Mark Johnson is an associate professor of Theology at Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI). His specialization is in St. Thomas Aquinas.

On the occasion of an 'F'

Crosses on the steeples of the Gesù Church (Marquette University)

Dear [student name],

With sincerest regret I had to submit a grade of ‘F’ for you for our course this fall semester of 2015. Coursing through our class's D2L website I could see your smattering engagement with the assignments, with you taking a quiz here and there. You did none of the required discussions or module papers, and one of the six required worksheets. You did take the midterm and final examination quizzes, and did solidly. But when I added up all the points for the semester, you had accomplished only 35% of the points available.

In this case there is little else I can do than embrace the mathematical facts as they are, and submit the “F” grade for the course. I’m sad about this, and wish very much that you would have come to me for advice and help if the course, or even your semester as a whole, was becoming to much to bear. It is hard to determine the fine line between expecting a student’s self-direction and parenting a student’s schoolwork schedule. My practice in two decades at Marquette is to favor and expect student self-direction, in large part because the world that awaits students upon graduation will be less forgiving than any faculty member could ever be. In the workplace someone might punctually do everything that is expected of them, for years, and still lose their job because of economic conditions. Being let go from a job for accomplishing only 35% of the assigned work is a certainty.

At the same time I grieve at failure, knowing that a student will have to rework their schedule to retake and pass this required course. Facing up to one’s stakeholders (parents, family, coaches, and so on) will be humiliating. And there can be financial repercussions, too.

I won't be teaching this course next semester, but may teach it again next fall, and the spring following. It would be great to see your name on my class roster; if you are on the roster, please come to me so we can plot out a successful semester.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Johnson

Long live the zygote

A retreat to work