I have finally pulled together all the communications between the University of Canberra and myself regarding my dispute over the grading of my major assignment in Freelance Writing Project by Professor Jennifer Webb in my Master of Creative Writing. A dispute that wound up with me making a compliant to the ACT Ombudsman. The contents of this post will be available on my website in the next few days.
After receiving my grade, I sent this email to J Webb:
Dear Jennifer Webb,
This email is in response to your grading and comments on my major project, assignment three, for the Freelance Writing Project. I was not satisfied with your responses to my questions when I telephoned you on Wednesday the 20th of June and seek clarification before I consider further action.
I initially rang you because of a comment you made in my results about a loose end involving twins:
"I think one of the issues is the red herrings, or gestures, laid out. Why the gun, for instance; why the possibility of twins? These both raise big questions that are not addressed at all, and leave the story hanging, rather."
When I called, you said your idea of twins came from Vesna saying (late in the story) that she inserted two embryos into her body. I pointed out that earlier in the story there is a scene where Vesna and Sol inspect Vesna's womb and its one embryo. You then said you were stretched for time when marking our assignments. The second, and only other, loose end listed in your comments is the use/non use of the gun. Within the story I have Sol contemplate why Vesna did not use it in the following scene (with your comments in brackets):
"As she turned away from me, she pulled something from the back of her suit and hid it in front of her. A pistol? She had a pistol tucked into her suit belt all that time while I attacked her. Was she that confident of defeating me? [this is a bit confusing – surely either she would be confident and thus didn't need the pistol, or she wouldn't, and so would need to rely on the gun?]"
Your comments in the scene, to me, show you taking Sol's thoughts on why Vesna did not use the gun as fact, when they were just his subjective impressions. An obvious third conclusion about the gun is that Vesna wanted it handy just in case Sol threatened to overpower her. She would have known that Sol would be in a weakened and disorientated state similar to hers when she was disconnected from her AI.
Your major problem with my story seems to be the following:
"The story does have a very unresolved feeling though. It reads more like the opening salvo in a long novel or sequence of novels. A novella-proper should have a clear finish, a wrapping up of the loose threads, a sense of completion; this needs quite a lot more to get to that point;"
Firstly, you have only pointed out two loose threads, which I dispute above. What are the others? Secondly, I have often read a version of the following in guides to critiquing stories: There are no rules in writing, there is just writing that works or doesn't work. Your comment that a novella "should have a clear finish" have me asking whether you were reading my story to see if it conformed to a set of rules or whether you where reading it to see if it succeeded as a piece of writing.
My intention with the story was to create a secondary character in Vesna who was an enigma, and, as stated in my proposal, assignment 4, leave room for the reader to speculate what happens next. This, as also stated in my proposal, is not an unusual thing to do in science-fiction having been done in the award winning novels "The Scar" and "American Gods". I, like all authors, would prefer my writing to be judged on whether it comes close to achieving my original intentions, and not whether it satisfied an individual critiquer's "rules of writing".
In the first paragraph of the first draft of the story I used the term entropy, which I changed to the more appropriate atrophy in the second version. You questioned both, but I wonder if you noticed the change as atrophy was certainly more appropriate then entropy.
Many of your comments on my story appear rushed. They are the sort of rushed comments that I have previously dismissed, in other critiques of other stories, as having no value unless they were repeated by other critiquers. In my assignment three story other critiquers mentioned the hanging ending, but that's what I was aiming for. You mentioned in the phone call that many stories have hanging endings, but they also have a sense of completion. I would suggest that the sense of completion in my story comes from Sol knowing that he now needs to cooperate with Vesna as he no longer has Lucy and his technology to rely on. How technology allows us to live lives independent of one another is the story's major theme.
If, as it appears, you rushed the final reading on my story, you probably missed the subtle changes I made to the story between the second draft and the final draft submitted for marking. Some of these subtle changes were made as a result of suggestions you had made when commenting on the second draft. It appears that I may have been better off making unmissable wholesale changes.
Finally, it is a shame to finish the Master of Creative Writing feeling let down by the final subject. To me, the Freelance Writing Project was meant to show my accumulation of knowledge and writing skills during the course. I can accept, as you indicated in the phone call, that 53 is a good grade from you. What I cannot accept is the feeling that the grade may not reflect a well-considered appraisal of my story.
To which Jen replied on the 24th of June:
I'm copying this email to the Head of School to ensure he is in the loop of your concerns.
