Grade Inflation Becomes an Educational Fact of College Life

"I think there is a lot of B+ and A-inflation, but I don't think there is grade inflation in straight A's," says Professor of History Mark A. Kishlansky.

The former president of the University says he believes the standard for an A is rather clear.

"As Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, I know it when I see it," Bok says.

William Wright-Swadel, director of the Office of Career Services, which manages Harvard candidates for fellowships, says that increased grades has made competition for prized fellowships "very stiff."

"We see more people who look like the kind of people you would want to award," he says, noting that students now have better grades along with solid performance in extracurriculars.


Grade Disparity?

College administrators all agree that average grades in the pure sciences are lower than average grades in the social sciences and humanities.

But professors have differing opinions about the cause of the disparity, and the extent to which it reflects differences in standards among departments.

Professors in the humanities are quick to point out that the science concentrations were largely responsible for the recent flood of summa cum laude degrees, leading to stricter policies across all departments for making degree recommendations this year (See story, page B-13).

"The great summa crisis last year was in the sciences," Kishlansky says.

Among many students, there is a perception that it is more difficult to receive good marks in science classes.

"Students say that we work them harder for their good grades than the other departments," Davis says.

And students say that such disparities make it difficult to compare science and non-science students, which is often necessary to determine some of the most prized academic awards.

"It becomes very difficult, especially when all these people are thrown in the same pool as far as fellowships are concerned, to adequately determine the real quality of the [students'] work," says Michael E. Ginsberg '97, who is a Crimson editor.

Buell, who is the Marquand professor of English, agrees that science classes generally impose greater requirements on students than non-science classes.