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Harvard prof worried about grade inflation

A long-time government professor at Harvard lashed out at what he deemed a system of rampant grade inflation after learning that students are receiving mainly A’s at the college.

“It’s really indefensible,” said Harvey C. Mansfield, a faculty member for more than five decades, in a telephone interview. He said he was informed of the grading situation earlier in the day at a faculty meeting.

“I thought the most prevalent grade was an A-minus, which is bad enough,” Mansfield said Tuesday. “When I asked the question [about the most frequently given grade], it was worse.”

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Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education informed Mansfield at the meeting that the most frequent grade is an A, citing data from fall 2012 and several prior semesters, the Harvard Crimson reported.

Jeff Neal, a Harvard spokesman, confirmed the accuracy of the data, in a statement to the Globe.

“In recent years, the [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] . . . have re-emphasized and elevated the importance of teaching and learning in our mission to the benefit of the undergraduates at Harvard College,” Neal said.

“We believe that learning is the most important thing that happens in our classrooms and throughout our system of residential education. The faculty are focused on creating positive and lasting learning outcomes for our undergraduates.”

But Mansfield said the issue of grade inflation, while not new and not isolated to Harvard, has become routine and has an adverse effect on standards and on the most talented students, whose merit goes unrecognized.

Mansfield described how, in recent years, he himself has taken to giving students two grades — one that shows up on their transcript, and one he believes they actually deserve.

“I didn’t want my students to be punished by being the only ones to suffer for getting an accurate grade,” he said, adding that administrators must take the lead in curbing the trend.

Reaction to Mansfield’s comments among Harvard students was mixed.

“I just find that hard to believe because it’s pretty hard to get an A in any class,” said Connor Mangan, 20, a junior neurobiology major.

Dhruv Goyal, 19, an economics major, also questioned whether grade inflation is a problem.

“Professors have the ability and right to grade their classes in any way,” Goyal said. . . . “If you talk about the grades at Harvard, the first thing that comes to mind is its implications on mental health. Harvard students come in as overachievers in high school and want to replicate that success.”

But Seiste Goffard, 20, another economics major, agrees grades are inflated.

“I think it [grade inflation] definitely exists,” Goffard said. “I think students and faculty, the data they have all point to the fact that it’s an issue here more than elsewhere.”

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