Last Resort in the Lockdown

Rebekah Hwang/Guardian

ON CAMPUS — Scantron grading machines — printer-like robots that cost upward of $3,500 — have recently become increasingly hard for professors to come by, especially in departments such as political and cognitive science.

Besides being an inconvenience for all of UCSD’s underpaid and overworked professors, the cutback is especially troubling because students often don’t receive the results to multiple-choice exams until after the Week Four drop deadline. So if we bomb a midterm but don’t know it before the drop deadline, we’ll be trapped in a class knowing our GPA will take a turn for the worse.

Until recently, the math and literature departments were willing to share their machines with other departments, but due to overcrowding sharing is no longer an option.

In the absence of access to Scantron machines, political science and cognitive science departments should investigate alternative methods of grading Scantrons, such as hitting up A.S. Council for some spare student fees.

Scantron scanners are costly, and pose an even larger financial burden in repair when broken. When the Social Science Computing Facility’s machine broke down, the most basic repair costs were listed at $1,100. As a result, according to associate professor of Associate Dean of Social Sciences David Lake, the department was forced to fend without a grading machine, making it necessary to rely on other departments’ generosity in some cases. In others, TAs have been forced to grade tests by hand, backlogging scores by two weeks.

In an e-mail to fellow A.S. councilmembers last week, A.S. Enterprises Advisory Intern Tobias Haglund suggested a project for one of the eight new campuswide senators: develop a rental system for the Scantron grading machines and lease them out to individual departments for a nominal fee.

While there are indeed potential foils to Haglund’s proposal — including the fact that A.S. Council has no idea how much it’ll cost to implement the system — it’s at least a step toward addressing the issue at hand. Over the past several years, A.S. Council has been spending more and more on student events, while our quality of education has declined. If students want the luxury of knowing whether to drop a class before the fourth-week deadline, it’s not out of the question for them to foot this bill — even if it means paying for something the academic departments have traditionally taken care of.

Though the council has indeed been wary of helping out independent departments — such as Parking and Transportation Services — in the past, in a case where the student is the clear benefactor, there’s little danger of setting a precedent in which student fees fund a needed academic service.

Cognitive-science professor Gedeon Deák, however, is in favor of a universitywide centralized grading service for Scantrons, which would likely be provided through the department of Academic Affairs. But while Deák’s vision may be ideal, with so many other budgetary shortfalls at the university, it’s also unlikely to be realized in the near future. Though it would certainly be a small accomplishment, if the council were to sponsor a service such as Scantron grading, it would be a strong step in the right direction of using student fees to fund desperately needed academic accessories that have begun to disappear with budget cuts.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Hori.

Readers can contact Arik Burakovsky at [email protected].

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