The Duke Chronicle is running a series of articles this week on grade inflation.
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 An excerpt:
Dr. Nancy Major, associate professor of radiology and evolutionary anthropology, agrees that if there are many students who merit high marks, they should be rewarded accordingly. Major, who has been teaching undergraduates since 2004, said she gives mostly A's, an occasional B and does not recall ever having given a C.
"I teach a very different kind of class," she said. "On the first day I tell everyone what's expected of them to tell them how to get a decent grade in the class. And for me a decent grade in the class is an A."
Well, I got all hepped up, and wrote a letter to the Editor of the Chronicle. Here it is:
The news is filled with outrage about AIG, and other Wall Street companies. Seems that they paid out large bonuses, to everyone. Think about it: even though these people did terrible work, and lost billions, they still get bonuses, because they worked hard, or at least they came to work.
I bet a lot of faculty tut-tutted about AIG over their morning New York Times, Starbucks, and double-fiber bran muffin. Then you went to your office and graded a midterm where the low overall grade was an A-. You poor little students. It doesn't matter that your work was appalling. You tried hard. You should still get a high grade.
On the first day of class this semester, I had a waiting list of ten for a large class. I announced in class that I would be giving real grades. "At least ten percent of you will get Cs; maybe more," I told the assembled throng. The next day, the waiting list was 11, and no one had dropped.
The fact is that if you teach a real course, with real content, you can give real grades. If you don't, then you can't. And if you don't give real grades, then you are the cause behind the new AIG mindset: I showed up. Give me my bonus.
In retrospect, I could have been more circumspect.