As a Princeton alumnus and a retired college professor (43 years at Swarthmore), I was disturbed to learn that “the percentage of A and A+ grades given to undergraduates rose from 27 percent in 2014–2015 to more than 30 percent in 2016-2017” (On the Campus, Oct. 25). Even more dispiriting than this news was the response by the Office of the Dean of the College to it: “Increased grade compression at the top ... makes it challenging to distinguish our best students when awarding honors and prizes.” Wow, what a problem! Current students are so brilliant that it is really difficult to identify the best and give them their awards.
Does anyone believe that 30 percent of Princeton’s grades deserve to be in the A and A+ categories? When did the young become so smart that half of the traditional grading schema fell into irrelevance? Is it hopeless to imagine that a dean’s office might have responded otherwise? That rather than pass over the rampant grade inflation manifest in this data, that office might have sounded an alarm? That the office might have worried that the harder work of assessing is being replaced by the easier work of affirming? It’s true that affirming makes everyone feel better, though at an intellectual cost that Princeton should recognize and try to resist. The kind of honor at stake in grading goes way beyond the awarding of “honors and prizes.”