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Students who take Government 1061, "Modern Political Thought," this semester, won't get just one grade from Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield Jr. '53, they will get two.
In lecture Thursday morning, Mansfield announced he will distribute two sets of grades to his students: an initial grade he thinks they deserve, and then a second grade--the one that will go on their transcript--which will be "based on Harvard's system of inflated grades."
Mansfield is one of Harvard's most ardent opponents of grade inflation. He has voiced concern about grade elevation at Faculty meetings and even with University President Neil L. Rudenstine.
"[But] the administration has done nothing about this glaring flaw in education," Mansfield said in an interview Friday.
Mansfield said that when he compares the grades he assigns in his courses with grades students receive in other classes, his marks are usually a half-letter lower.
Mansfield's reputation as a tough grader has earned him the nickname "C-Minus Mansfield." And he said this semester's grading experiment will let him evaluate students rigorously and accurately, but not unfairly lower students' grade point averages.
"I don't want to continue punishing students for a situation that is not their fault," he said. "I've had to adjust my grades upward over the years, and the strain on my conscience has become too great."
Mansfield has asked the registrar
to calculate the average grade in all of Harvard's humanities and science
courses. He will then use that figure to adjust the grades in his course to fit the Harvard distribution.
"The more or less official grades I give to the registrar will be
based on the system of Harvard's inflated grades," Mansfield said. "At first I thought of giving everyone an A, but I thought that would disrupt the learning environment."
Grade inflation is not particular to Harvard, Mansfield said. He traces the beginning roots of the phenomenon to as early as the late 1960s.
"[Educators] seem to believe that the main purpose of education is to give students self-esteem, to make them feel good about themselves and give
students the same grades they got in high school," said Mansfield.
But learning cannot be painless, he said.
"Professors don't want to be cruel, but this is the major leagues," he said. "There should be a different standard than in high school."
Elevating grade point averages impedes education but also decreases the value of grades altogether, Mansfield said.
"In no other walk of life would you say that nearly one quarter of practitioners are worthy of A's," Mansfield said. "Nobody who knows anything about grades gives anything as generous as that which the Harvard Faculty gives."
--Staff writer Sarah A. Dolgonos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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