Yoohuyn Park/Production Coordinator

Do grades have to be everything?

By: Hadeeqa Aziz, Contributor

This one is for all the first years. So you’ve heard your grades will drop and you’re rather terrified of what the next couple of years will bring. And rightfully so, because according to data collected by the University of Waterloo, the average Ontario high school student’s grades will likely drop by a factor of 16 percent. Some of you may not worry too much because you’re confident in the way your high school conditioned and prepared you for post-secondary education. 

After all, you’ve earned your way into your program, haven’t you? The feeling of accomplishment is even more incredible now, especially since admissions averages have been steadily increasing over the last few years. For example, according to student observations on r/OntarioUniversities, McMaster’s life sciences gateway program has seen an increase in cutoff averages since 2019, from high 80s to low 90s. 

There’s nothing short of a plethora of reasons to explain these increases, from larger applicant pools to better overall student performances, especially in light of online learning. There’s one factor, however, that remains prominent — one that we all know exists but seldom find the courage to thoroughly talk about: grade inflation. 

It’s a sensitive topic because implying the existence of grade inflation is an implication that not everyone sitting in your lecture hall has rightfully earned their way into their program. The onus, however, is not on the student, but seemingly on the high schools they come from. 

All Ontario universities value grades when assessing high school seniors for undergraduate admissions, taking the form of an average of your top 6 courses in Grade 12. It appears to be the most plausible evaluation tool, as it’s supposedly designed to gauge your competence as an academic. Here’s a shocking revelation though: not all students have been to the same high school. What does this mean? It essentially implies that a 95 percent average at one school may not hold the same value as a 95 percent at another. 

Grade inflation is often rooted in a decrease in academic standards or when faculty don’t have clear expectations of their students. This leads to grade inequality, meaning that equal qualities of work are assigned different grades across schools, departments or courses. 

Many speak to the problematic nature of grade inflation, while others outright deny that it’s even a problem. When inflation leads to increased admissions averages, it sets grade standards to an all-time high, so much so that some career prospects may be taken away from students who fail to reach those standards. 

The process of achieving the ridiculously high grade requirements for the University of Waterloo’s engineering programs, for instance, is not the same for all students. Those who don’t reap the benefits of grade inflation would have to work much harder than those who do. Here, universities risk being unfair to the students who have more rigorous marking standards. And we haven’t even touched upon other factors that contribute to student issues such as socioeconomics, race or geographics. 

Entering university with inflated grades isn’t all that fun either. If inflation leads to misinterpretations of a student’s competence and studying habits, perhaps it can lead to similar misinterpretations on a student’s fitness for their program of entry. Students unprepared for the demands of university education may be more vulnerable to mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. 

In an attempt to be fairer to high school applicants, the University of Waterloo used data from their engineering program to develop a list of what they call “adjustment factors” for each high school. This factor uses a student’s admission average and their first-year average to gauge the effects of grade inflation by measuring the “gap” between the two grades. Essentially, the higher the gap, the higher possibility that the student’s grades were inflated in high school. The faculty supposedly take this adjustment factor into consideration during the admissions process. 

Schools at the top of the list argue that Waterloo’s student sample is too small to reflect the hard work of their teachers and students. From their perspective, it’s quite difficult to collect robust data on inflation and adequately prove such a claim. 
Instead, more individuals wish to see a discussion on whether or not standardized testing can play a role in the solution. Standardizing students, however, comes with its own set of issues and instead, I think most students would appreciate more individualized assessments of their accomplishments. If universities continue to treat grades as “everything,” they’re effectively missing the bigger picture.

Photo by Kyle West

From the Student Representative Assembly requiring a survivor to disclose their assault in order for the removal of a perpetrator on the assembly to news of rampant sexual assault within the McMaster Students Union Maroons, this past year has been filled with controversy.

Given the events of this year, and what has occurred in the past, it is shocking that the MSU lacks a formal human resources department.

HR departments exist to deal with workplace disputes and ultimately ensure that employees are aware of their rights as minimally outlined by the Ontario Employment Standards Act. This includes the creation, implementation and enforcement of policies and structures that support employee rights like formal complaint structures and disciplinary policies.

Currently, the only HR presence that exists within the MSU is through the operations coordinator, Maddison Hampel. Though Hampel has formalized HR training and experience, her role does not allow her to adequately support all HR functions of the MSU.

Unfortunately, the only HR-focused training for student employees ends at the mandatory online workplace health and safety training modules that all employees of McMaster University are required to complete.