Firstly let me assure you that I wasn't rushed for time in marking the assignments. What I actually said was that I had read several hundred thousand words worth of assignments, and so I didn't have your story immediately in the front of my mind. I did, however, give it my full and sustained attention while marking it - as I did for all the others.
The twin issue - as I assured you, this did not lead to a reduction of your marks. It did, however, do what I said in my original comments, and lead to speculation about why you mentioned the two embryos. I know that they had earlier scanned the womb, and seen one; but in a speculative fiction, this need not be the end of the story. The fact that a point is made about implanting two embryos draws attention to the number - especially when that point was made during the course of a scene where the fact that there are just Sol and Vesna and no one else in all their world is raised. This, especially in the Edenic environment of the planet, necessarily gestures towards a sort of Adam and Eve possibility, with siblings populating the planet. You said you had mentioned the 2 embryos because it is rare that only one is implanted in everyday life; however, story world is always different from 'real world' - it needs to achieve verisimilitude, not precise simulation. Everything in a story is designed to feed the story. And secondly, given that your story is set well in the future, where people are living hundreds of years, it seems an unnecessary redundancy to implant more than one embryo. So that is the long and involved explanation for why I asked about the possibility of twins. In rewriting the piece, if you don't want to raise speculation in readers' minds, just delete the phrase.
I could expand likewise on the gun; and there other points I raised, such as the tiger metaphor - virtually an allegory, actually - and how much more it might have done.
I have read the rest on your comments below, and your evaluation of my reading of your work. I don't intend to answer them point for point – only to say two things.
Firstly, I assure you again that I did not rush the reading of your story, and that I never rush the reading of assignments, especially the major projects. They are very important to me - as a writer myself I know the frustration of feeling misread or carelessly read, and I have no intention of imposing that on any other reader, especially a student.
Second, I regret that you are disappointed by your final grade, but the second half simply does not achieve the promise of the first half. This is not to say it could not, but that in the time you had available, and how you were framing the story then, this version has not. I see below what you felt you were doing in the story, but it is not sufficiently resolved in the writing of this piece. Anyone writing creative (or any other) work is going to hit the target some of the time, and miss it more of the time. Even top level authors do not rely on more than one in about 4 of their projects actually working. It is always terribly frustrating to have a reader not
'get it' - but it does happen, a lot. The only thing to do is to hang in there, stay with projects in which one believes, and rework them to get them to the point where they connect with an outside reader.
One last thing: the grade your story received is, of course, 53/75, not 53%. That is to say, it is at the top of the Credit range.
To which I replied:
Dear Jennifer Webb,
In regards to the one comment raised in my original email which you addressed, about the twins. You said:
"You said you had mentioned the 2 embryos because it is rare that only one is implanted in everyday life; however, story world is always different from 'real world' - it needs to achieve verisimilitude, not precise simulation. Everything in a story is designed to feed the story. And secondly, given that your story is set well in the future, where people are living hundreds of years, it seems an unnecessary redundancy to implant more than one embryo."
Vesna says in the story: "so I implanted two embryos. Lucky it worked considering the primitive tools I used."
The answer to why she implanted two embryos is there, because she wasn't sure if the primitive tools she was using would lead to a successful implantation. No other critiquer mentioned the possibility of twins.
I felt Sol dismissed any "edenish" aspect of the story with his comments about inbreed mutants.
I am disappointed, once again, that you haven't addressed my other concerns, and therefore feel the need to seek advice on a remarking of my assignment.
(A further note on the twins issue, in the story it is made clear that Vesna only has one chance with the implantation of embryos because the cooler (freezer) they are contained in has no power, so why take the risk on just implanting one and it not working?)
Jen then notified Francesca Rendle-Short, Convener, Creative Writing Program,School of Creative Communication
First email from Francesca
Jen Webb has passed onto me your request to seek advice on a remarking of your assignment. So I am writing to you as Program Director of the Creative Writing Program. I understand you are requesting a remark for the work presented in the Freelance Writing Project G unit, but, in short, I am afraid this is not possible.
Our School policy on the possibility of remarking is only for those students who have a grievance for failed assessment items. When a mark or grade is awarded where it places the student in jeopardy of a Fail for the whole unit, then more than one member of academic staff are involved in the assessment and review of the piece of work. In your case you received a DI for the proposal and a CR for the project with detailed feedback in writing responding to different elements in these two pieces of assessment. As well you received a detailed response in relation to specific assessment criteria.
