Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Surrender to the Sweet Rain

The column's headline caught my eye immediately: "Fraud in academia." Writer is a guy I have not read before, Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, which I presume, suffers from the same malady that is the focus of this column: grade inflation in the colleges and universities across the land. And we're not talking just minor puffery here. We're talking major distortion of what used to be a real measure of academic attainment. Williams advises parents and employers to lower the average student's grade by one letter, and "interpret a C as an F." I'm such a slow learner, I have just now--this semester--broken the code about grading students.

Some of the information in the Williams article, I found almost unbelievable. Like this:

--two-thirds of all letter grades given at Brown University are A's
--Harvard: 91 percent(!) of students graduate with honors
--80 percent of grades at Illinois are A's and B's
--half the students at Columbia are on the dean's list
--a third of students think they should get a B just for attending class
--40 percent think they should get a B for just doing the reading

What all this means, of course, is that a college degree has become about as potent as a high school diploma. Any number of studies have shown that a lot of so-called college graduates are, in fact, dumb as posts. I can also attest to the fact that the same is true of some graduate students as well.

I'm not sure when A's and B's became as common as germs in college grading . . . my suspicion from personal experience of teaching college classes for almost 20 years (both off- and online, a lot of the latter) is that it began in the 1970s and has grown steadily since. Until it has reached its current monstrous proportions. (As it turns out, I have good instincts. I found this site with hard data--and a lot more--that bears me out.) I have finally decided to award nothing but A's and B's and an occasional C in my classes.

I've been resisting this for years. Till now I have doggedly tried to impose performance standards on my students. To my great chagrin. You would not believe the abuse I've taken from some of them--and worst abuse always from the worst students, the ones that should not even be in college. (This piece by another professor about his experience of grade harassment illustrates the point.) I tell my wife that all this started in the wake of the late 1960s, when the universities decided to put the dogs in charge of guarding the hamburger by giving them controlling say in forming curricula and instituted the ridiculous practice of student evaluations, as if students had any knowledge or ability to be accurate, much less fair, about this. It did not take long for these evaluations became life-or-death measurements for college profs, especially for people like me who had day jobs and taught on the side. (There's also the whole matter of the humongous amount of cash flow colleges and universities now must maintain, and the concomitant necessity for them to keep the paying customers happy . . . but that's another post.)

But even worse than abuse at the hands of half-wits and boors, I found that eventually my services were no longer required at at least three schools where I taught. Not because I'm not conscientious--I am, to a fault--or a bad teacher--I'm not. But rather because I expected such unreasonable things from students as: reading the course material, attending classes, and doing the assignments. But then I also had some other truly outrageous expectations such as their knowing how to construct a literate sentence in English and being able to frame a coherent argument over the course of a few typewritten pages. And then I did the unforgivable: I made the mistake of actually grading based on these expectations. Silly, stupid me!

Well, I've finally run up the white flag. I'm too old and tired to put up with the bullshit any more. Henceforth I'll just shamefacedly pocket my money as a college-level professor and essentially become as fraudulent as the vast majority of A's I'm going to rain down on future students like candy.
Post a Comment