I conceived this article months ago, when I was all riled up and indignant, determined to get answers and feeling very Erin Brockovich. My goal was to determine whether U of T’s administrative system is constructed specifically to discourage any challenge. It was unfortunately not through a gallant fight against the system, but amid the total nothingness that has characterized the past number of weeks that I came to my conclusion.
Last semester, I encountered a TA and a professor who were less than enamoured of my work. True, one particular essay I submitted in this class was not the greatest I’d ever composed, but who hasn’t struggled with words until 4 a.m., thought to themselves, “This is not excellent, but it’s solid,” and hit ‘Print.’
The paper was not considered solid by the powers that be, however, and I was given the lowest mark I have ever received in my academic career. I sat in meetings with the TA and wrote letters to the professor proclaiming the merit of my work, only to have my mark squeaked upward by a measly two per cent.
I had lost the battle, so I focused on the war. I studied hard for the exam, and wrote what I thought were three well-informed essays. Surprise, surprise-this was not so in the eyes of the great historians.
After ROSI delivered the blow of my final grade, I decided to view my exam and find out where the issues lay. I printed the viewing request form, filled it out and brought it to the requisite office. I waited the mandatory 10 days, called the office to confirm my availability, and waited for a phone call back to confirm my confirmation of the appointment. Yes, the process was just as convoluted as the sentence needed to describe it. I’ve not even mentioned the fact that exams are only available to be viewed for three hours on Mondays, rendering the entire “availability” question rather irrelevant.
But I did it all by the book, placing my belongings at the side of the viewing room, and refraining from using a pen or paper to make notes for myself. That’s right, in a supervised room you may view your own exam, but you may not make notes on it, for then-God forbid-you might be able to make a coherent argument against your professor. Silly regulations aside, I just wanted reasons for my poor grade.
It was as I sat in the tiny, supervised room that I discovered the issues within the system were much more serious than those in my exam booklet. Or perhaps they were just easier to spot: my exam booklet didn’t have a word in it that I hadn’t originally written. The TA had scribbled three measly numbers on the cover, and not a word of explanation to make them any less arbitrary.
I couldn’t make an argument without a copy of my work, which costs $13. Each exam copy is evidently printed on a rare type of parchment. If I wanted to take the issue before a formal review committee (composed, of course, of my history professor’s departmental peers-hmm, will they take his side or mine?), I’d be hit with another $13 photocopying fee, plus $35 for the privilege of contesting my mark.
Initially, I fully intended to go through the whole process. But during the weeks of delay and frustration, U of T’s psychological warfare slowly ate away at my resolve. I crossed out week after week of reminders in my agenda as my other commitments became more pressing. The idea of $61 worth of food going to waste suddenly seemed so much more important than justice. I was busy, and after I closed ROSI my sad little mark wasn’t staring me in the face anymore.
It was only as I sat down to write this article that I realized how cleverly U of T’s mechanisms had worked against me. Fair or not, intentional or otherwise, my mark would remain the same, and not a single member of the history department would have extra work on their plate. By now, in my final year, I’m just ready for it to be over. With or without the justice I deserve, they’re still going to have to hand me that crisp new diploma. I wonder if the paper it’s printed on is worth $13.