Across the Creative Writing Program in all our courses and units we take the task of assessment very seriously. We moderate our units and assessment within those units on a regular basis throughout the semester, contrasting and comparing assessment items, assessment criteria and the giving of grades (in other words, asking the questions: what is distinction work, what deserves a credit, what is a pass showing a satisfactory achievement?). We assess pieces of work individually. In other words we look at each new piece of work independently from other pieces of work the student might have produced in the same unit or in other units of their course. This means that the student can be confident that the assessor is critically engaged with each piece of work without being prejudiced either for or against a student's work because of what they know about other work that student might have produced. This is a cornerstone of our assessment procedure---to approach each piece of work with fresh eyes. As well, because we are working within a creative field of practice, we break down the response and assessment of the work into different elements and respond accordingly to different aspects. So, for instance, a short story might be strong in terms of its structure, but the language or voice of the story might need more work. Not only does this give the assessor the chance to break down their response and weigh up the strengths and weaknesses, isolating different elements that add up to the success or otherwise of the work, it gives the student a chance to respond to this robust and rigorous feedback when they later revise and improve their work. It is all part of the learning exercise. Further, we assess and moderate our courses across the creative writing program in the full knowledge of the different levels these courses are delivered. In your case, this unit is part of the Master of Creative Writing, the highest level course we offer (with course work). In addition, this final unit is the capstone unit with essentially one piece of assessment. Whereas in other units you have done there might be two or three or more pieces of assessment, in this unit, there is one: a major piece of creative writing. The stakes are high. They need to be, to give students the chance to really stretch themselves at this level of achievement, to test their creative capacities and abilities in a new form, ie this major piece of sustained writing.
As a footnote, we are all practising, published writers who are widely read. We also have had our work subjected to scrutiny and have been critically evaluated, more often than not in a more public forum than that of university. In saying this, I do sympathise with your feelings of disappointment. But I am afraid the grades stand as they are.
I hope this kind of background to the thinking about the creative writing program is useful in reviewing your participation in the course and your results.
Regards and best wishes
To which I replied:
Your policy on not reviewing grades still does not change the fact that J Webb's comments on my assignment seem ill-considered, rushed and therefore WRONG. Your policy on not reviewing grades does not resolve J Webb's refusal to clarify the issues I raised about these comments, in my original email to her. Your policy on not reviewing grades is a cop out. Don Watson would be proud. I will be raising this matter with the university administration.
To which Francesca replied:
If you see fit to take this further, our Head of School at the School of Creative Communication, Greg Battye, is away at present at a conference. He will be back next week from Tuesday 3 July.
First email to Greg Battye
Dear Greg Battye,
I am not satisfied with Jennifer Webb's grade, comments, and defensive attitude to my questions about my grade and her comments on my final project for Freelance Writing. Copies of my original email, J Webb's very unsatisfactory reply – as it failed to address the majority of my questions - and my reply to her reply are included at the end of this email.
I dispute the majority of the comments J Webb made on the original assessment of my assignment 3, and therefore must dispute her final grade. If her comments had seemed insightful and well-considered, then I would not be so ready to dispute my grade. I would particularly like her to detail the loose ends she claims my story has, because the only two she lists in her comments are not loose ends, as I explain in my original and follow up emails.
Her major concern with my assignment seems to be its hanging ending. I would suggest she is unfamiliar with the science-fiction genre and its frequent use of hanging endings, such as in award winning novels like "The Scar" and "American Gods."
I do not like the fact that J Webb seems to have sole control over the marking of my assignment. I have gotten the impression from other subjects, like Creative Writing, that there were two readers and markers of our assignments. I feel this is a much fairer situation, which offers some protection against rushed marking or personal biases against a particular kind of writing or ending.
I would prefer my assignment to be remarked by someone familiar with the various forms and genres of fiction writing, as J Webb's experience in fiction writing does not appear to be that extensive - I have conducted a google search and read her credentials page at the Uni. At the very least I want all the comments I made in my original letter addressed. If neither of these two courses of action are taken, I am prepared to seek resolution by contacting the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Sharon Bell.
While I waited for G Battye's reply I sent this to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Sharon Bell.
