Geoff shifted uneasily in his executive office chair (padded armrests, leather-look cover). A sheen of sweat was developing over his hairless scalp. He was suffering from flashbacks to the unfortunate incident with the regulations in the autumn term, when his visitor’s father had threatened legal action against the department. He looked directly at Sami.
“Now then, Mr Patel, or may I call you, er, Sami”? He gave a nervous giggle.
“Mr Patel seems fine to me, Geoff.” Sami was standing quite close to the desk, leaning slightly towards Geoff.
“Oh! Alright then. No need to stand on formality with me, though, Mr Patel. The Biology department is just one big, happy family.” Geoff winced slightly. Sami looked anything but happy. “Anyway, perhaps you’d like to sit down.”
Sami didn’t move.
“So that I don’t have to stretch my neck.” Geoff added, craftily. “I’m feeling my age these days.”
Sami sat reluctantly in the visitor’s chair across from Geoff.
Geoff felt a bit better. “So, Mr Patel. What can I do for you today?”
Sami glared at him. He reached into his rucksack and pulled out a rather dog-eared piece of paper. It was a print-out of his results. Geoff took the paper from him and scanned it quickly.
“Ah, I see. It hasn’t been a very good year for you, has it? Well now, I’m sorry to see that, but you’ll need to go and talk to your course leader, er…” he checked the course title at the top of the transcript, “er, Alison Fletcher. She’ll tell you what to do about your resits.”
Sami’s face had darkened. He clenched his fists. “I won’t be doing resits.”
“Oh, but you must. Look, you’ve hardly failed by anything. Don’t give up now. You’ll soon pick up the marks, Sami, er, Mr Patel.”
“That’s. My. Point.” Sami was struggling to control himself. “It’s not fair.”
“Not fair? I can assure you, Mr Patel, that our assessment system is extremely fair, and in addition, it is very reliable. All of our systems are double-checked both internally and externally. We pride ourselves on fairness.” Geoff felt indignant himself, as he offered a well-rehearsed justification of his department’s assessment practice. What did students know about what went on behind the scenes? At the same time, the memory of Sami’s father threatening him stood out from the many times he’d been challenged before about student marks. But that had been different; in that case, bloody Jan and giddy Alison had dropped the ball completely. In this situation, he was on solid ground.
“My average mark is 38.8.” said Sami.
“Yes, and a pass is 40, as you well know. So you didn’t quite make it. And you’ll have to resit two modules. Pop over to see Dr Fletcher and she’ll sort out the details with you.”
“But I can’t. My Dad will be so angry with me. And it’s so close to a pass. Look at my profile. There are some good marks there. It’s not fair. ”
Geoff felt a mean pleasure at the thought of Mr Patel being angry with someone other than him. And an even meaner hope that Mr Patel Senior would take him on about this issue. He knew he could win this one. He smiled with fake concern at Sami. “I know it’s very disappointing, Mr Patel, but you will need to do a little bit more work.” He held out the transcript.
Sami took it and bent again to his rucksack.
Good, thought Geoff, he’s going to go. Time waster. Should have spent more time on his studies this year.
Sami straightened and placed something on the desk. Geoff’s eyes widened. It was a large wad of fifty pound notes.
“You’re chair of the exam board, right?”
Geoff nodded. “Yes, but I don’t see …”
Sami continued. “So you can change one of my marks to bring my average up, right?”
Geoff took a deep breath. “Mr Patel, you must realise that marks at this university are awarded only on merit. And that bribing a member of staff is a disciplinary offence.”
Sami said “Who mentioned bribery? I was just putting this down do that I could find something else in my bag. Yes, here. It’s an article I found about marking practices. Look.”
He shoved a printout at Geoff. “I don’t believe your staff can grade assignments that closely. I only needed another 8% in Foundations of Biology, and I’d have passed. And Dr Bowman has favourites, and she threatened to dock marks if we were rude, and I think she’s picked on me because I got my Dad to complain to you.”
Geoff felt the sweat starting to form again. After what had happened earlier in the year, this had a ring of plausibility. He looked at the money on the desk and wondered how much there was there. His daughter was going to Uni next year, and it was going to be very expensive.
“£3000” Sami answered his unspoken question. “My dad’s quite well off. He’s a very good solicitor. As you already know. I’m sure you can find me some more marks in the Foundations of Biology course.”
Geoff wiped his forehead with a large white hanky. He put out his hand. “Just let me see that transcript again.”
He sat and stared at the much-folded page. His academic life seemed to be flashing before him. Who cared about a couple of marks? What was it all for?
Sami pushed his chair back slightly. Geoff looked up.
“Just leave this with me, son.”
Sami frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I need to do some more investigations. You’ll hear soon enough from the official channels. Just close the door on your way out, will you?”
He stared again at the piece of paper, studiously ignoring Sami, who repacked his bag and went out of the room.