My Bastion of Grade Inflation

Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, conducted an online chat Wednesday at the Washington Post. Amidst his views on the upcoming election, he was asked this question:

New York, N.Y.: Mr. Sabato,

When I took your class in 1982, you gave me a B. Why?

Larry J. Sabato: Wahoowa! Always remember that–at least in my class–a B equals “very good.” After 34 years at the University of Virginia I am very biased, but I insist that a B at Mr. Jefferson’s University is the equivalent of an “A+” at that bastion of grade inlfation [sic] in Cambridge, MA. I am still proud of you, and you have worn the honor of honors, you graduated from Virginia. Always be proud!

Now these sorts of comments are really starting to frustrate me, since I am simultaneously a teacher and a student at Harvard. A few observations: first, grade inflation is a universal problem. While in 1982 a B was likely a respectable grade at UVA, I am sure Prof. Sabato gets more complaints from these kinds of grades now than he did then. Younger professors who do not have tenure and graduate students, under pressure to get positive evaluations from students do not have the luzury Prof. Sabato has in giving Bs with impunity. But that small problem aside, I think most universities are trying to combat grade inflation by reintroducing the concept that A=excellent, B=good, C=average, and D=poor. I know that Harvard is doing this, both on an institutional level and at the level of individual professors. So if the peanut gallery at other institutions, even Mr Jefferson’s university, would stop taking pot shots, that would be much appreciated!

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