San Diego State University professor withholds grades

Editor’s note: The comments made by associate professor James S. Burns are essential to the clarity and fullness of this article. Wendy Fry introduced herself as a journalist, and after the interview, Burns retracted his statements and requested we not print them. Later, he questioned the accuracy, completeness and relevance of his comments. The Daily Aztec chose to include his initial comments to provide readers with the complete story.

Wendy Fry
SDSU Daily Aztec

SAN DIEGO (U-WIRE) — Last semester, mechanical engineering students enrolled in sections 514 and 312 at San Diego State University had to wait more than a month and a half to receive their grades. Associate professor James S. Burns delayed posting these grades until Feb. 2, causing some graduating seniors to miss job opportunities and stopping others from going to graduate school, because they couldn’t receive their diploma without these grades.
The chair of the department of mechanical engineering, Dr. Morteza Monte Mehrabadi, said during a telephone interview that he was still waiting for Burns to submit grades for the approximately 66 students enrolled in the classes.
According to the SDSU Faculty Handbook, “Faculty members are expected to submit final grades in a timely fashion … Grading practices and patterns are expected to meet the highest professional standards of objectivity, fairness and accuracy.”
“He has not submitted the grades from last semester and he will not allow me access to the coursework to assist him in getting the grades submitted,” Mehrabadi said. “But, he has not refused to post the grades, he just keeps asking for a couple days of extension. I’m trying to work with him as much as possible to get the grades to the students.”
Later in the day, university officials reported that the grades were posted at approximately 3:45 p.m., but Burns told The Daily Aztec that he had already submitted the grades at 3:30 p.m., adding that he didn’t want to discuss the matter further.
The two classes are required for graduation in the department, but Burns is the only professor who teaches the courses.
“It’s completely unprofessional,” mechanical engineering senior Dale McComb said about Burns’ delay in posting grades. “You have faith in your professors, and they’re supposed to be very moral and responsible, but if they pull something like this, it’s totally unethical.”
McComb said he was afraid Burns would retaliate against him by giving him a C in the class for speaking with The Daily Aztec, but he wanted other students to know what was going on.
“I wouldn’t recommend him ever, but we’re forced to take his class,” McComb said. “He opens the textbook up and flips through it for class. And that’s just when he shows up.”
McComb said that Burns missed class the entire first week of school last semester, he didn’t teach the last week of school before finals and he missed about three to four other days of the semester.
Burns canceled his class Monday, and during an interview with The Daily Aztec, he repeatedly requested the names of the students who had informed the newspaper about his failure to submit grades.
Burns has had more than a decade of research with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, according to
Burns said that his “research endeavors have been terminated by circumstances within the university.”
Burns explained his actions by stating that he did not have an office at SDSU, that it took seven weeks for his e-mail access to be set up at the beginning of last semester and that he did not have a phone in his laboratory.
Mehrabadi said about five or six graduating students were drastically inconvenienced by the situation because they went on job interviews and faced reviews for promotions without their final grades.
“The effects on the students were sometimes significant,” Mehrabadi said. “Some of them are going on job interviews. So I have to write something for each of them individually that they have satisfied all the requirements for their degree, but are waiting for the grades from one class to receive their diploma.”
Mehrabadi also added that some students were trying to begin graduate school this semester but were unable to establish competency without their undergraduate degree.
McCombs reported that though he never received more than half of his graded coursework for the class, including two 25-page papers, a take-home portion of a midterm, a take-home portion of his final and a few homework assignments, he did receive an A.
“We are hoping that this doesn’t ever happen again,” Mehrabadi said.

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San Diego State University professor withholds grades