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Law School faculty members voted 25-3 to tighten existing honors requirements last month, a move that has met with mixed reactions from students.
Currently, 70 percent of graduating law students achieve the minimum 4.85 grade point average needed to receive a cum laude diploma.
Under the new requirements, applicable to next year's entering class, only the top 40 percent of graduating students will receive honors.
Faculty say the measure is the result of a recent effort to combat grade inflation, a problem long ignored at the Law School.
The number of students graduating with honors has increased 35.2 percent over the last 24 years, said Professor of Law Richard D. Parker, acting chair of the Legal Education Committee, a student-faculty body which unanimously supported the proposal.
Supporters of the plan argued that stiffer standards will enhance the value of an honors degree for both future employers and current students. The faculty also contended that this change would prevent stigmatization of the minority of students who did not receive honors.
But some students said they are discouraged by the action.
"It's typical of Harvard," said third-year law student Robert E. Curry. "They want to maintain a sense of elitism."
An unscientific poll, conducted by Law School Council Vice President Robert B. Jancu, found that 77 percent of first-year law students disapprove of changes to the honors system.
Since employers are already familiar with the Law School's high proportion of honors students, the change may unduly hurt entering students' job prospects, according to a student memo to the Law School faculty.
Jancu also denied that there is excessive stigmatization of those students who graduate without honors.
"Landing in the bottom third of the class is something to which stigma perhaps rightly attaches," Jancu wrote in the student memo.
But the new approach seems logical to other students.
"It does seem weird that a majority of students get honors," said second-year student Bertha Cortes.
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