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Jewish World Review May 4, 2001/ 11 Iyar, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Grades: Equality of students, by students, for the students -- MY colleague's curiosity was piqued, "Did I just see a young woman leave your office in tears?" Familiar with the indignities I heap upon students, he feared federal wrath via Title VII, Title IX, or an injunction requiring a female quarterback.

If a young woman complains to me about man's greatest brutality and crime against nature, i.e., sexual harassment, as when a young man hoists his eyebrows at her over a latte, I console, "Honey, take it while you can. The day will come when you're painting on your eyebrows and getting only Richard Simmons, sweat and oldies."

Actually all I had done was discuss grades. The young woman fled in tears because she is getting a "B" in my course, not the "A" she envisioned.

It's not difficult for students to envision "A's." There's at least a 50/50 shot they're going to get them. At Harvard 50% of all students earn A's or A-'s. There's only a 6% chance that a student there will get a C+ grade or lower. Literature shows that 22-33% of faculty members admit that they inflate grades for better teaching evaluations, a weighted component of their annual reviews and tenure processes. Seventy percent of students say that their grades influence their evaluations of professors. One faculty member notes, "The surest way to get poor evaluations is to be a tough grader . . . You have to inflate grades by about a letter grade."

A 1999 study of student evaluations correlated with professors' techniques revealed this list of "don'ts": (1) don't assign readings; (2) don't lecture for longer than a few minutes at a time; (3) don't say anything controversial or critical of any groups; (4) don't ask exam questions on textbook material not covered in class; and (5) don't put too many corrections on student papers.

The "do" list sounds like the Teletubbies' guide to good teaching evaluations: (1) engage in impression management throughout the course (does this mean tossing Monets about?); (2) be a pal to students, not a role model; (3) be empathetic and patient; (4) be funny and entertaining in class; (5) pander to students' sociopolitical biases; (6) include interactive exercises in class; (7) give effusive praise to students; (8) extend deadlines for projects and papers; and (9) bring pizza or donuts on the last day of class.

"Everybody else does it," is rationalization, but not justification for rampant grade inflation. Over the last 25 years as the number of college students who require remedial course work has increased to 50%, the number of students earning "A's" has increased to that same amount. While SAT scores show no appreciable gains, college students' performance now exceeds that of all previous generations.

Why don't faculty take charge and give students the grades they deserve? In many cases they serve under litigation-shy administrators. Professor Bob Brown of California University in Pennsylvania was fired after 28 years of teaching because he refused to change the failing grade of one of his graduate students who had missed 12 of the 15 classes in the course and had not completed most of the assignments. President Angelo Armenti Jr. changed the same student's grade in an American Literature class from a failing grade to a "P."

Another reason, articulated by Harvey Mansfield, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University who has resisted grade inflation since his first class there in 1962, is that those professors who grade legitimately punish their students. Professor Mansfield recently succumbed to grade inflation. He gives two grades to students - the one that goes on their transcripts and the one they really deserve.

This is the self-esteem generation buoyed by feigned achievement. One child development expert frets, "As soon as you get into some of the more complicated things, kids may experience failure. They may feel like they're stupid." Fact is, there are stupid people whose talents lie in areas other than political philosophy and calculus. Liberal elites snobbishly perpetuate the myth that a life without college is not worth living.

Through affirmative action, the community college system and inflated high school grades, many students who don't belong land in four-year institutions unprepared for the challenge. Without grade inflation they would flunk out - something that hasn't happened since Al Gore tried divinity school.

The student who ran crying from my office must live with the social disgrace of a B. I will weather a time-consuming and aggravating grade appeal. Ironically, this student deserves a C at best, but grade inflation has gotten to me. Like Professor Mansfield I grew weary of punishing my students and being tanked on that evaluation question: fairness of grading. I was called, in the lingo of today, way harsh. Now, instead of C's I give B's and instead of B's I give A's. But in the world of self-esteem, I am a most effective teacher. With some PC and donuts, I'll be perfect.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


04/27/01: The Horowitz revelations as seen by a college professor
04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
04/13/01: The continuing mistake of underpricing electricity
04/06/01: That pill, Julia Roberts
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03/23/01: The melt down of the academy
03/15/01: Columbine redux: Moral infants
03/09/01: The lessons of Tom and Nicole
03/01/01: Pardon the temporary outrage
02/23/01: In defense of homework
02/20/01: A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run
02/06/01: Enough already with the Clintoons
01/26/01: The challenge to be better than we have been
01/19/01: Where have you gone Frieda Pushnik?
12/29/00: The year that was
12/23/00: Litigation: It's the American way
12/15/00: In defense of rhetoric
12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
12/01/00: Liberals' art of trashing of women
11/20/00: Put me out of my misery
11/17/00: On being a statesman
11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
11/08/00: ELECTION 2000: I SURRENDER
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10/20/00: Ten things the gay community should understand
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09/29/00: The capacity for truth
09/22/00: Charity with strings and an agenda
09/15/00: The taming of the shrew: Gloria Steinem takes a husband
09/09/00: Why rich folk don't bother me none
08/28/00: Survival of the not-so-fit but conniving
08/25/00: Conventions: A study in contrasts
08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
07/21/00: Hillary: Our longshoreman First Lady
07/21/00: SUVs: The root of all evil
07/14/00: The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well
07/07/00: I wanna be around
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06/14/00: Sex and the City: The shallow but vulgar female
06/08/00: No excuses schools
06/02/00: Oh, Canada: Our Nutty Neighbors to the North
05/23/00: The new mollycoddling coach
05/16/00: On adultery and leadership
05/12/00: Taking your lumps
05/02/00: Elian: There's never a liberal around when you need one
04/25/00: Life's circle and tenderness
04/18/00: Womyn who want it both ways
04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
02/29/00: Ditzes in TV Land
02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
02/01/00: The demise of marriage
01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
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10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings