AUB’s proposed GPA system: the controversy and the changes

Ghina Abi-Ghannam, Firas Haidar, Razan Mneimneh, & Laudy Issa

Arabic Editor, Editor-at-Large, Associate Editor, & Editor-in-Chief

The Controversy

   A new GPA equivalency system is being discussed at the American University of Beirut after it was drafted by the provost, the registrar, and a group of seven faculty members, two from the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, one from every other faculty and one from the School of Nursing.
  The proposal sparked controversy among students after Joumana Talhouk, USFC member and president of the Secular Club, received information on Wednesday, November 23, that “this proposal will lower the GPA of the students” from a senate member.
  “I was certain that the proposal would lower GPAs, and this is what the petition was about,” said Talhouk. “Thankfully, it was not passed in the senate, which can only mean that it was, in fact, not in the best interest of all students.”
    USFC member Mahmoud Kobeissi, on the other hand, sees the proposal as beneficial to the student body.
  “We have extensively discussed the issue with President Khuri and Dean Nizameddin and we trust that they are working for the benefit of the students,” he said. “We aim to build a very strong bond between the administration and the student body, which is why we will be working hand-in-hand with them.”
  Talhouk raised the GPA issue in the USFC meeting that was held on the same day but was met with dismissive responses mainly due to the lack of time, according to her. The Secular Club then circulated a petition started by Talhouk because its members believed that the proposed system was unintentionally designed in a way that would lower your GPA from what it currently is. The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures.
  While the information that the AUB Secular Club received and communicated was not false, it was taken out of context, thus jeopardizing its content.
  The initial GPA proposal was previously discussed in a senate meeting held on November 2, making it the second time that it is on the Senate’s agenda.
  As mentioned by President Khuri, the senate member who shared the information with Talhouk on Wednesday did so on the basis that they believed the Senate Meeting of Friday, November 25, was being held to vote on the implementation of the proposed GPA system. However, according to the president, the Senate Meeting was being held to discuss it. Khuri explains that this is, in fact, what happened and no vote was proposed or taken, as the proposal was considered a step forward but more work remained to be done prior to a formal Senate vote.
Talhouk stressed that the possibility of the vote taking place on Friday was very real. According to Robert’s Rules of Order and as mentioned by Talhouk, had any of the attending Senate members moved to approve the Proposal, and the motion were seconded, a vote would have been taken.
  Talhouk explained that after attempting to utilize the USFC as a medium, she decided to act quickly and effectively through the Secular Club.
  “I chose to act for the interest of the student body after testing the formula on several students’ GPAs,” said Talhouk. “There was a big chance that the voting would happen on Friday, and we had to act.”
  On the other hand, USFC member Mahmoud Kobeissi expressed that had Talhouk shared the information she received before the meeting, they would have worked together as a USFC body by researching more about the topic and acting accordingly in case the proposed system showed to really harm the students’ GPAs. However, no one had further information about the proposal, which is why they could not support her claim.
  He added that, in his opinion, Talhouk’s decision to act as president of the Secular Club rather than as a member of the USFC body was not of benefit to the students, and ultimately caused panic and was misrepresentative of the actual proposal.
  President Khuri explained the process of how legislations that impact the student body usually work. After a proposal is developed, it is showed to the deans, then taken to the senate for discussion. Revisions and modifications are then scripted before the proposal is taken to the senate again and before it is discussed with the student body.
  With regards to the GPA system, the administration had previously mentioned plans to change it to last year’s USFC representatives in May after a USFC member submitted a proposal to change the cumulative GPA calculation method, according to previous USFC Vice President Hussein Khachfe.
  Below is a breakdown of the old GPA, the internationally-acknowledged College Board system, and the proposed GPA.

The Changes

   AUB currently issues its grades in percentile format, then assigns the average percentile grade a Quality Point (4.00 scale) based on their own unique system. College Board’s internationally-acknowledged conversion system, however, first appoints each percentile grade a Letter Grade that is then assigned a Quality Point.
  The proposed system follows the same steps College Board does, but with different scaling: The cutoff range for the letter grades is 3 points lower, meaning that a lower percentile grade can earn students a higher letter grade than that of College Board. The proposed system does not convert each course grade to a letter, but first calculates the term average (percentile) then converts it to a letter grade and subsequently assigns it a quality point. The three systems are as such:

gpa

  A clear example would be that of a student taking five 3-credit courses, with their final course grades being: 90, 87, 88, 78 and 79. The conversion according to all three systems would yield the following results:

Current System

College Board (International)

Proposed System

Percentile (common to all 3 systems)

Term Percentile Average

Quality Point

Letter Grade

Quality Point

Letter Grade

Quality Point

●     90

●     87

●     88

●     78

●     79

84.4

3.54

●     A-

●     B+

●     B+

●     C+

●     C+

●     3.7

●     3.3

●     3.3

●     2.3

●     2.3

●     A

●     A-

●     A-

●     B-

●     B-

●     4.0

●     3.7

●     3.7

●     2.7

●     2.7

Average Term GPA (4.0 Scale)

3.54

2.98

3.36

As this example shows, the proposed system results in a 4.0-Scale cumulative GPA that is lower than that of the current system, but higher than that of College Board.

