Several college professors have recently admitted they are being pressured to give students higher grades than performance warrants.
This process, known as “grade inflation,” is seen as a response to a culture where bad evaluations from students can influence decisions about teachers’ jobs. Rebecca Schuman, an education columnist for Slate magazine, noted that for adjunct professors, “popularity is the only thing keeping them employed.” The model has become one where universities are businesses and the students are customers. The maxim is that “the customer is always right,” and many instructors are willing to do just about anything to keep the customers happy.
"If I graded truly fairly — as in, a C means actual average work — the ‘customers’ would do their level best to ruin my life,” Schuman admitted. “Granted, there exist professors whose will to power out-powers grade-gripers. There are stalwarts who remain impervious to students’ tenacious complaints . I admire and cherish those professors, but I am not one of them.”
Many teachers insist the answer to this problem is better job security to ensure a professor’s fate is not tied to what their students think of them. In the past, most professors were protected by tenure. However, in today’s environment, tenure is far more difficult to come by, as only 33.5 percent of today’s professors are in tenure-track positions, compared to 78 percent in 1969.
Additionally, tenure creates a number of serious problems of its own both in higher and in secondary education. In junior high and high schools, tenure policies make it far too difficult to fire incompetent teachers. Universities face a similar problem. And as exhibited by more liberal tenure policies in secondary education, that hasn’t addressed grade inflation at the high school level. According to Schuman, “everything our students have done since the age of 5 has been graded — but almost all of those grades have been ‘exceptional,’ so the exception is now the norm.” This has created a sense of entitlement that leads to anger and disappointment when professors fail to provide exceptional grades for mediocre performance.
Since there is no simple solution to the problem of grade inflation, stakeholders in the education process need to recognize a high GPA may no longer accurately reflect the kind of excellence historically provided by such a credential. Employers need to rely on their own evaluations of competence beyond the college transcripts. Unfortunately, good grades are not always synonymous with an excellent education.