Kristina Flathers, Staff Writer

In an article published in USA Today (February 4, 2013) entitled “Notre Dame Seeks to Combat Grade Inflation,” Dr. John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters spoke out against grade inflation.

In the article, McGreevy said that he is “a believer in differentiation. We should be holding out A’s for the most exceptional students.”  He said that the College of Arts and Letters has begun investigating how to combat grade inflation and will issue recommendations at the end of the semester.

The Rover attempted to interview students from each college to discover the Notre Dame students’ perspective on grade inflation.  The interviews revealed some key agreements but succeeded moreso in raising some interesting questions: Why differentiate people based on grades?  Do we notice grade inflation, or does it even exist?  How much does subjectivity play into grades?  Are grading curves considered grade inflation?  Is Notre Dame intellectually stimulating enough?

Sophomore mechanical engineering major Emily Moser claims to understand McGreevy’s logic but qualified his statement: “the advantage to grade differentiation is that it makes the star students stand out.  This helps the outstanding students. However…the average students may be doing just fine in their classes and have a good grasp on the material, but they are not getting the GPA boost that the exceptional students receive.”

Katelyn Doering, a sophomore majoring in political science, agreed with Moser. “It can be very difficult to get good grades, as there is little to no grade inflation in many classes, like honors classes for example,” she said.

Sophomore mechanical engineering major Erin O’Brien also elaborated on Moser’s comments: “I do not have a problem with professors giving a student a slightly higher grade because of effort…if a student does not do extremely well on the tests, but still puts in a considerable amount of effort…the professor should give [the student] some leeway.”

Maria Moreno, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry, further disagreed with McGreevy: “people say that there will be no way to differentiate students without grade inflation, but grades are not the way to differentiate them. Getting into Notre Dame has already differentiated our student body from the majority of the world.”

Sophomore political science and FTT major Nicole Sganga commented, “I would imagine the impact of grade differentiation would depend upon a student’s major and future career plans… withholding A’s…may directly impact those applying for medical school or graduate programs. On the other hand, I do not think the FTT majors who plan on trying their luck in Hollywood are losing too much sleep over a few B’s…when you are auditioning for a role in show business, no one is going to ask to see your transcript.”

The Today article cited a report issued by the University’s Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research (OSPIR) that 45 percent of all classes in the College of Arts and Letters issued an A or A- to 70 percent or more of its students. Interestingly enough, however, many students interviewed in the College of Arts and Letters do not see a lot of “grade inflation.”

Sganga said “within the school of Arts and Letters, my understanding is that there is not a great deal of grade inflation. This being said, I think most students would agree that standardized tests have a tendency to be curved based on overall class performance, whereas professors just use their best judgment when assigning grades to papers.”

However, is curving grades itself a form of grade inflation? According to sophomore Kimberly Smith of the College of Engineering, “the whole idea of curving grades is inflation…if you look at the academic code, then you see that to get an A you would need to do better than what was expected of everyone. This means that the teachers are lowering their expectations…[and]grades are being inflated.”

The section of the academic code to which Smith referred, section 3.3.8, outlines the grading scale, which describes an A as “truly exceptional. Work meets or exceeds the highest expectations for the course.” However, as Sganga said, “I think the term ‘truly exceptional’ is subjective, which leads to inconsistency in professor grading, though I cannot think of a much better solution.”

Moreno added, “I think teachers respect what they are doing and their students’ efforts enough to be able to set standards and make sure that the grade a student is given at the end of the semester has an actual meaning. It is definitely hard to get an A here.”

Class averages contribute to subjectivity as well, according to O’Brien: “I have taken classes with some pretty big curves, but when you take tests with averages in the 50s and 60s, something has to give.”

Do these curves really help? O’Brien responded, “I do not think I have taken a class in the College of Engineering where I received a final grade higher than what I felt I deserved.”

Student body Vice-President-elect Nancy Joyce was quoted in the same Today article as saying, “I do not think lower GPAs will hurt our grad school prospects because we have the university’s strong brand backing our education.”

O’Brien responded: “we have the ‘Notre Dame brand’ backing us, but…many of the summer internships and programs I have applied for have minimum GPA requirements, so grades do matter.”

Today also quoted senior Edward Jacobson as saying “professors are afraid of really challenging people.”

“Academics aren’t the kind of students we attract,” he said. “We bring in football, booze and a little liberal arts. We want people to enjoy their football weekend and at the end of the day, still get into law school.”

Jacobson has since denied saying this, explaining that he was simply quoting a professor, who was half-joking. In response, Moreno said “this is a school that does require hard work. I know I work hard and I would be surprised if most of my peers didn’t do so as well. We never settled before coming to ND, and we will not settle with bad work now.”

Moser added that “if professors actually felt that way about us, I would be disappointed.  Most students really care about their classes, and it is unfair that a professor would question our commitment to our education.  Notre Dame students are more intellectual as a whole than some would give us credit for.  Being a student here is humbling; most of us come from the top of the class in high school to find out that here, we’re average.”

O’Brien said, “we might have a ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality, and we love our football, but we were all accepted into Notre Dame for being exceptional students both in and outside of the classroom. This school has challenged me immensely in the two years that I’ve been here.”

Despite what O’Brien calls the campus environment of a “happy medium between our academic and social lives,” the question of whether Notre Dame is truly “intellectual enough” is often raised.

Smith said, “I do think that many students care more for their grade than for the actual knowledge that they are receiving, and I do not think that the professors are blind to that. Does that make us students less intellectual? Perhaps, but not unreasonably so. A good grade will be more beneficial to us than being intellectual…there is not a similar motivation to be intellectual unless it is something that you as an individual prize.”

Sganga commented “college is about pursuing your passions. If we can characterize all of Notre Dame as possessing passion for ‘football, booze and a little liberal arts’ we are doing something wrong. Our student body is filled with diversity of opinion, race, religion, sexual orientation, interest, passion and intellect. I think a lot of professors get that. The ones that don’t are beginning to catch on.”

Senior theology and accounting major Samantha Stempky summarized perhaps what most students think. “I think the issue of grade inflation is really related to the larger issue of education—what it is and what it is meant to be. By focusing so intensely on the grading aspect, we lose focus on the ultimate goal—learning.”

Stempky continued, “education should not just be another thing we commoditize and reduce down to scientific measurement—to me, the point of a liberal arts education is the growth and transformation of your mind, heart and person as a whole. That is what Notre Dame does, but it cannot force you to—you have to be open to it.”

Sganga agreed: “there is a huge fear of failure here at Notre Dame. There is a huge fear of failure among top 20 Universities altogether. Grade inflation is just a small piece of a much larger intellectual dilemma. When I graduate, the happiest of my semesters spent at Notre Dame will most definitely not be the ones in which I received the highest marks, but the ones in which I took the greatest risks.”

Kristina is a sophomore economics major from California. She really wants to hug a couple of puppies and would welcome any help in accomplishing this task. Contact her at