  AUB’s current scale overshoots the GPA by a margin most international colleges do not accept, which leads them to lower the GPA by taking the percentile course grades and following the College Board system in order to get a new overall GPA on the 4.0 Scale. As Associate Professor and committee member Mohamad Abiad, Ph.D., explains, that is due to AUB’s system being “an imaginary” one not used in any other university.
  The proposed system – which is still a work-in-progress susceptible to major changes – outlines a format similar to College Board’s, but does not lower the GPA as much. The idea behind the proposed system is to provide international universities with only the Letter Grades, instead of percentiles, so that they are unable to recalculate the GPA and lower it further. In order to achieve that, however, the proposed system needs to offer a scale that is close to College Board’s, but contrary to the current system’s inflated scale.
  The administration remains adamant that, although the proposed system might appear unfavorable, it is in fact benefitting the students greatly when it is put into perspective. The university will effectively be using a concrete system that is increasing a student’s GPA when compared to the international standards instead of following the imaginary system adopted in 2010.
  “Yes, the GPAs technically went down a little but, scientifically, the final product is better,” said Provost Mohamed Harajli.
  In addition to the effect the proposed GPA will have on individual GPA levels, it will also increase the number of students who receive As (from 6 percent to 20 percent) and Bs (from 42 percent to 54 percent).
  “It became very obvious for me and our provost last year, when several of our very top students failed to get into Master’s programs in the US,” Khuri said. He and the Senate members believe the new system will resolve most of the GPA problems for now, as well as facilitate things for students applying for Master’s Programs.
  The overarching plan, however, is to go even further and rid the grading system of percentile grades altogether. According to Abiad, the university is aiming to only give letter grades on courses in the future, and then issue their GPA equivalent. He describes the grade equivalency proposal as a smooth transition into the percentile-free system, allowing the administration to give students who graduated under the old system letter grades as well. Khuri highlighted how it is a “cultural change,” one that ultimately aims at getting AUB professors to give higher grades.

7 thoughts on “AUB’s proposed GPA system: the controversy and the changes

  1. I can’t believe Provost Harajli and Prof. Abiad would actually admit that this proposal would decrease our GPAs!

    I wish Outlook interviewed other people, instead of only those in charge of the proposal. Like there are more than 30 senators, go ask the majority who rejected this useless thing.

  2. Wowwwwww AUB what a horror show!!!! 😥😥 To say like Dr Abiad did that universities don’t look at your cumulative GPA and that they compute each grade from every transcript that is submitted to them… is bulls***. eh ra7 yo2o3do 3a kil transcript w ye7esbo, yeah right

    To think this mean all unis spend so much time doing that for each student?? How was this guy even on the committee? Unis look at the GPA from AUB and that’s why the conversion chart that we currently have is better than the one by this proposal. wowowow so bad…
    and to say College Board is some international standard for masters and phd programs??? anyone who is applying now for a masters knows it’s not true. How did aub even think about passing this on students. Thankful that students stood up to this bad proposal. could it still pass??😥😥😥

  3. A concerned student

    - Edit

    Reply

    I think you both are failing to look at the big picture. This effectively will help our students reach USA masters programs. Most of the rest of the world do not work on the USA gpa conversion system but rather look at percentages and averages.

    Also it is important to point out the long term goal mentioned in the paper. AUB had a made-up gpa system that most USA universities cannot take seriously. This new conversion will effectively INFLATE our gpas relative to how things were happening before. Also, it was mentioned that this is the first step to move towards a letter grade system where there will be a cultural change and professors will start giving HIGHER grades.

    It is important to look at the big picture rather than limiting your scope.

    1. Joumana Talhouk

      - Edit

      Reply

      Dear “concerned student”,

      First, it does not make sense to build a rule based on an exception. If this helps students reach masters programs in the USA, what about those applying to non-US programs? Scholarship programs? Firms and companies? Post-graduate studies? How can we make a rule that disfavors all of these students graduating from AUB for a few who will study in the States?

      Second, this “made-up” system at AUB accounts for the fact that professors give relatively lower grades than other professors in universities abroad. It is not really true that “most USA universities cannot take [it] seriously” because many of our graduates got into MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Boston University, NYU, and other top universities in the U.S.

      Third, I believe that a ‘cultural’ change should precede the ‘technical’ change to ensure that a whole generation of students is not disfavored.

  4. Joumana Talhouk

    - Edit

    Reply

    Thank you Ghina, Firas, Razan, and Laudy for taking the time to investigate this issue and write this article. I’m sure AUB students appreciate the time and effort that you put into this.

    I believe there are a few things missing or unaccounted for in the article (probably due to a limited word count), that I would like to point out:
    1. The perspectives of other Senate members (those not on the committee) are fundamental to the story.
    2. The proposal was set aside in the Senate meeting and might not be brought up again.
    3. A Task Force from the Senate was asked to come up with improved proposals that do not jeopardize the GPAs of the majority of AUB students.

    Points 2 and 3 must be communicated to students for them to be reassured that, after more than 2,500 signed a petition against the “Grade Equivalency Proposal,” it will almost inevitably NOT be the new grading system at AUB.

  5. GPAs didn’t go down “a little”!! When I tried the thing on my GPA, it went down by 0.62 points!!! How can he say this so casually? “just a little” 2al.

    And how is College Board international? It’s American-based, and it’s also high schools to college, not college to grad school, no?

    What a waste of $70,000 for this university if they can’t even tell what’s good for students and what’s not…

  6. Do you know how this will effect recent AUB grads? I already graduated so I won’t be benefitting from inflated grades…

Leave a Reply