Grade Inflation--Life Without Ds

Grades at Harvard Part Two: Giving them

If you give a student too high a grade, it leads to kind of corruption...which is bad for him,' says professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield.

Last June, over 82 per cent of Harvard undergraduates had achieved a cumulative course grade average of B- or better. In June 1969, only about 70 per cent fared so well. Deeply concerned by the "high rate of increase" in Harvard grade-point averages, Henry, A. Rosovsky, dean of the Faculty, brought the problem to the attention of the Faculty in November, calling for quick remedial action. Rosovsky pointed out that despite a decline in their SAT scores, Harvard students were receiving higher and higher grades. For whatever reasons, it was becoming obvious that more and more "A"s were being given out; many course curves had shifted rapidly upward until they reached a point at which there were virtually no grades below C.

Lord Keynes would undoubtedly have spotted the problem right away. Like the penny, the low grade has apparently outlived its usefulness; both have fallen victim to the all-too-familiar phenomenon of inflation, if we are to believe some of the more outspoken critics of the recent upward swing in grading.

And the grade spiral is by no means confined to Harvard. In fact, stories coming from other campuses of late make this University's grade inflation seem quite tame by comparison:

* The dean of Dickinson College recently did away with the school's dean's list after close to one-third of the student body achieved the 3.5 GPA necessary to qualify.


* At Stanford, the average GPA is reported to be 3.54 and rising. One reason for this might be that the school has discontinued using "D" and "F" grades entirely.

* At Dartmouth last year, 81.1 per cent of all grades received by graduating seniors were in the A-B range.

* At Amherst, over 85 per cent of all grades were "A"s or "B"s.

* At Yale last semester, only 19 failing grades were given; only 39 "F"s were given all last year.

Boston University, Temple, Vassar, the University of Vermont, Brown: the list of schools that have acknowledged problems with grade inflation is enormous.

Perhaps one of the most outspoken critics of grade inflation has been Harvey C. Mansfield '53, professor of Government. Mansfield, who is quick to acknowledge his own "evil reputation as a hard grader," believes that the University should return to a system of "fair" grading.

"By fair grading I mean giving a student what he or she actually deserves," Mansfield says. "I don't mean hard grading, or grading someone lower than he deserves."

Mansfield, who graduated from Harvard summa cum laude, argues that a system "corrupted" by grade inflation will ultimately hurt the student a good deal more than it will help him.

"If you don't have a less inflated grading system, the rewards that are given out will go on the basis of some kind of favoritism, and I think that is clearly wrong," he says. "Also, if you give someone too high a grade, and he is in the habit of getting too high grades, it's a kind of flattery and it leads to a kind of corruption in the student which is bad for him."

One section man in Professor John Finley's Humanities 103 (formerly Humanities 3), a course which many believe has done more than its share to promote "inflated" grades at Harvard, offered a summary indictment of the University's grading system.

Recommended Articles