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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: December ::
Re: Grade Inflation
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2882  Saturday, 22 December 2001

[1]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Dec 2001 23:55:22 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation

[2]     From:   Jonathan Hope  <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 Dec 2001 15:02:11 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation

[3]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 Dec 2001 11:14:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Dec 2001 23:55:22 -0600
Subject: 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation

The editorial page of today's (December 20) Wall Street Journal has an
article by Harvey Mansfield about grade inflation entitled "To B or Not
to B?"  As one would expect from the Journal (whose editorial page is
about as far right politically as one can find in mainstream U.S.
media), the article lays the blame squarely on "liberals".  I don't have
time to type in the whole thing, but here are some passages giving the
gist of the article:

"We could begin with who is responsible.  The answer, without
hesitation, is America's liberals:  Our liberals own our universities.
To be a conservative professor in America -- and especially at the most
prestigious universities -- is a lonely life spent fighting down your
indignation, perfecting your sarcasm, and whistling in the wind.
Liberals are so much in charge that they hardly know it."

"Grade inflation is not a policy but it is an unintended consequence of
policies, in which the liberals running our universities have lost their
own authority.  A professor, I conceive, should be part midwife, part
taskmaster.  The midwife -- Socrates' famous metaphor -- draws out the
good that is already there.  But since it is not enough merely to
express oneself, the taskmaster sets the student to work.  And for this
a professor needs authority.

Liberal policies, however, have transferred authority from professor to
student.  More and more the university offers choice to students,
implying that they are sovereign customers free to pick what they want.
Even core requirements can be fulfilled in several ways.  In keeping
with the philosophy of multiculturalism it is thought wrong to
"privilege" courses on Western civilization by requiring them, despite
the fact that it is our civilization, and that, because it is the only
self-critical civilization, it is better than the others.  This
reluctance to require diminishes the authority of professors.  It shows
that they forswear the right to insist that students study specific
things.  The professors' experienced judgement is held to be no better
than that of their students.

Course evaluations by students, a feature of university life since the
1970s, is another liberal policy with bad consequences.  Here is a
direct connection to grade inflation, as it has been shown that young
professors or part-time faculty without tenure make sure to give high
grades so as to get high ratings.  In most universities student course
evaluations are the sole measure of competence in teaching, in part
because they are the only thing you can count.  So the wise are judged
according to how well they charm the unwise.

Other items in the loss of professorial authority can be mentioned:  the
influence of feminism, which makes liberal males feel guilty; numberless
deans who do not know how to be gruff and practice therapy instead; the
usual practice of affirmative action to the extent that it departs from
merit; and the notion of self-esteem, which makes solicitude for the
young into the professor's vocation.

All this is liberal permissiveness, you might say; what's new about
that?  Note that I speak of intellectual permissiveness, which in my
view is more harmful in universities than the moral kind.  When I refer
to the lost authority of professors, there is more at stake than their
self-importance.  What matters is the atmosphere in which students are
educated:  Will it be demanding or forgiving?

Grade inflation is an obvious answer to that question.  It is a clear
sign that liberals have mismanaged the universities they run.  They have
not been true to themselves.  They have failed to challenge the students
of merit they sought out, and they have treated these students as if
they were spoiled, wealthy and privileged -- just the sort they want to
replace."

I think Mansfield has some potentially good ideas here, though they're
mixed with quite a bit of silliness and are almost obscured by the
stridency of his right-wing rhetoric.  Anyway, I thought I would toss
this article into this discussion and see what happens.

Dave Kathman

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope
 <
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Date:           Friday, 21 Dec 2001 15:02:11 +0100
Subject: 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2874 Re: Grade Inflation

I suspect that grade inflation is a bit like declining standards of
language use - apparently always with us, but never actually producing
the meltdown its adherents seem to hope for.

I haven

 

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