Fairness to Students

STATEMENT ON FACULTY FAIRNESS TO STUDENTS

MSL instructors should understand that, when assessing instructor “fairness,” students are guided more by their perception of the instructor’s behavior or policies than by the instructor’s actual intentions. To some degree, therefore, “perception is reality,” and professors remain aware of this at all times.

Educational psychologist, Dr. Rita C. Rodabaugh, has articulated three components of perceived fairness:

1. Interactional Fairness; the interaction between the instructor and students;

2. Procedural Fairness: the instructor’s rules for grading and classroom
administration; and

3. Outcome Fairness: the instructor’s distribution of scores and grades

Accordingly, MSL instructors must take steps to convey both “actual fairness” and “perceived fairness” during all phases of instruction. Actual fairness is a straightforward concept. The following guidelines will be of assistance for you in conveying perceived fairness.

1. INTERACTIONAL FAIRNESS
According to Rodabaugh, students believe that interactional fairness is the most important factor of all. Therefore, you should pay particular attention to the components described below that affect interactional fairness.

A. Impartiality
Students expect an instructor to treat everyone in the class equally. Although few instructors intentionally favor certain students over others, at times it is quite difficult not to like some students more than others. But, you must be aware of subtle differences in the treatment of students such as: allowing some students to dominate discussions, appearing to be harsher with some students than others, and picking on or teasing certain students. Even subtle differences in how students are treated may lead students to perceive partiality where none exists. Please, carefully monitor your behavior and interactions with all students.

B. Respect
Students expect an instructor to listen, consider, and thoughtfully reply to their in-class statements, even when they challenge the instructor’s views, or the instructor may find them to be irrelevant, misguided, or not well-founded. An instructor perceived as impatient or demeaning, either directly or indirectly will lose the students’ respect. The instructor must act as “the adult in the room” at all times, even when one or more students act inappropriately. Instructors must remain civil and calm, modeling appropriate behavior for students, even when a student is disrespectful or otherwise acts inappropriately.

C. Concern for One’s Students
At all times, instructors must demonstrate that they care about their students, and are invested in their academic performance. Actions such as learning the names of students, talking to students both before and after class, answering questions thoroughly, accepting and considering student feedback, and reaching out to struggling students cement the students’ perception that the instructor cares.

D. Integrity
The educational process proceeds best when students believe their instructors possess integrity. This requires that the professor be consistent and truthful, and explains his or her policies, procedures, and decisions. Students will accept strict policies and procedures if the instructor makes clear the rational pedagogical goal he or she is trying to achieve.

E. Propriety
Instructors must act in a socially-acceptable manner at all times. For example, instructors should not tell off-color stories or jokes because it is likely that at least some students will find this offensive. Also, although coarse language has become more acceptable in recent years, instructors need to understand that there is a line that should not be crossed. Additionally, instructors must not require students to reveal highly personal information in an assignment or class discussion.

Most importantly, the instructor must maintain an appropriate social distance from his or her students. Socializing with current students is inappropriate.

2. PROCEDURAL FAIRNESS
Students rate procedural fairness second to the concept of interactional fairness.

A. Tests and other Evaluative Devices.
Three factors combine to cause students to believe that a test or other method of evaluation is fair:
1. The material on the test is relevant to the course’s objectives, and was covered in lectures, readings or both. Students have particular trouble with tests they believe are “out of left field.” They deserve to know that there is a relationship between what they have learned and how they are evaluated.

2. The test is appropriate in difficulty for the course. Students are especially offended by overly difficult tests that seem designed to flunk people out of a course. On the other hand, this is law school; the standards are high, and the tests and other evaluative methods should be difficult. Please understand, however, that there is a limit.

3. The test is well-designed, written clearly, and free of blatant typos and mistakes. Students neither respect professors who do not take the time to avoid presenting sloppy exams nor believe them to be fair.

B. Feedback.
Providing prompt, constructive feedback on the results of tests and assignments is pedagogically sound and helps students perceive the instructor as fair and concerned about their progress. The feedback instructors provide should inform the students of the shortcomings of their answers, and explain how and why the answers fell short. Meaningful feedback takes relatively little time (even in large classes) and greatly increases student goodwill.

C. Responsiveness
In addition to providing feedback to students, professors also should solicit and respond to feedback from students. For example, professors should give serious consideration to student complaints about test, quizzes, and other evaluative methods that students considered to be ambiguous or unclear. Professors must take remedial action when such complaints are valid. When distributing assignments, instructors should make sure students understand the grading criteria, and that they answer questions about the requirements, procedures, deadlines and outcomes.

3. OUTCOME FAIRNESS
Perceived arbitrariness of grading makes it more likely that students will be tempted to cheat or plagiarize. The following practices will cause the instructor’s grading to appear well-founded and fair and, as a result, abate the motivation of some students to cheat.

A. Follow Institutional Standards and Practices.
MSL has specific policies regarding grade distribution in each class. The instructor should reveal these policies to the students and follow them. When students believe that there is no formal policy in a class, or that grade distributions vary from section-to-section for similar work, they will come to view the grading process as arbitrary and unfair. Students compare grades with peers and will likely feel cheated if their grades for comparable performance are lower than those of students in course sections taught by other instructors. Students who feel cheated may reciprocate by cheating.

B. Use Accurate Measures of Performance.
Grades on tests, papers, and assignments should accurately reflect student performance. The instructor must continually review and update assessment instruments to ensure their accuracy. Professors who reuse test questions must check them to assure currency and relatedness to current classroom content. Questions that are poorly worded, ambiguous, sloppy, or ask about topics not covered in class or readings reduce assessment accuracy.

C. Be Clear about the Grading Method.
The course syllabus should describe all methods of assessment, and the weight each will have in determining course grades. The instructor must be clear about the method of grades determination and the rationale for the grading method.

D. Keep Course Policies Consistent.
Students expect grading policies to be firm. Accordingly, policies on grading should not change mid-stream unless necessary. And if the instructor must make alterations, it is essential that he or she fully explain and justify the changes. Ideally, the revised policy should benefit students, e.g., providing an additional opportunity for students to earn points toward final grades. If the instructor makes a change that might not benefit the students, the best practice is to discuss the proposed alteration with an academic dean prior to announcing the change.

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military logoMassachusetts School of Law's mission is to provide an academically rigorous affordable legal education emphasizing ethics, advocacy, leadership, and professional skills. MSLAW provides an accessible and affordable legal education to tomorrow’s leaders in law, business, and technology who seek to contribute to their communities as advocates, lawyers, and leaders. Lawyers have substantial influence in our society and MSLAW prepares its graduates to use that power to help their clients and obtain the societal advancement that a law degree has traditionally provided.

To accomplish its mission, Massachusetts School of Law brings together a diverse group of scholars, judges, expert practitioners and other professionals to provide individuals from all backgrounds a rigorous, professionally advantageous, affordable legal education so that they can improve their lives and better serve their communities.
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Massachusetts School of Law's Mission

military logoMassachusetts School of Law's mission is to provide an academically rigorous affordable legal education emphasizing ethics, advocacy, leadership, and professional skills. MSLAW provides an accessible and affordable legal education to tomorrow’s leaders in law, business, and technology who seek to contribute to their communities as advocates, lawyers, and leaders. Lawyers have substantial influence in our society and MSLAW prepares its graduates to use that power to help their clients and obtain the societal advancement that a law degree has traditionally provided.

To accomplish its mission, Massachusetts School of Law brings together a diverse group of scholars, judges, expert practitioners and other professionals to provide individuals from all backgrounds a rigorous, professionally advantageous, affordable legal education so that they can improve their lives and better serve their communities.