Spelman Professor Says School Inflated Students' Grades, Fired Him When He Complained

In a termination letter, the HBCU points to student complaints and his lack of accessibility, the instructor says.

Former Spelman College economics professor Kendrick Morales accuses the HBCU of bumping up his student’s grades and firing him this summer for complaining, Inside Higher Ed reports.

The tenure-track assistant professor said he had already scaled up student test scores before school officials increased grades in two classes. 

An email he received from an administrator suggested to him that inflated grades are a systemic issue at the private Atlanta institution for Black women.

“I brought your issue to Faculty Council and some of them experienced what you did. They all agreed that grades are at the discretion of the instructor only, no one else,” an email from Lisa B. Hibbard, then faculty council president, said, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Neither Hibbard nor any other individuals Morales said were involved in the situation responded to Inside Higher Ed’s requests for comment.

Spelman responded with a statement that Higher Ed said “neither confirmed nor denied” the evidence Morales presented to the news outlet. 

“Meaningful and effective classroom engagement is the hallmark of a Spelman education. The college, its administrators, and faculty exercise appropriate judgment in the delivery of our learning activities in order to maintain consistency across Spelman’s campus,” Spelman’s statement read, adding that the college “reviewed this matter and has no further comment on the opinions of this former faculty member. Since this is a confidential employment matter, we decline to comment further.”

Morales taught three courses during his two years at Spelman: econometrics, principles of macroeconomics and senior thesis. Before that, he was a Ph.D. student instructor, assisting in teaching probability and statistics and applied econometrics for 15 quarters and four summers. He taught probability and statistics one summer at U.C. Irvine. 

The grade inflation problem began in his first semester at Spelman in the fall of 2021 with his econometrics section for juniors and seniors. Morales presented calculations to Inside Higher Ed showing that 89 percent of his students would have failed without his grade scaling.

Morales said he complied with the economics department chair’s advice to raise their midterm scores by 28 points. He later “preemptively” raised the students’ final exam grades, which were lower than their midterm results, by 36 points because he believed the chair would have wanted him to do that. Consequently, a score of 57 was an A. Even with his own scaling, 44 percent of that class would still fail.

He later learned from the undergraduate studies dean that the college further increased grades in both his econometrics and principles of macroeconomics courses.

“Based on our fact gathering, our office determined that some adjustments were warranted,” the dean, Desiree Pedescleaux, wrote in an email to Morales, according to Inside Higher Ed.

“This resulted in a slight bump in the overall final scores, and in some cases, it resulted in grade changes, mostly for students already earning a C or better. For students resting at the bottom of the grading scale, there was not much that could be done without drastically changing the grading scheme,” her email continued, adding, “P.S. I regret to inform you that we have two additional class grievances. I will be in touch shortly to discuss them.”

Spelman College

Spelman College Ranked As No. 1 HBCU By US News & World Report

Meanwhile, Morales’ department chair and two faculty members unanimously gave him “unsatisfactory” on their evaluations. Among their criticisms, the assessment noted that he meets in person with students for just 15 minutes twice a week. He suspected the review was a first step toward the school firing him.

Morales said he complained to interim provost Dolores Bradley Brennan about the grade changes. Bradley Brennan said she supported Pedescleaux’s response and scheduled a virtual meeting with him. At that meeting, Bradley Brennan terminated Morales.

“As the fall 2022 semester was under way, student complaints regarding your courses quickly resurfaced,” Bradley Brennan wrote in her dismissal letter to Morales, mentioning grading issues and his lack of “accessibility,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

“These concerns continued and grew even more significant in spring 2023, particularly in your thesis course. By way of example only, students complained that instead of conducting full class sessions, you only led brief meetings lasting at sometimes no more than fifteen minutes.” 

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