“The biggest disadvantage is it’s a deterrent to take intellectual risks,” he says.
Woods also worries that the new policies will lead to a more competitive atmosphere in Harvard’s classrooms. He says he looked around the room of his Social Studies 10 tutorial with the knowledge that statistically only 4 out of 8 in the room might graduate with honors—and that it makes him worry about his future prospects for getting into law school.
But Director of the Office of Career Services Bill Wright-Swadel says he does not think that the fact that fewer Harvard graduates will be able to write “with honors” on their resumes will affect their success in landing jobs and spots in prestigious graduate schools.
“A change like that, when it occurs at Harvard, is something that all the people who are looking at talent from Harvard will know about,” he says. “When the system changes, they know to look differently at the numbers and things. That doesn’t have an impact on whether a student gets an opportunity or not.”
Some seniors commiserate with their less fortunate younger peers.
“My opinion is if you deserve an A, you should get it,” says John P. Kachichian ’04, an economics concentrator who expects to graduate cum laude. “What if 90 percent deserve it?”
Venu A. Nadella ’04 says he thinks the College should not be so concerned with restricting honors.
“Just give it to more people,” he says. “Who cares?”
Apparently, Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 does.
Mansfield says that Class of 2004 graduates should not consider themselves lucky at all to receive their degrees before the institution of the cap.
“I don’t think it’s lucky to benefit from grade inflation,” Mansfield says. “It detracts from your honors when 91 percent of your class gets them…The change in grade inflation will be a big boon to our best students.”
Gross says he believes that the change in honors recommendation policy will give more meaning to the distinction of graduating with honors, but concurs that the Class of 2004 has fortunate timing, sneaking through prior to implementation—just not as lucky as his graduating class in 1971.
“I agree that you are lucky,” he says. “Of course, when I was a student we had finals cancelled two years in a row. That was luck.”
—Staff writer Anne K. Kofol can be reached at email@example.com.