Collect Essays

After I have finished grading your assignments, I will upload them to the course Blackboard. I will notify you when my feedback is available.


Broadly speaking, grades are proportioned to the vigor of the students’ engagement with the material. (Vigor, however, is not always correlated with effort!) I do not curve the grades for my courses, so I have no preconceived notions about what a “good” distribution would be.

Instead, my standards are shaped by several variables:

First, I assess students’ work according to my expectations about what is possible on a given assignment at a given course level. My expectations are based on my experience of what students at Middlebury and comparable institutions have produced. They are also influenced by the course level. In other words, I have higher standards for work done in a 300-level course than a 100-level course.

Second, I broadly calibrate my grading so that my average grades do not significantly diverge from the departmental and institutional means. This is based on my belief about the particular function of assigning grades. I believe that grades are most useful as a signal (particularly to the students themselves). The usefulness of that signal is maximized by assigning grades according to familiar criteria--meaning, according to local norms.

Finally, the standards are influenced by the course level. I have higher standards for work done in a 300-level course than a 100-level course. For instance, a senior seminar essay that earned a B+ might be a better paper than an essay in a 100-level course that earned an A-.


I make my own fair share of mistakes when grading. These mistakes are both substantive (misunderstanding) and formal (e.g. calculation, recording, &c.) If you think I’ve made a mistake, please email me with a detailed explanation; and I will redress it as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you a hard grader?

No--not relative to my colleagues in political science. (See above.)

I am not an expert on the authors and topics I am writing about. Will I be penalized if I get things wrong?

It depends on what you get wrong. As your instructor, I obviously cannot ignore whatever mistakes I identify in your work. My primary responsibility is to help you learn. Assessing (grading) your work is subordinate to that. Having said that, I weigh different kinds of mistakes differently when I calculate your grades. Naturally, graver mistakes have a larger effect than minor mistakes. Additionally, I consider whether you could have been expected to avoid a mistake. I will hold you accountable for those things we engage explicitly in the course. I also expect you to make the effort to get easy things right--such as the comparative size of the German and Canadian economies. But I would tend to be forgiving if you, say, were unaware of a thinker’s arguments in materials we have not engaged.