Sunday, December 05, 2004

A Modest Proposal for the Marketplace of Grades

A law school colleague sent me a copy of the memorandum found below. I have concluded that my friend wanted me to make the memorandum public.


To: Freerise Faculty
From: Prof. Carmichael Carmatcheon
Re: ASC Proposal to Increase Mandatory Median GPA
Date: Sunday, December 5, 2004

I endorse the proposal of the Academic Standards Committee [ASC] to increase the mandatory median GPA at Freerise Law School in order to (i) enhance the employment prospects of Freerise students and (ii) put Freerise students on an even footing with their peers at Pennsylvania, Villanova, and Temple. However, I believe the Committee's proposal is too modest. My recommendations and reasoning are set forth below.

1. As the Committee itself observed, the purpose of the Freerise grading system is to enhance the employment prospects of Freerise students. But if this is the purpose of grades, it follows that all Freerise students should graduate with all "A"s. I so move. (The option of requiring that only "A+"s be awarded is discussed and rejected in par. 4 below.)

2. It is true that the credentials of Freerise students do not quite match of the credentials of students at Penn and Villanova. But this is no reason why the grades of Freerise students should be lower than the grades of students at Penn or Villanova. Freerise properly aspires to compete with Penn and Villanova. Indeed, there should be no limit on Freerise's relentless pursuit of excellence. The median GPA at Freerise should match the highest median GPA at any law school in the country. The median GPA at Harvard is now approximately 3.5. The effective median GPA at Yale or Stanford is probably even higher. If the first motion fails (see par. 1 above), I move that the mandatory median GPA for all first year Freerise students be 3.75; for all second year Freerise students, 3.85; and for all third year students, graduating students, and graduate students, 3.95.

3. I move that Freerise publicly censure academic institutions that are attempting to reverse "grade inflation." So-called grade inflation is a good thing. All law students are above average.

4. I move that all possible steps be taken to hinder attempts by employers to estimate the class rank of Freerise students. It is obvious that if this is not done, any increase in the median GPA at Freerise will have little or no effect.

  • The best way to enhance the employment prospects of Freerise students while preventing employers from calculating or estimating the class rank of Freerise students is to require that all Freerise students be awarded the grade of "A+" in all courses. However, this step may be premature; it risks making Freerise a laughing stock. Hence, I renew the more modest and reasonable motion that all students be awarded at least "A" in all courses. See par. 1 above. (We can count on the discretion and good sense of the faculty not to subvert the purpose of this rule by awarding an excessive number of "A+"s. However, if experience proves otherwise, the question of whether the mandatory minimum grade of "A" is too low can be revisited at a later time, perhaps as early as next semester.)
  • 5. I move that the grades of "F" and "D" be abolished. Such grades demean the students who receive them. (These grades are in any event almost never given at Freerise.)

    6. If the preceding motion (see par. 5 above) fails, I move that any faculty member who awards an "F" or "D" be required to submit a 75 page memo (10 point type, single-spaced) justifying such a grade. If any such justification is deemed inadequate by the FSBA [Freerise Student Bar Association], the faculty member awarding such a grade shall forfeit $10,000 pay per year for three (3) years or, in special circumstances, $20,000 p.a. for five (5) years.