In Response to: A Combustible Mix 

This article presents a false choice between being fair to students and upholding standards. Upholding standards should not be optional, but being fair to students should not be optional either. 

In my day, Maitland Jones’ organic chemistry courses sometimes were given the highest scores in student evaluations although Professor Toner’s Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics was usually first.  Having taken both courses, the big difference I saw was that while both professors lectured well and had rigid grading systems (Toner using T-scores, Jones curveless absolute test scores), Toner projected a deep commitment to being fair to students and making the system fair. Jones, on the other hand, was openly callous about students and grading.  

When I was disappointed with my final grade in “Orgo,” my TA explained that my penchant for using fountain pens left my exam books messy, so they were always left to the end and “people get harsher as the night goes on.” If that was true, it speaks to a lack of academic standards that is every bit as egregious as passing people who don’t deserve it.  Even if it was just jive from a TA, it is emblematic of an attitude towards students that we accepted at the time as part of the cachet of a killer course to weed out pre-meds, but it appears the younger generation no longer accepts. Good on them! Standards may be timeless, but disrespect and capricious grading have no place in education.

E.J. Lightfoot ’78
Amherst, N.Y.