What is the current status of grade inflation at Williams? See here for previous discussion. The Record reported 8 years ago that:

The Williams faculty voiced its concern over grade inflation at the College as it passed several motions of a proposal by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) Subcommittee on Grading, instituting grading targets at the monthly faculty meeting held Feb. 16.

The targets, which range from 3.2 to 3.5 from 100-level to 400-level courses, increasing one tenth of a point per course level, intend to stabilize the mean GPA of the College beginning in Fall 2000 to about 3.3, the mean grade for 1998. The most frequently given grade in 1999 was an A- and the mean grade hovered just above a B+ at 3.34.

“When you take the long view and look from 1960 to 1999, you see overwhelming evidence that grades are moving steadily upward,” Chair of the CEP and James N. Lambert ’39 Professor of Anthropology Michael Brown said.

“The problem is that leaves you no room to move. Grades are so compressed that you start getting into making finer distinctions which are harder and harder to justify at the same time.”

“The so-called ‘Gentleman’s C’ is now the ‘Gentleman’s B+,’” quipped Associate Dean for Student Services and Registrar Charles Toomajian.

Indeed. But where are things now? A Record editor mentioned to me that they had sought the latest data but been rebuffed by the Registrar. True? Unless something has changed, the faculty should have access to this data.

[Professor Colin Adams said] “We passed one of the motions which said that we would distribute information to all the faculty at the end of every semester which told them where they were in relation to other departments, whether their GPAs were above or below the other departments.”

Is this still going on? If so, surely there is at least one faculty member who thinks that this information should be made public to force Williams to do something. Are you that faculty member? If so, my mailing address is David Kane, 30 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02458. Mail the paper to me (or e-mail an electronic version) and I will post it here.

Every year, the College exchanges information with a group of about 20 peer institutions of liberal arts colleges. Recently, Williams ranked second in the list of highest annual GPA. This fact concerns many faculty members.

“If the faculty doesn’t control grade inflation, in 10 to 15 years everyone is going to have a 4.0 or higher and the transcript will be utterly useless,” Brown said. “There will be no distinctions possible because everyone will get the same grade. That is one of the important issues that as grades become compressed, it is more difficult to present the nuances in a picture of a student’s performance at Williams.”

Perhaps Professor Brown could give us an update. I also suspect that faculty like, say, Sam Crane would agree with me that something needs to be done about this.

And, it is fun to go back even further, to 1998 when our own James McAllister was a new professor.

Assistant Professor of Political Science James McAllister said he made it clear to all of his students at the beginning of the semester that it would not pan out that way for them; they could not expect inflated grades. He said he distributed articles on the problem of grade inflation and vowed that he would not participate in the phenomenon.

McAllister commented that his stance against grade inflation was inspired by the grade reports from the Registrar. He saw that he was eleventh out of 44 on a list of classes with the highest mean grades, and began to fear that his classes were crowded because students thought they were easy.

McAllister said he deflated grades by downgrading borderline grades. Last year, he tended to upgrade grades on the border because he was a new professor and uncertain of the standards.

McAllister said he now knows that Williams does not pressure professors to grade high. “Williams is not a grade inflationary school,” he said.

Really? Even 10 years later? Show us the data.

For those of us who hire from Williams, this is a real problem. If a student tells me that she got an A from Sam Crane or James McAllister, then I really want to believe that she is one of their very best students. My guess, however, is that all this A tells me is that she is in the top 1/3, which doesn’t tell me much. When James MacGregor Burns put an A on a transcript 25 or 50 years ago, you knew that it meant something.

Do the grades on a Williams transcript mean anything today?

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