The letter was posted out of state on April 29, 2014. It appeared in my campus mail box a few days later. I glanced at the hand-written envelope (too) quickly, guessed that it might be a (sigh, yet another) solicitation for a letter of recommendation, and didn’t have a chance to open it until the following Saturday while I was proctoring my first final exam.

Dr. Simpson,

     I hope that this letter finds you in good health and spirit. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but you did something for me that I’ve never forgotten.

The letter-writer (a former academic advisee and not the academically strongest of students) had graduated three years after I had been diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. Therefore, he might have been aware of some of my health issues while he was a student here.  Alas, he’s right that I am not as good at remembering students as I once was. I suspect that some of that memory failure is age-related; some is caused, I think, by how Carroll has changed. Some by the sheer number of students I have taught in the past 36 years. And though I had no immediate recollection of the particular event he shared, nonetheless I recalled him in some detail even without going to my filing cabinet and pulling out his advisee folder.

In 2004 ,,, I called the College to inquire about online classes. The adviser I spoke with told me that you changed one of my grades allowing me to graduate. You gave me my life and I can never begin to thank you enough. … I never contacted you because I was embarrassed, but always so thankful for it….[B]ecause of what you did I have been able to get my Masters… and have the current job I hold.  I am about to leave for Afghanistan … And just want you to know that I have never forgotten what you did for me and have always tried to earn it and will continue to. Thank you so much. Respectfully,

I have only a vague recollection of the particular circumstance alluded to (but I verified its occurrence).

A student, about to graduate fails a final exam in one of my courses. Were there personal circumstances affecting their performance? Is this part of a pattern? Is there justified reason to give them an additional chance—say, an oral exam?

A student is just a few points away from the next higher grade needed to graduate. This is easier for me to resolve, because of my extensive training in statistics and measurement error I am aware of and sensitive to the imprecision of measurement. I am quite comfortable in this situation under certain circumstances allowing some subjective (human, humane?) factors to enter into my final judgment of the student’s demonstrated abilities and likelihood of future success.

I most assuredly would change a grade if I myself had made a clerical error in assigning a grade. My vague recollection is that the latter was the case in this instance.

Simple acts of kindness, even when unintentional, can have long-lasting effects. This I believe. I was overjoyed to hear from him and communicated my thankfulness for his letter and best wishes for safety while serving our country.

Posted by Professor David Simpson

Professor of Psychology, Carroll University (USA), Lover of Dogs, Reading, Teaching and Learning. Looking for ways to enhance cross-global communication and to apply technology learning tools.