Dear Sharon Bell,
I have just completed my Master of Creative Writing and I am contacting you after going through an exhausting process in which I sort an explanation for my grade for the major project in the subject Freelance Writing Project. My concern is more about, what seems to be, the ill-considered comments that accompanied the results for the project, assignment three. If I felt these comments were insightful and relevant I would be more accepting of the grade.
I started this process by phoning and then emailing the lecturer for the subject, Jennifer Webb, about my concerns and asking her to explain the comments. She only addressed one of the many issues I raised in my first email. I felt that wasn't good enough and sent her another email seeking further clarification. I then received an email from Francesca which tried to end my compliant by hiding behind the department's rules. Francesca then suggested I contact Greg Battye, which I tried to do, but to no avail.
I do not like the fact that J Webb seems to have had sole control over the marking of my assignment. I have gotten the impression from other subjects, like Creative Writing, that there were two readers and markers of our assignments. I feel this is a much fairer situation, offering protection against rushed marking or personal bias against a particular kind of writing or ending.
J Webb's major concern with my assignment seems to be its hanging ending. I would suggest she is unfamiliar with the science-fiction genre and its frequent use of hanging endings, such as, in award winning novels like "The Scar" and "American Gods."
I would prefer my assignment to be remarked by someone familiar with the various forms and genres of fiction writing, as J Webb's experience in fiction writing does not appear to be that extensive - I have conducted a google search and read her credentials page at the Uni. At the very least, I would like all the comments I made in my original letter addressed.
In my opinion, the inaction of J Webb and G Battye harm the reputation of the Department of Communication and go against the grain of the other hard working staff I have come into contact during the Master of Creative Writing. Up until I sort clarification of J Webb's comments, I had very much enjoyed the challenge of the course and would have had no hesitation in recommending the Master to other writers, until
Greg Battye's eventual reply:
I am out of the country and have only very tenuous access to email, and no access to my voicemail. I won't be able to do anything about your email until Monday, I'm afraid. I have seen the correspondence between you and Jen and I am aware of the issues in general, but until I can get back and see the documentation properly, my hands are tied. I will contact you next week.
Dr Greg Battye
Head, School of Creative Communication
On July 8 he sent this email:
I am now back in the country and able to respond more fully to your various messages. I regret not having been able to respond earlier, other than my brief reply last wednesday afternoon US time, which you will have received here on Thursday. As I said in that message, my access to email has been rather patchy while away, and generally not conducive to reliably reading long documents.
Please note that in such an absence, the expectation is that the Acting Head of School will address issues directed to this position. Since Assoc. Prof. Webb was the Acting Head of School, she did indeed take up the issue, as you saw and read. In this particular case, that was probably particularly apposite because the issue arose in her own area. Now that I have returned, and given that you seem to want to pursue things beyond A.Prof. Webb's response, I am willing to look at the possibilities for reaching an agreed position. However I again draw your attention to the policy on disputes over grades, which makes clear that the only results which may be appealed are fail grades, and which also states inter alia that:
"Students may not challenge results on the grounds of academic judgement. Examples of academic judgement include the form and content of assessment items, and judgements about marks allocated to students for particular assessment items."
My understanding is that you have had, in addition to the initial feedback on your project from Assoc. Prof. Webb:
- an email, from Assoc Prof. Webb, replying at some length to the points of disagreement you raised, and
- a very long telephone conversation with Assoc. Prof. Webb, responding in further detail to your concerns, and
- a position statement on creative writing assessment from Francesca Rendle-Short, the substantive Discipline convener for Creative Writing.
This is already considerably beyond anything the School is required to provide, even in the case of a fail result. You, however, have obtained a credit for your Writing Project - a result which sets it apart from, and above, run-of-the-mill work. Your work has thus already been recognised as having merit beyond the ordinary.
Assessment in the sense of applying a grade with the intention of reflecting overall quality is always a rather blunt instrument. In essence, your grade reflects a very sound piece of work that both merits, and needs, further polish to bring it up to distinction level. The exact meaning of the terms 'credit' and 'distinction' are given in your course outline.
As you can imagine, anyone who has been involved with assessing creative writing for many years and at many different universities has at their disposal a rich history of comparisons against which to measure any given piece of work, and against which to establish thorough knowledge of realistic and robust standards — not just in relation to other writing in the same unit or other writing in earlier years of the same course, but against other work by students in many courses, in many institutions across the country, and at every level, from first year to PhD. Assoc Prof Webb has just that experience; you, inevitably and not surprisingly, have not. Despite your allegations to the contrary, Assoc Prof Webb is also extremely widely read, and, as part of her high level of professionalism, very practiced in separating her own reading tastes from the task of providing helpful feedback on writing in any style or genre.
