No set standard for course citations

by Karla Kingsley | 11/15/02 6:00am

While they may be bright spots on student transcripts, Dartmouth's academic citations do not provide a standard indication regarding performance because professors use varying criteria for giving citations or sometimes give no citations at all.

According to Dartmouth's "Organizations, Regulations, and Courses" manual, citations are awarded to undergraduates based on "their unusual talents, dependability, initiative, resourcefulness, or other meritorious characteristics that are not indicated adequately by academic grades."

However, each professor interprets this vague description in a way that fits the particular class. None of the academic departments contacted by the Dartmouth had set any further guidelines or conducted formal discussions regarding exactly what work would merit a citation.

Professors varied in their reasons for giving citations, as well as in the number they awarded. Some professors said they gave students citations based on extraordinary performance in one aspect of the course, such as an outstanding paper or laboratory research, while others said they based the awards on overall coursework, citing the top one or two students of a class.

"If I have a big class, and somebody is at the top, way ahead of other students, I will give a citation even if I haven't known the student personally," anthropology department Chair Kirk Endicott said.

English Professor Bill Cook, however, outlined two reasons for giving a citation. First, the student that "writes an essay that is so much beyond your expectations" may receive a citation, as well as "the student who attempts a complex and sophisticated topic" and forms unique and "daring" conclusions. Cook said he usually gave around three or four citations per 50-person class.

The rationale used for awarding citations also varied across the humanities, social sciences and the hard sciences. Social science faculty tended to award citations more often for an outstanding paper or written work, whereas hard sciences professors more often depended on a lab, exam or overall coursework aspect.

Chemistry Professor John Winn, who said he gives only one or two citations per year, has given these citations based on a "deep understanding" of course material, when a student "gives 'I-couldn't-have-written-it-better-myself' kind of answers."

According to registrar Polly Griffin, citations are "not a substitute for an A+." Instead, "citations come from a particular aspect of a course," she said. "They are many times attached to 'B's, 'A-'s and 'B+'s."

However, some professors did see the citation as a way to differentiate between students at the top of the class receiving "A" grades.

Chemistry Professor Russell Hughes said that he would cite the top one or two students in a class if their work was far superior to the work of other "A" students, but if they were only ahead "by a few points" he would simply give them the standard "A" grade.

Computer science department chair Robert Drysdale said that he has awarded citations to the top overall student in the class but has also cited students "for something particularly outstanding," including homework. He recalled one "outstanding" instance.

"Before we had computer support, we were using microcomputers, and we had three for a class of 60. One broke down, and a student came in with tools and fixed it, so I cited him for that," Drysdale said. For him, "one to two citations in a class of 30" was a normal amount.

Additionally, professors didn't agree on the importance and value of citations.

"Some professors give citations a lot, some think that the grade stands for itself. I am one that thinks the grade stands for itself," said psychology department Chair Howard Hughes, who gives out "very few" citations.

Sociology department Chair John Campbell went even further. "I have never given a citation," he said. "They are for 'outstanding performance' and that's what I give 'A's for."

Cook viewed citations in a different way. "I think the citation makes it possible for me to single out that work which is really exceptional. You need to reward that," he said.

Russell Hughes valued citations as "way of being extra encouraging of a student's performance," although he emphasized that "if you give them too frequently it just diminishes their value." He estimated that he gave from zero to three citations in a large intro course and never felt "obligated" to give them.

Physics department Chair Mary Hudson had yet another reason for awarding citations -- "students who amaze themselves and amaze me in the course."

"Maybe they didn't get an "A", but if I saw amazing improvement and growth over the term, that would merit a citation," said Hudson, who gives around two or three citations per year.

In the past two years, professors have awarded from 198 to 260 citations per regular term, with an average of 68 awarded during the summer term.

During this two year time frame from the summer 2000 to spring 2002, students received a total of 1484 citations. Of these, 1288 citations accompanied "A" grades, with a decreasing amount of cites corresponding to each grade down to a "C," with which three students received a citation.

The registrar's office would not release information regarding the distribution of citations across departments.

According to Griffin, Dartmouth's system of giving citations is unique to the College. "Nobody that we normally do business with uses citations in the same way that Dartmouth uses them," she said.