Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Crime Scenes: Grade Inflation in Higher Ed, Part II

By Nicholas Stix
May 29, 2001
Toogood Reports

When people think of criminals, they usually conjure up images of street muggers, carjackers, and stock swindlers. They need to add to that rogues’ gallery, images of college presidents, English Department chairmen, and professors.

For today’s typical university is increasingly a criminal enterprise, which routinely violates the civil rights of students and employees alike, and which annually defrauds the taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars. Policemen have been prosecuted for violating civilians’ constitutional rights, while doctors and druggists have been prosecuted for Medicaid and health insurance fraud. Why not prosecute alleged educators who have for years violated citizens’ constitutional rights, and together defrauded the taxpayers out of billions of dollars?

Academia routinely violates students and professors’ First Amendment rights; however, I am presently concerned with violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, through the routine inflation of some students’ grades, and deflation of others’ grades, based on the respective students’ race, ethnicity, sex or sexual proclivities. I am likewise concerned with the defrauding of taxpayers by institutions which give passing grades to students who cannot do high-school (or, increasingly, even junior high school) level work, in order to continue to receive those students’ financial aid or loan money. This scam is called “retention.”

During seven years as a college instructor, I encountered no less than ten different methods of grade inflation: affirmative grading, social promotion, the provision of non-academic classes, the ruse of “developmental education,” the dumbing-down or outright elimination of tests, institutionalized test fraud, the administrative overriding of adjunct professors’ grades, the toleration and even encouragement of plagiarism, the “selling” of grades, and through the organized intimidation of professors.

• 1. Affirmative Grading: Grading a student based on his race, ethnicity, or sex — which includes inflating the grades of blacks, Hispanics, and females, as well as deflating the grades of “WHAMS” (white, heterosexual, able-bodied males).

Affirmative Grading has a solidarity variation, whereby minority, female, and homosexual professors giving courses in identity or hate sciences (black studies, lesbian studies, etc.), give all members of the oppressed group in question “A”s simply for showing up for class.

There is a comical angle to racial grade inflation. Whereas a very real conspiracy exists, to INFLATE black students’ grades, all over the country, black college students compare notes on an imaginary conspiracy of white professors which they believe exists TO MAKE THEM FAIL. During the mid-1990s, a student of mine at New Jersey’s Passaic Community College reported having heard about “the conspiracy” from a friend at nearby William Paterson College, where I also taught.

As Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate write in The Shadow University, many black students first hear about “the conspiracy” from racist black orientation administrators, and from racist black studies professors. The funny thing is, the typical black college student today is so racist, that such hate-mongering is redundant.

• 2. Social Promotion: At one New Jersey school where I taught, Passaic County Community College, full-time instructors had the privilege of asking our chairwoman to simply pass students who had flunked their exit exam.

Social promotion has ramifications up and down the academic food chain, beginning with admission. Since most state universities now admit functional illiterates — some more, some less — and adjunct professors at the remedial and foundational levels cannot simply flunk everyone, professors at every level feel increasing pressure to pass more incompetent students, and students at ever more dramatic levels of incompetence. And today’s black affirmative action admits consider anything less than an “A” proof of racism.

As Irish author Conor Cruise O’Brien recounts in the Spring, 2001 issue of Academic Questions, when the University of California-Berkeley adopted a policy of “open admissions” during the mid-1960s, incompetent black students would be admitted and passed along, until their junior year, when they would be summarily flunked out of school. The school flunked out the black students, because it was concerned that graduating manifestly incompetent students would tarnish the reputation of its degree. Today, however, administrators at allegedly “highly selective” campuses have forgotten their academic mission. And black and Hispanic affirmative action (aka “diversity”) admits, who see admission as a package deal, including passing all their classes, graduation, and receiving a well-paid, lifetime, civil-service job, will not tolerate such “disparate treatment,” and are increasingly being graduated.

• 3. Non-academic classes: Many courses, such as “College Skills,” have no academic content, but exist only to give remedial students enough credits for “non-remedial” or allegedly college-level courses, in order for them to maintain their financial aid eligibility. See also number one above.

• 4. Developmental Ed: These are remedial courses that are disguised as non-remedial courses, in order to maintain students’ financial aid eligibility.

• 5. Dumbing- Down/Eliminating Tests: At New Jersey’s William Paterson College (since promoted to William Paterson UNIVERSITY), my English Department chairwoman simply eliminated the New Jersey Basic Skills Test from the remedial English final exam, which tended to trip up weak students (which was the point!), and expanded the time for the exam essay from 20 to 75 minutes, while, if anything, making grading standards even more lax than before. Meanwhile, last fall, in addition to dumbing down (yet again!) its entry test for non-English speaking immigrant applicants, taking a page from disability advocates’ handbook, the City University of New York (CUNY) system eliminated the test’s time limit.

• 6. Institutionalized Test Fraud: At CUNY’s Puerto Rican separatist, Hostos Community College, I witnessed a tradition of test fraud, whereby the English as a Second Language (ESL) program would distribute to instructors the ESL finals in advance, with orders that we professors distribute the exams to students, and explain them in class. Many of our Hispanic immigrant and Puerto Rican migrant students would either write their final essays in advance, or have them written for hire, bring them to the “exam,” and simply copy them into their “blue books.” Adjunct Professor Richard France witnessed the identical method of pervasive test fraud at CUNY/City College’s Center for Worker Education.

• 7. Overriding Adjunct Professors’ Grades: Increasing numbers of administrators are willing to disregard failing grades given by adjunct professors, no matter how incompetent the student in question. Thus, at CUNY’s Hostos Community College, one female whom I had flunked in English as a Second Language (ESL), simply went to my program director, and got placed into the next-level ESL class, even though she had been one of my weakest (and laziest) students. And at William Paterson College, where I had received stunning teaching evaluations, when I flunked one white male student for gross misconduct (for threatening to beat me up during class), and a black female student for having missed ten classes (my syllabus stated that four absences were the limit), and having failed to complete any of her nine required class essays, my program director, Elizabeth DeGroot, passed both students.

Most adjunct professors would not have flunked those students, because they know what troubles await an adjunct who sets standards and sticks to them. As a white male adjunct colleague at William Paterson College told me, “Compromises can always be made.”

• 8. Grades for Sale: In a thoroughly documented article in the February 18, 1998 New York Times, reporter Randal C. Archibold showed that grade inflation is not limited to public higher education’s Asphalt League. Archibold reported that at two of the nation’s most respected OPUs (overpriced, private universities), Princeton and Stanford, 80 and 83.3 percent, respectively, of all grades were “B”s or “A”s. Archibold noted that parents paying over $30,000 per year per child will not accept less. It is also the case that tenure does not stiffen the spine of full-time instructors, many of whom simply cannot endure being unpopular with students.

Meanwhile, a postmodern method of grade inflation has come about through professors and administrators’ toleration, and implicit encouragement of plagiarism.

Next column: Postmodern Grade Inflation: Plagiarism


Unknown said...

Unfreaking real. Higher education has really been compromised. This was one of the most aggravating posts I've ever read. I believe what it says.

As for black students why don't they just offer them 4 year Certificates of Attendance. Then you could still have real school programs and real education for the students who actually want to learn.

Undercover Black Man said...

Were you an "adjunct professor" or an "instructor"?

Methinks there's a bit of job-title inflation going on here...