Should it be of any help for you to receive some further feedback on the actual work, I am happy – as an occasional Sci-fi reader - to provide my own feedback. This would however be completely separate from any question of changing your result. I believe we have both justified your given grade, and provided discussion and feedback on the work, considerably beyond any actual requirement.
To which I replied:
I disagree that J Webb has explained her comments. Her refusal leads me to the conclusion that she cannot justify them. Secondly, I dispute your assessment of my level of knowledge on writing, particularly science-fiction writing as I have been reading and critiquing science-fiction for years. Thirdly, only a few days ago I read a science-fiction story "Getting Ready for Prime Time" by Lawrence Person in Asimov January 2001, which had a hanging ending very similar to the one I had in my story. The hanging ending seems to be J Webb's main concern with my story.
Since learning of other strange comments J Webb has made on other assignments, along with her attitude to my complaint, I have come to the conclusion that her assessment and comments have only as much value, or even less, then the average critiquer of my work. If her comments had been backed up by other students and critiquers then I would give them more value. Interestingly, the best critiquers, I have found, will respond to questions about their comments. J Webb had not responded to my questions of my comments. She briefly concentrated on a non-issue about twins, and then dismissed my ideas on why my hanging ending was a suitable ending for a speculative fiction novella.
I am disappointed the course has finished this way, and I will be forwarding these comments to the Deputy Vice Chancellor. I will then see what other avenues are open to me to pursue this issue, especially the issue of having only one person assess my work.
I followed up that email with this:
I was in a rush yesterday when I initially replied to your email and forgot to mention the following:
- Firstly, the telephone conversation between J Webb and myself occurred before I sent any emails. When I made the telephone call I was suffering from lack of sleep and the effects of pain killers due to a dose of kidney stones, so I did not fully communicate my concerns to J Webb at that time.
- Secondly, J Webb's original email only addressed two of the issues raised in my email, and in both cases unsatisfactory, especially her dismissive attitude to my comments on hanging endings. She did not address my queries on the pistol and atrophy/entropy. She did not tell me what the other loose ends in the story were. She actually made very few comments on the assignment, but I have questioned nearly all of them.
-Thirdly, my primary objective with the original emails and telephone conversations was for her to clarify her comments, which she has failed to do. Therefore, based on those comments, I can only conclude that her assessment is incorrect.
-Fourth, hiding behind university policies does not make J Webb's comments and her assessment correct.
-Fifth, I will not be taking up your offer to critique my story as I prefer "blind" critiquing. I do not read other people's critiques of a story before I critique it and prefer the same to occur with stories I have written. Perhaps I would feel that your offer to critique was more genuine if you had given me constructive feedback during Interactive Writing. After your assessment of the major assignment for that subject I still had no idea what I had done right or wrong. Both you and J Webb could take some lessons from Belle and Moya on constructive feedback.
It is unfortunate that the Master has finished like this for me. I was challenged by, and enjoyed, Writing for Young People, Scriptwriting, Creative Writing and even Cultural Practice and Theory. In view of what has happened with the Freelance Writing Project and the continued complaints I read about Interactive Writing, I feel I can no longer recommend other writers, especially those who write speculative fiction, do the Master of Creative Writing at the University of Canberra.
I will be looking for other avenues to pursue my complaint.
Sharon sent me this comprehensive and useless email:
I have discussed this matter with the HOS and understand that there has been considerable communication re this issue. I know that the assessment policy has been drawn to your attention. I am also aware that Greg Battye has offered to read your work and provide additional feedback. I suggest you take up Greg's offer and hope that you find the feedback he provides useful.
to which I replied:
G Battye has contacted me and I found his email most unsatisfactory, as outlined in my two email replies below (see my two replies to G Battye above).
I will not be taking up his offer to critique my story, because as I indicate below, I prefer critiques to be "blind".
I am at the stage now, that even if J Webb offered to explain her original comments to me, I would doubt her authenticity. In the future, I hope her feedback on other students assignments is more considered. If it is not, I hope those students, like myself, have the courage to speak up and ask her to explain them, and to pursue the matter further if she refuses.
I will be pursing this matter further.
