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Professors remain hesitant to deflate

When a faculty committee issued a report in February detailing rampant grade inflation, the findings received national attention and had more than a few undergraduates fearing that the time when As and Bs flowed like wine was about to end.

Nearly two months and dozens of departmental meetings later, it is looking increasingly unlikely that an across-the-boards rollback in grades will be happening any time soon.


Although some professors seized upon the report as an opportunity to toughen standards, there are others who have expressed reluctance to take strong action to combat the trend.

"People say, 'Why should we punish our students?' or 'Why should we be the first to move?' " Wilson School Dean Michael Rothschild said, explaining why departments are generally not advocating immediate action.

Rothschild said the school has held several meetings in recent weeks involving both faculty and students, but the conversations have not resulted in any kind of consensus as to what, if anything, should be done.

He added that the school did send a letter to Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel explaining that it would be extremely difficult for the Wilson School to adjust grading standards this year, or even next year.

To deflate or not to deflate?

The Classics Department has reached a decision to take action about grade inflation, said chair Josiah Ober. He said the grade inflation report has led to moderate initiatives aimed at clarifying standards.


"What we haven't done is decided we need to chop by half-a-grade systematically," Ober said. "Rather, we want to make clear that we know as a department what is A-work, what is B-work and so on down the line."

Ober said the department will hold workshops next fall in which professors will compare grading practices, and junior faculty members will be instructed as to how the department expects them to assess students' work.

In the Department of Chemistry, meanwhile, chair George McLendon said meetings to discuss the issue drew one conclusion: The department has no grade inflation.

"Our own statistics have not changed," McLendon said of the grades his department has been giving out over the past 15 years. "I don't doubt what the college has found generally, but within our department, it just doesn't seem to be the case." McLendon added that the result of the discussions was that professors agreed there is no need to change.

Undiscussed issue for some

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While the report has generated a considerable amount of discussion, there are some departments in which the topic has yet to be addressed.

"We don't take this lightly," said David Dobkin, computer science chair. "But, like any other organization, we deal with the crisis that's burning down the building first."

Though institutional change could be a long time in coming, there is the possibility that professors will interpret the report as license to alter their standards independently. In this sense, USG academics chair Todd Rich said students may already be feeling the effects of the report.

"Some faculty might be thinking that there is implicit pressure to lower grades, if not explicit pressure," Rich said. "Whether that will mean lower grades, I don't know."