Sparked by our conversation about grade inflation at Williams, I will be reviewing different aspects of Princeton’s grading policy at noon each day this week.

From the Princeton FAQ (pdf):

Why have we made the departments responsible for implementing the policy?

We aspire to have students graded the same way in each department, so that there is no advantage or disadvantage to studying in a particular field. But the departments have different mixes of courses and course enrollments and different challenges and opportunities for implementing the grading policy. We leave to each department to determine how to meet the common institutional grading standard, taking into account the range, size, and level of the department’s courses. We’re not asking that every faculty member grade the same way, or that every course have the same grade distribution. Departments are in the best position to know what approach makes sense for their faculty and their courses; the grading policy vests maximum flexibility and room for judgment in each individual department, at the same time that it asks each department to agree to meet a common institutional standard.

Assigning responsibility at the department level was smart. Why? Because every school has professors like our own Derek Catsam ’93:

Oh: and I’m curious what tenured professors at Princeton who oppose this policy are doing. Because grading fits smack dab in the center of academic freedom, and as a tenured professor my answer would be something like this: “That’s a nice idea. Good luck with it. I’m going to grade how I see fit. And here’s my contract, my tenure letter, the number of the American Association of University Professors, the number of the President of the Faculty Senate, and the number of the chair of faculty affairs if you have any questions. Have a nice day.”

The best way to deal with prickly professors like Derek is to make the department the unit of measurement. Derek may be willing to tell off the central administration, but doing the same to his department chair — and his department colleagues — is much harder. Those are the folks that he needs to work closely with for decades. He needs to get along and compromise with them. He needs favors from them, at least occasionally.

Williams should also measure/fight grade inflation primarily at the department level.

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