Student claims grade was docked after suggesting trade school to a minority

A student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee claims that he received a failing grade on a recent assignment simply for suggesting trade school as an alternative to a bachelor’s degree.

Nicholas Stamates, a freshman enrolled in the Educational Psychology 104 course, “Pathways to Success at UWM,” told Campus Reform that the assignment asked students to write a post on an online discussion board discussing their motivations for staying in college, and also to respond to at least three other posts “in a way that adds value to their discussion.”

Despite completing both aspects of the task, Stamates ended up with a grade of 53 percent, having been denied credit for his responses to other students’ posts because the instructor, doctoral student Lauren Floore-Guetschow, felt that one of his responses was disrespectful.

Specifically, Floore-Guetschow objected to Stamates’ reply to a post in which a student described feeling “trapped” into attending college by the belief that a four-year degree is the only viable path to professional success. Stamates responded by pointing out that trade school might be a viable alternative; a suggestion that he told Campus Reform was informed by his own family’s history of working in the trades.

Floore-Guetschow addressed her concerns with Stamates at the conclusion of class last Friday, which Stamates claimed was about two weeks after the assignment was submitted. Although he attempted to take a screenshot of his posts, he said he is no longer able to view them on the website.

He did, however, share an email exchange with Floore-Guetschow that took place on Saturday, in which Stamates defended his post and asserted that he felt the grade was unfair.

“I feel that you unfairly graded by letting your own bias against trade school cloud your judgment,” he told her. “You can say otherwise but the fact that you think it would be ‘politically incorrect’ to suggest to somebody that learning a trade could be another option … just because he happened to be black (I didn’t even know what his race [was] at the time) clearly indicates you do not have a high opinion of [the trades].”

Stamates went on to note that both his father and his grandfather were machinists, saying, “I will not accept that it is some sort of ‘negative’ that could offend people to suggest a completely [viable] career path in a relevant context.”

Floore-Guetschow replied that she had actually stood up for him with regard to the grading, noting that “I consulted with a professor on the incident and was told to give you a 0, [but] I did not think this was fair as you completed your initial post, so I gave you the points for your post, but not for your responses.”

She also denied being motivated by any animosity toward trade school, noting that she had even considered it as an option before deciding on traditional college, and explained that “it was not only what you wrote, but how you wrote it that I found to be disrespectful.”

The reply failed to alleviate Stamates’ concerns, however, and he followed up with an email in which he declared his intention to appeal the grade,through which process he hopes to regain access to the posts.

He also stated that while he is not surprised that the unnamed professor would have recommended giving him a zero, considering the ubiquity of political correctness on college campuses, “the fact that I am being penalized for suggesting in all earnest[ness] … a perfectly viable career path is racist … is absurd and speaks to the decay within academia over trigger warnings and ‘just words’ campaigns.”

At that point, Floore-Guetschow asserted that she had not intended for Stamates to interpret her comments as a personal attack, and directly denied that race was a factor in her grading decision.

“My job as an instructor is to create a safe environment for all students to be able to express ideas and discuss specific topics,” she explained. “The issue that has come up would be addressed whether it came from any other student, no matter what gender or race.”

Observing that the original post did not indicate that the student felt they would be unable to succeed in college, she described Stamates’ response as “discouraging,” and said she would have raised the same objections with the other students had the roles been reversed.

Floore-Guetschow did not respond to emails from Campus Reform requesting comment on the matter, but UWM Vice Chancellor for University Relations & Communications Tom Luljack provided the following statement:

“The university takes seriously any complaint that is made about one of its employees. You have indicated that a grade appeal has been filed. That process will allow for a review of the matter. It is important to note that UWM has a long history of working closely with technical and vocational schools, which play an important role in educating members of our community. We recognize that every individual is different and that there are many paths to a successful career. For some people that means obtaining a college degree, while for others technical or vocational training is ideal.”

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