Professors Up Grades to Make the Grade

In the article ``Attention College Students: The Easy `A' May Disappear,'' Oct. 18, the author states that from 1969 to 1983 the number of ``students with grade-point averages of A- or higher almost quadrupled.''

As a college professor at San Jose State University in California, I have noticed that this trend in grade inflation happened as a result of student evaluations of professors. Before 1969 professors generally maintained high grading standards and were not evaluated by students. Around 1970 San Jose State University and most other universities across the nation started requiring professors to have students evaluate their classes. In other words, students were asked to grade their professors.

Administrators took advantage of these student evaluations as a major criterion for retention and promotion decisions. Any professor who got below a B average from students would either be fired or not promoted, which means no pay raise. Most professors loosened standards and inflated grades in order to get high ratings from students.

It should not be construed, however, that professors get promoted only on the basis of student evaluations or that high student evaluations always mean grade inflation. Many professors earn high evaluations by hard work and good teaching. Moreover, the promotion process involves peer reviews, scholarship, publish or perish, and professional activities such as reading scholarly papers at professional meetings. According to the discipline, it often involves a variety of other creative or professional activities.

Nevertheless, professors with a variety of impressive accomplishments will normally not get promoted with a rating of C by their students. Some competent professors who maintain high standards do not get promoted while others who inflate grades do. For that reason the relationship between grading practices and student ratings should be examined. Roland Hamilton, San Jose, Calif. Professor, San Jose State University

Rethink policy toward `militias'

I do not favor the formation of extralegal armed groups (`` `Militias' Forming Across US to Protest Gun Control Laws,'' Oct. 17), but the events that have encouraged their rise are disturbing.

The presence of small children made the siege of the Waco compound a hostage situation that needed to be waited out, however long it took. The explanation that the FBI hostage SWAT team was becoming fatigued rings hollow. What kind of government orders an armored assault on a compound where infants are being held?

The government acted so heavy-handedly and outrageously in the 1991 assault on Randy Weaver's home that a jury found that his use of deadly force was justified even though it resulted in the death of a federal officer.

It is not just the members of these self-styled militias that are becoming alarmed. A July 9 letter to President Clinton that deplored this situation was signed by representatives of organizations as far apart as the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. William G. Dennis, Kelso, Wash.

Truman's decision saved lives

In ``War of Words Over Enola Gay,'' Oct. 14, I join those who hope the Smithsonian display will be modified to reflect history, not conjecture.

When President Truman said he ordered the bomb to be dropped to save American lives, I believed him. Mine was among those spared by Japan's sudden surrender in 1945. Truman's thoughtful, wise choice gave Japan's Emperor Hirohito a valid reason to stop the war quickly, unconditionally, and with honor, a necessary face-saving ingredient. To state otherwise is to malign the memory of a great president. Richard Zacher, Oceanside, Calif.

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