Machen may veto grading change


Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Bernie Machen may be flexing some executive muscle.

Weeks after the University of Florida's Faculty Senate approved a plan to expand the university's grading scale, UF President Machen has thus far refused to implement it and may in effect veto the proposal.

The Senate recently approved a plan to expand the grading scale, adding "minus grades" to the scale like most of the state's universities and many of UF's peers across the nation. Under the current scale, students may receive a "B" or a "B+," for example, but they cannot be given a "B-."

Supporters say changing the scale will give faculty a valuable tool to grade more precisely. While Machen may agree with the change in principle, he says he's concerned that the Faculty Senate didn't seek enough input from affected parties, including students. As such, Machen says he's seeking that input on his own and will only then decide whether to implement the plan after he gets more information.

"I will either support the Senate's recommendation or not based on the recommendation we get," Machen said Tuesday. "I will make up my mind after listening to the additional input that frankly I haven't heard yet."

Machen's veto threat is prompting a larger discussion on campus about presidential power and the role of the Faculty Senate. UF's Faculty Senate is empowered as "the legislative body of the university," but the president has veto power over "all actions of committees, college faculties and the councils of the Faculty Senate."

Danaya Wright, chair of the Senate, said she's still hopeful Machen will implement the grading scale changes. On the other hand, Wright said she's concerned about the broader question of the president's authority to overrule the Senate in what should be an environment of "shared governance."

"There's definitely talk of removing the presidential veto," she said. "I would like to get it taken out and have it clarified."

The running joke among faculty, however, is that a vote to remove the president's veto could simply be vetoed by the president all the same.

Even under the current language of the constitution, Wright says she doesn't believe the president has absolute veto powers over the Senate. The constitution appears to limit the veto to "committees, college faculties and the councils of the Faculty Senate," which Wright says doesn't cover votes of the entire Senate like the one taken on a new grading scale.

But in truth, there's nothing to say Machen couldn't simply refuse to implement a faculty-approved plan even absent his veto powers. Wright, however, says she thinks it "sends the wrong message" to have a presidential veto embedded in the constitution.

Machen is quick to note that he's just one spoke in the wheel of the shared governance model. He has a master in the form of the university's board of trustees, a body to which faculty can appeal if they object to his decisions. The board, made up of 13 members, including a faculty and a student representative, is empowered to govern and set policy for the university.

"The faculty does not have all power in all matters, and neither does the president," Machen said. "If the faculty approves something and I disagree with it, they could still take it to the board of trustees."

Unlike the U.S. government, there's no constitutional provision for the Faculty Senate to override a presidential veto by a super-majority.

If Machen followed the Faculty Senate's recommendations with regard to a new grading scale, it would likely be implemented by summer of 2008, Wright said.

Students' pre-existing grade-point averages would not be readjusted to fit the scale, but the university registrar's office would have to update databases. The process would cost about $26,000, according to a preliminary estimate.

UF's Student Senate approved a resolution recently that opposed the creation of a new scale, arguing that the addition of minus grades could adversely affect students' grade-point averages. While that may happen in some cases, Wright argues that the new scale will more accurately judge performance by removing an "unearned benefit" for some and bumping up grades for other students on the borderline.

Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com

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