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Hundreds of students in McMaster’s introductory finance course commerce 2FA3 received a failing grade on their first midterm, with the class average sitting at 50.6 per cent, barely scraping past the passing threshold.
“The main issue began with many students complaining that prof. Trevor Chamberlain, who was teaching all four cores at the time, was not a very good instructor,” said Sara*, a second-year McMaster student in the course.
Chamberlain, the course professor, allegedly told students that the low class average was a reflection of students’ poor work ethic. These comments and the perceived incompetence of the professor emboldened a few commerce students to organize a petition in late October in hopes of improving their experience in the course.
Two hundred students signed the petition. Some of their demands included “fair assessments,” or test questions that are more consistent with the types of questions exposed to students in class, and tutorials, which were not initially provided by the course. The petition also called for the professor to use Avenue to Learn, the university’s course management platform, and disseminate course notes.
After garnering support from their peers, the organizers submitted the petition to Sue McCracken, the associate dean of the commerce program, in the first week of November.
Unbeknownst to McCracken, during the same week, Chamberlain asked a teaching assistant to temporarily take over the course for a few days.
“The TA stated that the professor had left a lot of class content for her so go through, so she was going through it in a fast pace, making it difficult to take notes,” said Sara. “When asked to slow down, she stated she rather get through 100 per cent of the material with students having some understanding than 30 per cent of the material with a good understanding for students.”
On Nov. 9 and 12, McCracken and Greg Rombough, the manager of undergraduate and specialized graduate programs (Academic), visited all the students in the course and affirmed that the DeGroote School of Business will take the concerns articulated by students seriously.
In the turbulent month before exams, Chamberlain was removed from the course and two new instructors stepped in to teach commerce 2FA3.
Nevertheless, this change was implemented with only a few weeks of the course left to spare. Having only completed one assessment thus far into the term, commerce students are left uncertain and concerned about where they stand academically.
“This course is also a prerequisite for commerce 3FA3, which second year students are supposed to take in the winter 2018 term, but now will have to be pushed back if a student decides to drop this course,” said Sara.
In the light of the petition, the DeGroote School of Business revised the assessment weighting scheme and added additional tutorial sessions to help students prepare for their next evaluation. The second midterm is scheduled for Nov. 16.
UPDATE: November 19, 2018
Prof. Leonard Waverman, Dean of the DeGroote School of Business, has noted that Dr. Chamberlain became ill with pneumonia and needed to take time away from teaching. Prof. Waverman also added that the petition demanding fair assessments, tutorials (which were not initially provided by the course), the professor to use Avenue to Learn and to disseminate course notes was signed by 145 students rather than 200.
Since this article was published on Nov. 15, 2018, hundreds have students have commented that they have faced similar experiences within this course throughout the years.
We will continue to update this story with new information.
*name changed to protect identity