From the Record

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.

Concern over grade inflation is nothing new for the College. Two Williams economics professors issued a report in 1991 indicating that departments that gave out higher grades attracted more students and increased numbers of majors. In 1996 the Steering Committee formed an ad hoc committee chaired by Mark Hopkins Professor of Mathematics and chair of the mathematics department Colin Adams.

And that was ten years ago! Adams, Toomajian and Brown are all still at Williams. The Record ought to do a follow up story next fall. Grade inflation has gotten worse in the last ten years, albeit at a slower pace. My suggestions are unchanged:

Grade inflation is a major problem at Williams. See all the posts in our grading category, especially this one. Although the rate of grade inflation has slowed in the last 10 years, it still exists and the absolute level of grades is too high, leading to all the standard problems.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution. Do what Princeton does.

President Falk ought to appoint a special committee — stuffed with grade inflation opponents like (?) Registrar Charles Toomajian and Professors Michael Brown, George Marcus, Duane Bailey and James McAllister — and charge them with investigating grade inflation at Williams and the experience of peer schools like Princeton. I have little doubt that such a committee would report back with the answer that Falk wants, or at least ought to want: Williams should institute something like the Princeton plan that would force individual departments to start grading both equally and lower.

Want to write great senior thesis or give a memorable MATH/STAT colloquium? Use this approach (pdf) to calculate alternative GPA’s for the Williams class of 2010.

Recall this comment from last summer.

The primary goal of the undergraduate student leadership this year is to repeal the Princeton grading policy because of all of its negative effects on the student body.

As I predicted, that student effort was a failure. The Princeton Plan is working exactly how its proponents wanted it to. See our seminar for details.

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