Bio class assigned new professor after petition


Via Crazypaco/Wikimedia Commons

Students created a petition addressing unfair exams and low grades in biology professor Craig Peebles’ Biological Science 1000 class.

By Jon Moss, Contributing Editor

A professor of nearly four decades is not teaching an upper-level biology class for the spring 2019 semester, after Dietrich School administrators received a petition claiming unjust grading practices in December.

The petition alleged the professor — Craig Peebles, a Pitt professor since 1982 — gave unfair exams that prevented students from passing the course, resulting in student grades varying dramatically among different teachers of Biological Sciences 1000. Public access to the document was removed two days after its publication.

Instead, Laura Zapanta, a lecturer who joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 2008, will teach the course’s two lectures and nine recitations for the spring semester, according to University course listings.

The petition, created Dec. 4, 2018, as an online Google document, was signed by 33 students within the first two days of publication. It was addressed to John Twyning, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich school, and asked him to investigate and remediate the situation.

“We believe as a class that the past two examinations have been extremely unfair with an Exam 1 average of 47% and Exam 2 average of 49%,” the petition said. “Additionally, close to 2/3 of the class achieved less than a 60% or below on both of these exams, which prevents students from achieving a passing grade of a C, per his syllabus grading information.”

Twyning did not respond to multiple requests for comment when the petition was first reported by The Pitt News in December. Joe Miksch, a Pitt spokesperson, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about why the professors teaching the course had changed, or if any actions were taken against Peebles by the University.

Students in Peebles’ class made efforts to contact other administrators within the department, according to the petition.

Valerie Oke, a senior lecturer and assistant chair of the department, was first contacted after the first exam and asked to raise concerns about the grade distribution, the petition said. No changes were made to the course, according to the petition, but one student enrolled in Peebles’ class during the fall semester said Oke secured a 13-question exam rather than a 15-question exam. The student, who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution, said it wasn’t enough.

“The content was harder for this exam and timing was still an issue for some students,” the student said in an email.