Fighting Contagion With Inflation? Columbia Professor Calls For Giving As To All Students

Like many schools, the law school is debating how to change our grading system as we move to an online curriculum during this outbreak. Various proposals have been advanced in different schools from a blanket pass/fair system to an option for students to take a grade or opt for a credit. Columbia Professor Jenny Davidson, however, has a curious solution: give everyone As regardless of the course, their work, or their performance before the outbreak. Of course, putting everyone in the top one percent leaves no one in the top one percent. Responding to a viral contagion with grade inflation is a rather dubious concept. She is not alone. Students at Harvard have called for grading scale that runs only from A to A-. I thought that was a pretty loony idea until I read Professor Davidson’s column. It now seems like the model of restraint and reason.

In her op-ed for The Washington Post, Davidson called on faculty to “Just give every college student an automatic A.” This would allow the schools to “Strip down work expectations to the bare minimum” and use “A grades as a default.”

She never really offers a concrete reason why granting As is a logical conclusion. The point of the column is that there are “inequities” in the online shift and “It’s time to abandon our preconceived ideas about what needs to happen in a college class for a student to get credit for it.”

I can see the basis for the debate between a blanket pass/fail and the optional grade approach. However, granting everyone an A is as artificial as it is insulting. Simply because of this health crisis, students did not earn an A. Grades are not supposed to be handed out for their therapeutic or symbolic value. Grades measure performance and constitute a key foundational element in our academic exercise. Davidson’s proposal magnifies the view of many that grades are being constantly manipulated and dismissed by universities through constantly raising the require mean on grading curves.

Harvard recently became embroiled in this controversy when it reversed a decision to allow for the option approach where students can elect to take a grade or receive a pass/fail. Some students objected that, if they opt for a pass/fail, employers will assume that they had a poor grade. Harvard immediately caved and took away the option — requiring all students to simply take a pass/fail grade.

I tend to favor an option allowing students the choice of receiving a grade, but I have heard from many students favoring a mandatory pass/fail system. There are a myriad of reasons why students would take a pass/fail grade other than performance, including difficult travel or family circumstances in this pandemic. Yet, many students want to continue to work on these courses and want to receive recognition for their work over the term.

Nevertheless, I can see the appeal of a general pass/fail approach both administratively and culturally for universities. What I cannot see is the logic behind giving everyone an A when such a grade would not be based on any measure of performance or distinction.

This is precisely why I never liked Higglytown Heroes as a series. I would watch with my kids as the characters said that everyone is a hero. Everyone. Yet, if everyone is a hero, what does being a hero really mean? I am not a hero because I teach law classes. A hero is the Italian priest giving up his ventilator to save a young man. If we are all heroes, what to do we call him?

The same question was presented in the Incredibles by the character Syndrome who seems to have Davidson’s idea when he revealed his evil plan: “Everyone can be Super! And when everyone’s Super… no one will be.”

The same is true for being given top grades under the Davidson plan. When everyone’s an A student, no one is an A student.

29 thoughts on “Fighting Contagion With Inflation? Columbia Professor Calls For Giving As To All Students”

  1. Give all the students A’s. I suppose in the 2 trillion $ pork fest in Washington this professor got a bonus.

    1. The lack of basic humanity in the Democrat party is monstrous. The Republicans actually had to make concessions to the Democrats in order to pass that stimulus bill.

      But the Democrats were obviously in no hurry to help the economy or workers. They rejoice over ever job lost, over every drop in the market, over every elderly person lost since they’re statistically less likely to vote to keep the Left in power than one of the teenagers fresh from indoctrination camp.

  2. I personally like the grading system of Northwestern Law School. It’s a pass/fail, but you get a review from your professor directly. I always liked that more. In the intel course, professor wrote each student about their papers via email, that good, the bad, the ugly. But it had a nice break down. Same with the banking course, professor gave feedback on the paper to each student via email.

    Older students probably like that more, since it’s closer to an employee review to get your salary increase, incentive, as they say, always gets ppl working more.

    Younger students probably like the A to F scale more since it’s what they’re use to coming directly from undergrad. And it more defining for them.

    I never felt defined by a grade. It was like yep, you did good here, or nope, you screwed up here….but no feedback, so just toss….

    Every individual is going to have a different take on this depending on how they view the world and how they view reward/effort.

    1. I don’t advocate for everyone getting an A, that means everyone will just hang out and do nothing all semester, so now, you have a ton of students who learned nothing for a whole semester, including busy bees who will slack off too bc there is no incentive to do any work.

      Why can’t each professor just pick either pass/fail w/ review OR A to F grading system…would it make a difference, if for one semester students had a mix of both on their transcripts? This entire situation is unprecedented, so many let each professor pick…

      1. I think we can sum up both my comments into a short equation:

        Incentive = √ work
        No Incentive = × work

        Or even

        Obligation = √ Duty
        No Obligation = × Duty

      2. Or maybe even 1Ls get A to F grades, and 2L and 3L, get the option per professor’s choice for Pass/Fail with review notes OR A to F grading.

