Last spring, Tamara Leenay, a chemistry professor at St. Cloud State University, was reviewing grades when she came across the transcript of a student who failed an organic chemistry class she taught a couple of years earlier.
"I noticed the course was not even on his transcript," Leenay said. "There was no 'F.' There was no course number ... It was completely gone. And I have [a] record that he was in my class and that I gave him a grade ... and I was never notified of any of these changes."
Leenay's experience isn't unique. Faculty members at St. Cloud State say they're concerned that students' grades have mysteriously disappeared from transcripts. Professors and instructors aren't sure how widespread the problem is, but say — except in rare instances — the university's failure to notify them of grade changes is an ethical breach.
"A number of faculty members raised concerns that they believed from what they were seeing that student's grades were actually disappearing off transcripts," said Stephen Hornstein, president of the university's faculty association. "A student would take a course, get a poor grade and then a semester or two later that grade would not appear on the transcript at all."
Students can petition the university for a late withdrawal or to have a course removed from their transcript. But under university rules, Hornstein said, school administrators are required to notify the course instructor whenever they change a grade.
"The thing here is that they weren't being changed, they were going away," he said. "And we weren't being informed of that."
In reviewing a sample of 237 student transcripts changed between July 2011 and June 2012, the university found that administrators responsible for making the changes consulted faculty in 69 percent of the cases. In others, it was not clear whether the faculty member was not notified or did not respond to a request for comment.
"It was clear to us that sometimes that protocol wasn't being followed," St. Cloud State Provost Devinder Molhotra said. "So we want to be sure that people were reminded. ... We had a conversation and put in place a very specific protocol."
In January, Molhotra issued a memo reiterating the policy to nine deans and associate deans responsible for authorizing transcript changes. He also said that in the absence of the course instructor, a department chair can weigh in on their behalf.
Molhotra stopped short of saying the university has fixed a problem. Instead, he said, by reviewing the process in which transcripts are changed, the university has improved it.
"Integrity of transcripts and the record is very, very important and so is the involvement of the faculty in that process," Molhotra said. "There's no question about that in my mind. And it's our attempt to make sure that going forward we do our due diligence and we make sure that the faculty input is not only taken but recorded."
Professors say a late withdrawal or deleting a course from the student's transcript is appropriate in some instances beyond a student's control — for instance, illness, family medical issues or military deployment.
But in all cases, faculty members should be part of the decision-making process, said Robert Kreiser, a senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors, an organization that helps set university standards.
Kreiser said faculty members have the primary responsibility for teaching and evaluating the performance of students in their classes.
"Interference with the faculty's role in that regard by an administrative officer in any way, including the deletion of previously recorded grades, is inconsistent with basic principles of academic freedom and faculty governance," he said.
Faculty members at St. Cloud State say they're trying to keep a closer eye on the process and they're asking the administration to issue regular reports that detail transcript changes.