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

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