A journalism professor has been handed a five-month suspended jail term for giving a student’s paper a low mark.
The journalism student, identified as Savash Porgham Rezaeieh, had produced a paper on the subject of “news analysis” and handed it in expecting a grade of around 65 to 72.
But when he was given a grade of just 35 from Prof Nurdogan Rigel, a prominent academic at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Communications, he filed a formal complaint with prosecutors who took the matter before a judge in Istanbul Magistrate’s Court.
The professor told the court that she believed that the grade of 35, which like any mark under 51 as a failure, was fair.
But after studying the case, the magistrates agreed that the professor had shown an “abuse of the duty of care ” and the academic was given a five-month suspended sentence. Prosecutors who had agreed to take the case to court had asked for a two-year jail term.
The decision – believed to be the first case of its kind in Turkey – was greeted with mixed feelings by legal experts in the country, who point out that the question of unfair grades from university professors is often cited by students who fail, but this was the first time a case had ever come to court.
Orkun Burak Ugurlu, a member of the Istanbul Bar Association, described it as a landmark decision that would probably encourage more students to file complaints about their grades.
He said: “Students used to complain about grades they thought were unfair but have been afraid of filing a complaint, fearing that lecturers would hand down lower grades if they file complaints. After this verdict, they won’t fear coming forward, and they now know that you have a right to object to grades you believe are unfair.”
However he said he felt too little attention had been given during the case to the reason for the low grades. He said the court had agreed that the grade should have been higher, and that was the reason for the sentence, but added that the punishment could have been far more severe had they decided that the professor had deliberately targeted the student for a lower grade.
Lawyer Abdullah Onur Eyuboglu added he found the sentence unduly severe because the subject of news analysis involved a subjective evaluation of the exam questions which was open to interpretation unlike a maths exam where the answers were either correct or incorrect.
He said: “Just like judges interpret the law, lecturers can interpret the exam papers differently.”