In an attempt to give the Creative Writing Department and the University a chance to do the right thing, I sent this email on July 16:
Dear G Battye and Sharon Bell,
I am totally unsatisfied with your replies to my emails, and feel I have been dealing with the Department of Non-Communication. In response to my requests for clarification, you and J Webb have either hidden behind convenient department rules, or failed to address the point I wanted clarified or arrogantly dismissed my comments.
I still seek clarification of the following:
Why was J Webb the only person who graded our assignments? Other subjects in the Master of Creative Writing have more than one person grading each student's assignments. Considering the importance a student might place on the Freelance Writing Project subject it should have had at least two lecturers/tutors assessing the assignments.
What are J Webb's qualifications in writing fiction? The fact that no attempt was made to answer this leads me to believe that she is not very widely published or read. Another more widely read marker may have given my assignment a completely different assessment.
In reference to J Webb's actual comments on my assignment and email asking for clarification, she hasn't explained why she thought the pistol was a loose end.
In reference to J Webb's actual comments on my assignment, I still have no idea of "all the loose ends". I feel there are none.
In reference to J Webb's actual comments on my assignment, I still have not received any explanation about the unsuitability of my "hanging endings", especially when Science fiction stories commonly have hanging endings. I have just read a January 2001 copy of Asimov - the most prestigious science fiction magazine in the world - and two of its six stories/novelettes/novellas had hanging endings, one with a multitude of loose ends. In my telephone conversation, J Webb said a story must have a sense of completion. My story's main theme is how technology lets people live separate lives from one another, and my story concludes with the main character realising that he needs to cooperate with the secondary character because they both have no technology. The questions posed by the main theme have been answered, so my story has a sense of completion.
J Webb even failed to satisfactory respond to my questions about the issue of "twins". This issue has some importance as only a rushed reading would miss all the statements during the story that wipe out any chance of the secondary character giving birth to twins. The womb is examined by and ultra sound machine near the start of the story and it is made clear that there is only one embryo in the womb. Subsequent statements about her having implanted two embryos are explained with reference to her only having one chance at implanting the embryos and her use of primitive tools. In other words she implanted two just in case only one survived, and that is what happened.
I require a response to all of the above by Friday 20th July. If one is not forthcoming, it will confirm my current conclusion that J Webb's assessment of my final project was rushed and ill-considered and therefore worthless. It will also confirm my conclusion that rather than attempt to resolve my assessment issues the Department of Communication and the Deputy Vice Chancellor prefer to hide behind unfair rules and have an arrogant disregard for the university's students.
If I do not receive a satisfactory response to this email by Friday, I will pursue this issue through other avenues.
When no response came from either Bell or Battye, I pursued other avenues.
First letter to Ombudsman
6th August 2007
GPO Box 442
Canberra, ACT, 2601.
Dear Michael Buss,
I have received your letter requesting further information in regard to my complaint against the University of Canberra. The basis of my complaint is the university's refusal to answer adequately a number of questions I have asked about my assessment for the third assignment in a subject called Freelance Writing Project, which was part of my now completed Master of Creative Writing. The assignment involved writing a 10,000 word novella and was worth 75% of the subject mark.
As you will see from the attached information, I have sent a number of emails to various members of the university staff including Professor Jennifer Webb (the subject's instructor); Greg Battye, the HOS (head of school) for the Department of Communication at the university; and Sharon Bell, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the university. They choose to reply to only some of these emails and failed to answer the majority of the questions I asked.
In summary I would like to know the following:
• Considering the assignment was worth 75% of the final mark, why was it marked by only one assessor? Other subjects in the Master of Creative Writing had more then one assessor assess each assignment.
• What are J Webb's fiction (novel, novella, short story) publications?
• What are the "loose ends" that J Webb saw in my assignment/novella?
• In my initial telephone conversation, J Webb said a story must have a sense of completion. My story's main theme is how technology lets people live separate lives from one another. The story concludes with the main character realising that he needs to cooperate with the secondary character because they have both lost their technology. The question posed by the main theme is answered, so my story has a sense of completion. I would like J Webb to clarify her concerns about my story's ending, as this seems to be the major reason for my lower than expected mark.
• The only way J Webb could come to the conclusion that there were twins involved in my story was if she had rushed the reading of my story. (Note: no other critquer of the novella thought twins were involved) A scene involving an ultra-sound of the pregnant character's womb and its one foetus, as well as other information in the story, would have stopped even the most casual reader from gaining the impression that twins were involved. The fact that J Webb seems to have missed this information has me asking whether she took the time to adequately read and comprehend my novella.
