When assessing institutional “fairness,” MSLAW instructors understand that students often are guided as much by their perception of the instructor’s policies than by the instructor’s actual intentions. To some degree, therefore, “perception is reality” and MSLAW understands that its professors must be made, and remain, aware of this.

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

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 take steps to convey both “actual fairness” and “perceived fairness” during all phases of instruction.


According to Rodabaugh, students believe that interactional fairness is the most important factor of all.

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. Professors 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 singling-out certain students. Even subtle differences in how students are treated may lead students to perceive partiality where none exists. MSLAW professors are required to carefully monitor their 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 always act as the classroom moderator, 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 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 know their instructors possess integrity. This requires that the professors be consistent and truthful, and explain their policies, procedures, and decisions. Students will accept strict policies and procedures if the instructor makes clear the
rational pedagogical goal they are trying to achieve.

E. Propriety

Instructors must act in a socially acceptable manner at all times. Although coarse language has become more acceptable in recent years, instructors must 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 important, the instructor must maintain an appropriate social distance from his or her students. Socializing with current students is inappropriate.


Students rate procedural fairness second to the concept of interactional fairness.

A. Exams and other Evaluative Devices

Three factors combine to cause students to believe that a test or other method of evaluation is fair:

The material on the exam is relevant to the course’s objectives, and was covered in lectures, readings or both. Students have particular trouble with exams 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.

The exam 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 necessarily rigorous, and the exams and other evaluative methods should be difficult. Students must be made aware of this.

The exam 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 quizzes, exams, 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 exams, 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.


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 be 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 exams, quizzes, papers, and assignments should accurately reflect student performance. Instructors 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. Transparency in 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 and the rationale of grade determination.

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 the instructor 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 a Dean prior to announcing the change.