The Department of Government enacted a new policy beginning the Spring 2015 semester that limits the percentage of students who can receive an A or A minus grades in undergraduate level Government courses, according to department chair Michael Bailey.
According to the department website and course syllabi handed out this week, the policy mandates that no more than 40 percent of grades will be higher than A or A minus in the four introductory Government courses: International Relations, US Political Systems, Comparative Political Systems, and Elements of Political Theory. In upper level undergraduate Government courses, the expectation is that no more than 50 percent of the grades being higher than A or A minus, giving these courses more leniency, especially for honors courses and courses in which students demonstrate high levels of effort, according to Bailey.
“[In non-introductory level courses] the faculty can go above [50 percent]. But when they do go above that, then they have to kind of explain their work,” Bailey said. “And they may not go above that. But in an honors class, it would be really unfair to have … some kind of cap.”
Bailey made it clear that the policy does not include any provision in which a professor will be allowed to change a student’s grade in order to meet the cap. Rather, the policy seeks to guide courses so that roughly 40 or 50 percent of the students receive an A or A minus in the course. According to Bailey, this change should not affect students’ grades dramatically.
“Our guidelines are based roughly on empirical estimate of what we … actually do in terms of grade distributions,” Bailey wrote in an email to the Voice. “So the average percentage [of As and A minuses] shouldn’t change too much for most classes.”
The new policy replaces an unofficial and sometimes unpracticed norm within the department that previously sought to have only 25 percent of student receiving an A or A minus in the four introductory courses. This standard, however, was not uniform. The goal of this policy is to ensure fair treatment of students across the department.
In crafting the policy, the department looked at statistics for the percentage of A’s and A minuses received in given courses, and, according to Bailey, it found substantial variation of grades within any given course, notably in introductory courses, where the unofficial norm previously existed.
The Government Department also looked at courses from other departments, such as the Departments of Economics and History, in order to more adequately line up with departmental policies throughout the College.
Dean Chester Gillis of the College noted that the new policy will lead to more equitable procedures in the grading process.
“It will not matter which section of a course [students] take, they will receive equal and fair treatment,” Gillis wrote in an email to the Voice.
One potential effect that Bailey sees the policy could have would be in eliminating students selecting courses based on a perceived ease of the professor.
“I definitely don’t want a situation where students are looking for classes based on the grades they can get,” Bailey said. “I don’t think that happens a lot, but I’m realistic and it might happen a little. So on that margin, if that behavior goes away, that’s good.”
Bailey says the new policy is designed to add more meaning to receiving an A in the Government Department in a fairer way.
“The easiest thing when you’re giving grades and you’re in doubt is just to go high because then students don’t complain,” Bailey said. “At some point, you just have to stop doing that.”