a statement neither confirming nor denying the authenticity of Morales's documents. The statement emphasized the institution's commitment to "meaningful and effective classroom engagement" and insisted that appropriate judgment is exercised in delivering learning activities. However, the statement cited confidentiality and refrained from commenting further on Morales's situation.
The Academic Freedom Alliance, an organization advocating for faculty free expression, issued a news release urging Morales's reinstatement. The organization highlighted the potential intellectual fraud in punishing a professor for grading rigorously, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the pursuit of truth in education. The AFA had previously written to Spelman's president, urging reconsideration.
Morales, who taught econometrics, principles of macroeconomics, and senior thesis courses during his tenure, detailed the grade-changing issue that began with his econometrics section in the fall of 2021. Despite Morales's interventions and scaling up of grades, a significant percentage of students in that class would still have failed, raising questions about the efficacy of the grade manipulation.
The controversy reached its peak when Morales faced an unsatisfactory teaching review for his senior thesis course in the spring of 2023. Despite applying his scaling method, the fail rate remained high at 43 percent. Morales contends that this negative review was orchestrated to pave the way for his dismissal.
The Academic Freedom Debate: Is Grade Manipulation an Infringement?
The Academic Freedom Alliance has raised fundamental questions about whether changing Morales's assigned grades constitutes an academic freedom violation. In a letter, the AFA emphasized that faculty members must have the freedom to assess the quality of students' work honestly. The broader issue of maintaining academic freedom and avoiding external interference in grading has come to the forefront.
As Morales contemplates legal action and reflects on his future in academia, the controversy raises broader questions about academic integrity, faculty autonomy, and the potential consequences of institutional interference in grading practices. It remains to be seen how Spelman College will respond to these serious allegations and whether Morales's case will serve as a catalyst for addressing concerns about academic freedom within higher education institutions.