It leaves the question of not how difficult it is to flunk out of Harvard but how difficult it is not to excel. Faculty have apparently solved any equity issues by making everyone a top student. The problem was raised in the movie “The Incredibles,” when the villainous character “Syndrome” reveals a plan to make everyone a superhero. Syndrome’s motive is hardly altruistic: He hated superheroes and “with everyone super, no one will be.”
In 2010, 60 percent of Harvard students were given grades in the A range and that was viewed at the time as rather scandalous. Now, to not get an A, is apparently a shocker.Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh and Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana reportedly presented the data at the first meeting this year of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Claybaugh admitted that the “report establishes we have a problem — or rather, we have two: the intertwined problems of grade inflation and compression.”
She noted that the effort to secure better teaching evaluations may be driving the upward shift. She also noted that it obviously “complicates selection processes for prizes, fellowships, or induction into Phi Beta Kappa, which rely heavily on students’ grade point averages.”In other words, to paraphrase Syndrome: “With everyone an A student, no one will be.”
Yet, the suggestions on how to deal with the problem were even more bizarre. Romance languages and literatures Professor Annabel Kim suggested the “abolition of grading” and the institution of “narrative-based” evaluations.It is not clear how employers would be informed of the narrative-based performance of students in school.
On this trajectory, Harvard will be at 100 percent As in year 2033. It may seem the perfect grading system for a trophy generation. However, my students have long objected that they never wanted the trophies. It is not their generational problem, it is ours. We resolved the struggle over tough decisions by not making them.
What is interesting is that Harvard is creating an effective three-grade system where the curve runs from A+ to A-.
The new report seems to vindicate William F. Buckley, Jr. when he declared “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”