The majority of student employees, myself included, have never even been formally introduced to Hampel or made aware of our employment rights during our training sessions.

If we had a formal HR department, it is extremely likely that the Maroons sexual assault allegations would have been dealt with appropriately.

In fact, with a proper HR department, policies for sexual assault and workplace harassment would likely already be in place, and be created by individuals with the expertise to do so.

A formal HR department could also allow for better and more comprehensive hiring practices wherein individuals who were previously reported to the department are properly dealt with and not re-hired for other positions within the MSU, a consistent problem of the institution.

At the very least, an HR department that is independent of the MSU could allow student workers to feel comfortable reporting any issues. As it stands, I report my workplace issues to my direct supervisors, but this gets complicated if my concerns are about individuals in positions of power.

An HR department can ensure supervisors are accountable for their actions and held to an expected level of professionalism.   

Josh Marando, president-elect of the MSU for the 2019-2020 year, has acknowledged that the lack of a formal HR department is an issue. One of his platform points is to restructure the internal operations of the MSU.

According to his #BuildTogether platform, he plans to divide the current full-time staff position of operations coordinator to create a specific HR coordinator who is independent from the board.

While the operations coordinator’s role would be shifted to focus largely on supporting clubs and internal operations, the proposed HR coordinator is meant to “support our students through connecting with university programs that have a focus on equity and anti-discrimination.”

Though creation of an independent HR coordinator is an important first step, it is not enough. The MSU is comprised of over 40 full-time permanent staff and 300 part-time student staff. A singular HR coordinator cannot possibly support this vast number of employees.

The lumping of the HR coordinator role with equity and anti-discrimination programs can also be problematic. Certainly the future HR coordinator can and should consult with equity groups to ensure their policies are consistent with student needs, but it is important that the two ultimately remain separate.

This is because it is possible that issues concerning diversity and discrimination may arise from the HR department. This would then make it difficult for individuals to report issues to the same department where the issues stem from.

What the MSU needs is a full-blown autonomous HR department, with policies in place and trained personnel. Only through implementation of an HR department can the MSU truly account for the safety of its student employees.

It’s important to remember that students employed by the MSU are employees. They deserve the same respect and safety enforced by a HR department in any other workplace.

Honestly, student workers should be unionized to ensure their rights are defended. Until they are, the MSU must do a better job in the 2019-2020 year of protecting their employees through implementation of formal HR resources and personnel.


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Expand upon your post-secondary studies to discover your pathway to an exciting career in health information. Learn and apply industry standards for the collection, use, and analysis of personal health data.  Study information management’s principles and practices for privacy, confidentiality and security, and how these are applicable to health information systems. Learn  how electronic information management is revolutionizing health care within service sectors: primary care, administration and research.

As the Canadian health care delivery system evolves, so does data collection, health information usage and analysis, privacy and security, and the integration of information systems.

That’s why McMaster University Continuing Education is thrilled to announce that its Health Information Management Plus Diploma program is now accredited by the Canadian College of Health Information Management (CCHIM). This accreditation means that the program has met the strict regulation requirements upheld by both the certifying body and the Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA), the national association representing leadership and excellence in health information management across the country.

This post-graduate, part-time, instructor-led program is an online learning experience designed by leading experts in the country in consultation with professional associations. Graduates of the program are eligible to become Certified Health Information Management (CHIM) professionals, who are in high demand in a variety of health care settings across the continuum of care and within provincial and federal governments. These professionals will use electronic information management to revolutionize health care.

The CHIM credential is recognized across Canada, and our members play key roles in the Canadian health system, including privacy and information analytics, to decision support and the coding and classification of records.

McMaster University Continuing Education provides its learners with academic programs that are well-designed, accessible,  and relevant to the professional field.  Programs within health information are designed for learners with an undergraduate degree or college diploma seeking to build upon their prior knowledge and skills.

To qualify for the Health Information Management Plus Diploma (45 units), students must complete all ​required courses for the program. In agreement with CHALearning, McMaster University Continuing Education students will register and complete 3 coding courses offered by CHALearning. Upon successful completion of the 3 courses, students receive 6 units of study to be applied to the HIM Plus Diploma. All program courses are offered online. This diploma program is accredited by the Canadian College of Health Information Management (2018-2020).

Applications for the winter term cohort open on January 2, 2019. To find out more about admission requirements, please visit mcmastercce.ca/health-information-management or contact us at mcmastercce.ca/contact-us.


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