  3. Competition is key.

    Merit is master.

    To the victor go the spoils.

    To the vanquished go the woes.

    Wealth is created by free enterprisers.

    Wealth is destroyed by parasitic communists.

    Sentient homo sapiens sapiens thrive on wealth.

  4. If you are going to give everyone the same grade then the only logical grade to give would be a C. That C (or possibly D or F) would also be appropriate for her given she isn’t even able to logically understand grading scales.

  5. Anyone satisfied with just an A basically missed the essence of their pursuit of study.

    A friend of my dad’s was a top notch geologist who was one of the top 2 or 3 all incoming grad students wanted to study with. He routinely paid just cursory attention to GRE scores and actively considered a 4.0 to be almost a penalty in the against column when interviewing potential students. He maintained said 4.0 said a lot more about a student’s potential to learn what they were ‘supposed’ to learn and not as an indication of that student’s desired to go beyond the norm. I totally saw his point though felt he was a bit harsh.

    Needless to say, the interview was everything with the guy. Totally saw his point, too. That kind of speaks to the discussion the other day about computer learning vs. in person learning on some level, strangely enough.

    And I know in the businesses I’m involved no one gives a damn what someone’s grades were in their educational pursuits. In fact, one’s education in the academy is often regarded as the definitions of an individual’s limitations, something one must overcome.

    Interesting world. Got no answers.

  6. Many of the professors wanting to take this route, were – frankly – already taking this route; manipulating grades to avoid the pain of actually working and maintaining decent expectations.

    This catastrophe offers opportunities to actually apply their subjects in a meaningful way. Get off your lazy butts and use the internet to continue the course. Certainly many won’t be able to get as much done, but you can still collect valid grades.

  7. “This is precisely why I never liked Higglytown Heroes as a series. I would watch with my kids as the characters said that everyone is a hero. Everyone. Yet, if everyone is a hero, what does being a hero really mean? I am not a hero because I teach law classes. A hero is the Italian priest giving up his ventilator to save a young man. If we are all heroes, what to do we call him?”
    ******************************************
    Don’t know how to categorize everyone but I do know you call the proponents of such an inane scheme. They’re Mass Men.

  8. Oh humanity!

    And the narcissist moron who never loses and opportunity to be smaller said this today on learning Romney’s negative test: “This is really great news! I am so happy I can barely speak. He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO, and I like him a lot!”

    But hey, Turley is a both-sider!

    1. You wouldn’t recognize “fairness” if it hit you in the head. Commenting on this issue as you did, surely does not deserve a “pass,” Needless to say, an “A” is out of your sphere.

  9. When will this world be free from the idiocy of the left leaning mind. Is there no end to their insane nonsense.

  10. The guise of this effort to give everyone “A”s, only serves lazy professors who want to evade responsibility for properly preparing one’s students to pass future courses, or to pass qualifying exams to enter a career (MCAT, LSAT, Bar exam, GRE subject tests etc) It also serves lazy students who do not want to read the book, study or do the homework for each class. I have taught College Chemistry since 1991, the dropping of standards to get good student evaluations and “not make waves” by giving “good” grades to just move the student along. A huge disservice to the student, and to Higher Education in the United States, resulting particularly in STEM field at MS and higher levels, American graduates are MUCH less qualified than students who came to get advanced degrees in the US, and now want to stay, getting a work visa, at low wages (for Americans, but great for their colleagues in their home countries). The problem with this, it means pay deflation for American workers and less jobs available for American graduates, particularly those white males, that do not fit diversity quotas still the rage in Academia and Businesses.

  11. Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, when your college roommate died, you were awarded As for the semester out of pity. We are all dying, so you can use that as justification. 🙂

    1. I told my brother at Xmas dinner, while coughing around the corner, hands to knees, if I was dying, and I told him, I am dying every day and so are you.

      Oddly enough, he was sick 14 days later, and my other brother, 15 days later. But one travels a lot, and the other lives in a house with lots of others, so coincidence. Also, oddly enough, the parents over 65 yo were both fine, which maybe leads me to believe, one got sick on the airplane, the other from his house.

      1. But then again, maybe not, only testing will show it…

        …just glad the young folks, Gen Z, and younger Gen Y, got off the beaches and sharing drinks etc

      2. I just realized something interesting, my parents, both over 65, are works travelers, and to do the world travels, they had to get all sorts of vaccinations, to yellow fever, wait for it, malaria.

        So, hypothetically, if I did have CV19 last year, and my brothers respectively both got sick after 14-15 days of being in contact with me, it’s possible.

        But again, don’t know if it wasn’t just Influ A or B, which kills many every year. But I will say this, worst flu I’ve ever had in my life, and suffered for months with first pneumonia, and then walking pneumonia

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