At the moment I feel that the few comments made on my assignment by J Webb are very questionable, and, as a result, her assessment of my assignment is very questionable. I am particularly concerned that she may have prejudged my novella and then made gratuitous comments to justify the grade she gave it.
Why has the University of Canberra chosen to hide behind university regulations rather then clarify my concerns? I can only conclude it doesn't care about its students (at least one other student of the eleven or so students who did the subject complained about their grade too).
The time and energy I have spent trying to extract answers from the staff at the university is ridiculous and has soured my relationship with a course I had thoroughly enjoyed. I would like a genuine apology, in writing, from the university for their failure to quickly and adequately address my concerns. I would also like the university to consider having my assignment re-marked by a third party who has not been involved in this dispute.
I appreciate the Ombudsman bringing these issues to the attention of the University of Canberra.
The ombudsman replied, wanting more information, so I sent him copies of all the email communications. We had a number of telephone conversations where he stressed he could only really check to see if the University of Canberra had followed proper marking procedures by employing only one assessor My actual grade was up to academic discretion.
His final verdict is below.
Ground Floor, 1 Farrell Place . Canberra
GPO Box 442 R: Canberra ACT 2601
Phone 1300 362 072 . Fax 02 6249 7829
Our ref: 2007-120436 8 October 2007
Dear Mr Clements
I am writing in relation to your complaint about the University of Canberra. I take this opportunity to remind you that our role is to investigate the administrative actions of ACT Government Agencies as explained in the brochure I forwarded you earlier this year.
The delay in responding to you was due to our awaiting the return to Australia of one of the people involved in assessing your work.
In your letter of 6 August 2007, you asked us to answer the following questions:
1. Why was your assignment marked by only one assessor?
2. What are J. Webb's fiction publications?
3. What are the loose ends J. Webb saw in your assignment?
4. Will J. Webb clarify her concerns about a sense of completion?
5. Did J. Webb take adequate time to read your assignment?
6. Why is the University hiding behind rules and regulations?
In answer to Question 1, the marking scheme for this unit did not require more than one assessor. Therefore, it was open to the University not to have a second assessor and I do not consider that this is a matter that merits further investigation.
In answer to Question 2, this is not a matter of government administration and is not something we would investigate.
In answer to Question 3, this is a matter of academic judgment that we would not investigate. We would, however, investigate why you were not responded to given that you are entitled to have an answer to your question. I consider that an answer was provided in Professor Webb's email to you of 24 June 2007.
In answer to Question 4, this matter, it appears to me, is the same question as in Question 3 and it is also involves a matter of academic judgment. I consider that an answer was provided in Professor Webb's email to you of 24 June 2007.
In answer to Question 5, Professor Webb states in her email of 24 June 2007 that she did have adequate time.
In answer to Question 7. I understand that this question relates to the University refusing your request to have your paper remarked. I have no criticism of the University relying on its policy only to offer a re-mark when a student fails a subject.
Based on the above considerations, I consider that further investigation of your complaint by our office is not warranted. If you remain dissatisfied with my decision you are entitled to ask for it to be reviewed by a more senior officer who has had no prior involvement in your case. If you wish to do so, you are required to make your request in writing, clearly setting out your reasons for requesting a review. All requests for review must be submitted to this office within three months of the decision in question.
My Comments on the Ombudsman's findings:
J Webb did not answer my questions about loose ends in her June 24th email, she just mentioned that she thought my story had loose ends and, when prompted by further questioning, would not elaborate. I can assure you that no other reader of my story thought that the gun was a loose end, or that there was the possibility of twins. The gun issue is explained in the text of my story. The possibility of twins is ridiculous. Only someone whose attention was completely lacking while reading the story could even contemplate such comments. J Webb wrote very few comments on the manuscript, so if the ones that were written on it don't make sense, then what else am I to conclude than she is wrong.
In relation to J Webb clarifying her concerns about my story's "sense of completion" she makes no attempt to clarify this in her June 24th email, or any other communication to me.
Michael Buss is wrong in these comments, but as he could only really investigate the one assessor issue - and the university had followed policy on that – then there was no point contacting him further.
In the coming years when the University of Canberra receives more complaints about Professor Jennifer Webb and Greg Battye they might reflect on my complaints.