Six years after Princeton capped the number of A’s its professors doled out, discussion over grade inflation has reemerged on Ivy League campuses.
Students at Princeton recently expressed discontent with their school’s grade inflation policy, which limits the number of A’s awarded in each department to 35 percent.
A Dec. 2 editorial in The Daily Princetonian denounced the grading system, stating that “the policy itself has too many harmful consequences that outweigh the good intentions behind the system.”
While Harvard students do not face the same grade caps as their Princeton counterparts, most share their conviction that grade limits do more harm than good.
“It wouldn’t be fair if more than half of the class deserved A’s, but couldn’t get them,” said Lawrence Chan ’13.
Atasha A. Jordan ’13 said she did not think students would be motivated to work as hard if they knew the chances of receiving an A were slim.
While the Princeton faculty passed the grade cap in 2004 by a 2 to 1 margin, Harvard faculty members remain divided on what to do about the issue.
History professor Steven E. Ozment said he gives out grades based on participation and student understanding of the material.
“When someone is excited, it is hard to say they shouldn’t get an A,” Ozment said. He estimates that about 80 percent of his students have earned A’s over the past four or five years, all of which were “fully deserved.”
In contrast, noted grade inflation opponent and government professor Harvey C.—or according to some students, “C-minus”—Mansfield ’53 said that Princeton’s grading cap may not be strict enough.
Grading inflation has continued because “parents like it, students like it, the faculty likes it, and the administration loves it,” Mansfield said.
To demonstrate his continuing opposition to grade inflation, Mansfield has a policy of giving two grades: the “private” grade he believes the student deserves and the “public” grade that goes on the student’s transcript.
“I wanted to still be against grade inflation but not punish my own students for taking the course,” Mansfield said.
Lawrence Buell, who served as the Dean of Undergraduate Education from 1992 to 1996, wrote in an e-mail that grade inflation has long been a topic of discussion at Harvard, but “there simply wasn’t enough faculty consensus around whether the drift toward higher average grades was inherently irresponsible, and even if so, what to do about it.”
However, the faculty did limit the percentage of students who receive Latin honors on their diploma after 91 percent of the Class of 2001 graduated with honors.
Grade Deflation at Yale?With reading period just a few weeks away, Harvard students are busy preparing (or busy thinking about how they should be preparing) for the upcoming end of the semester. Yale students, meanwhile, work toward the end of the spring term with the knowledge that their grading system could undergo radical changes in the near future. Last week, after student protests, Yale faculty voted to table a proposal that would dramatically change Yale's grading distribution and scale.
The A’s Have ItHigh grades could be an indicator of the rising quality of undergraduate work in the last few decades, due in part to the rising quality of the undergraduates themselves and a greater access to information as the result of the university’s increasing commitment to financial aid, rather than a narrow claim of unwarranted grade inflation.
Faculty Members Say Grade Distribution is Not a Big ConcernWith Harvard College under national scrutiny after Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris revealed Tuesday that students at the College are more likely to receive an A than any other grade, faculty members told The Crimson that they do not have to meet a particular grade distribution and that they are not overly concerned about the potential consequences of high grading averages.