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Harvard Official: A- is Median Grade and A Most Common Across All Three FAS Divisions and SEAS

By Matthew Q. Clarida and Madeline R. Conway, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: December 5, 2013, at 5:09 a.m.

After Tuesday’s disclosure that the median grade at Harvard College is an A- and the most commonly awarded grade is an A, a Harvard official said Wednesday evening that that distribution holds true for undergraduates across each of Faculty of Arts and Sciences’s three divisions—Social Science, Arts and Humanities, and Science—as well as the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The new information challenges the belief held by some that grade inflation is less prevalent in courses in the sciences than in the humanities. The mean grade for undergraduates, as well as the breakdown in each of the divisions and at SEAS, has not been made public.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris first revealed the overall distribution of grades at the College during Tuesday’s monthly FAS meeting in response to a question from government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53.

“Isn’t it time to think about doing something?” Mansfield asked University President Drew G. Faust at the meeting. “Many remedies exist. Others can be found. But perhaps above all what we need is a change of attitude.”

News of Harris’s disclosure, which provided new ammunition for those who allege that grade inflation is rampant at Harvard, quickly gained national traction Wednesday. In an interview Wednesday, Mansfield reaffirmed his criticism and called on Faust directly to address the issue.

A longtime professor, Mansfield has publicly attacked what he considers grade inflation at Harvard for decades. In 2001, he began to give students in some of his courses an official grade for their transcript that conforms to Harvard grading trends, and an unofficial, “true and serious” grade, that reflects his expectations.

Neither Faust nor other top FAS officials have commented on the disclosure. In a statement Tuesday night, FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote, “We watch and review trends in grading across Harvard College, but we are most interested in helping our students learn and learn well.”

“I feel surprised,” Daniel M. Lobo ’14 said Thursday evening. “I think classes are plenty difficult as it is.” Lobo added that he would be interested in knowing the breakdown of grades by department and year.

Ren Jie Teoh ’16 said that he “was surprised that the most common grade is A.” He added that “Most of us are trying to find out what classes are the ones giving those grades.”

Some students said they were concerned that outsiders would view their academic records differently in light of the news, hurting their chances of getting a job or into graduate school.

With final exams approaching, other students wondered whether the news would affect the way their teaching fellows and professors will grade their final assignments.

“I don’t think the news would change the way things get graded that much, and if they did, we wouldn’t know,” Mayumi Cornejo ’15 said.

—Check for updates.

—Nicholas P. Fandos contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattClarida.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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Substantiating Fears of Grade Inflation, Dean Says Median Grade at Harvard College Is A-, Most Common Grade Is A