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Updated: Eisgruber charges faculty committee with reassessing grade deflation

The University’s controversial grade deflation policy — which stipulates that no more than 35 percent grades given out in any  department should be As — will come under review over the next year, the University announced Monday morning.

President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 — who took over from former President Shirley Tilghman in July — charged a committee of nine faculty members with reevaluating Princeton’s grading policies, taking into account student feedback on the policy and the impact it may have on their graduate school and professional school prospects.

The grade deflation policy was put in place in 2004, under the auspices of former Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel, in response to perceived grade inflation in certain courses. In the first year of the policy, Malkiel wrote a letter explaining the policy that students could attach to their graduate school and job applications.

No peer institutions followed Princeton’s lead in taking a strong, institution-wide measure to curb grade inflation.

In an April interview with The Daily Princetonian immediately following his selection to be the 20th University president, Eisgruber said he supported grade deflation, calling it the “grading fairness policy.”

Eisgruber’s assistant, Mary DeLorenzo, said he was in meetings all day before traveling to an alumni event in New York and would not be available for comment.

In his charge to the committee, Eisgruber wrote that “concerns persist that the grading policy may have had unintended impacts upon the undergraduate academic experience that are not consistent with our broader educational goals.”

Undergraduate Student Government President Shawon Jackson ’15 said he was “very excited” that Eisgruber is taking time to review the grading policy, adding that “it’s important for [Eisgruber] to make sure that we’re doing things as effectively as possible.”

Jackson noted that pursuing a review of the policy had not been one of the USG’s top priorities.

While Jackson said that he could not speak to the specific concerns Eisgruber may be referring to, one unintended consequence of the current policy is confusion over the grading standards.

“One of the biggest concerns that I hear is about whether the purpose of a grade is to see how you’re doing relative to the standards set in the course or to see how you’re doing relative to your peers,” Jackson explained. “For example if the initial standard is set at 90% is A- but the majority of students in that course get an A- , does that mean you curve the grades such that some get a B or B+, or does everyone get an A-?”

Despite the absence of undergraduate representatives on the committee, Jackson said that he appreciated that Eisgruber expects the committee to consult various constituents of the Princeton community.

“I do hope that the faculty committee will do a survey with students, or hold focus groups or do other sorts of things to figure out what the opinion is, and if the committee decides not to do that — which I don’t foresee happening — then USG will approach the committee to see if we can give student input,” Jackson said.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the year in which Malkiel wrote the letter explaining the grade deflation policy to prospective employers and graduate schools. The letter was written and distributed in the first year of the policy’s implementation. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error. 

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