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COLLEGE GRADE INFLATION



Published: Thu, June 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Providence Journal: Grades are controversial on many campuses these days. We refer not so much to the gloomy topic of bad grades, an old, contentious problem, but to the relatively new issue of too many good grades!

Few would seriously deny that the inflation of grades has become pervasive in American higher education over the past couple of decades. It is said that the Gentleman's C -- long considered an acceptable grade by students of both sexes, faculty and tuition-paying parents -- has turned into the Gentleman's B, or even the Gentleman's A.

Grade inflation in its various guises can be seen at nearly all campuses. In grading, as in so many areas, student-consumers are getting more of what they demand, rather then what they need, or deserve. Attempts to deal with the problem by enforcing institution-wide standards tend to run up against faculty members' characteristic insistence on establishing and policing the academic substance of their own courses.

Tough grader: There isn't too much that lone faculty members can do about the overall trend, but some continue trying. One is Harvey C. Mansfield, a distinguished professor of government at Harvard. He has long had a reputation as a tough (but not unfair) grader; some wags refer to him as Harvey "C-minus" Mansfield! In any case, he has instituted a two-tier grading system for students in his political philosophy classes: One grade, the modern-type inflated one, will go on their official transcripts; the second grade, representing what he thinks they really deserve, will be disclosed to them individually and privately.

Under this system, his students will presumably be able to avoid being harmed (in graduate school applications, etc.) for having significantly lower grades than their peers, at Harvard or elsewhere. But, for their own consideration, they will also have the professor's unvarnished assessment of their work.

A HAZY FUTURE WITH ETHANOL

Chicago Tribune: After months of getting pummeled by environmentalists over global warming and arsenic in drinking water, the Bush administration has chosen to get tough on the one air quality requirement that even environmentalists oppose.

It was political expediency, not ecological concern, that led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deny California's request for a waiver from regulations that soon will force the state to include corn-based ethanol in its gasoline. The decision pays homage to the bipartisan reflex of bowing to big-time political contributors among ethanol producers, the largest being Decatur, Ill.,-based Archer Daniels Midland.

California's new $450 million-a-year ethanol diet looks sure to raise gas prices -- which perhaps would be acceptable if ethanol reduced harmful vehicle emissions, as its proponents claim. But federal reports in recent years have concluded that ethanol does practically nothing to combat smog. In fact, some environmental experts say ethanol's high evaporation rate could actually increase pollution during California's hot summers.

This mess started in 1990, with a provision in the federal Clean Air Act that aimed to cut pollution by putting oxygen additives such as ethanol into gasoline. Such ingredients are supposed to make gas burn more thoroughly and cleanly.

Those benefits were never certain, and advances in gasoline blending and in fuel injection technology for engines have rendered oxygen additives even less useful. Yet ethanol's role has steadily grown, spurred recently by evidence that the other main oxygen additive, MTBE, can contaminate water supplies. California, which plans to ban MTBE, understandably wanted to avoid the high cost of importing ethanol, and asked the EPA to waive its oxygen requirement.

Political might: Thus began a heroic drive to save ethanol by lawmakers deep in the thrall of ethanol's political might. In January, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sat outside the office of former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta until he could get in to talk about the California ethanol situation. And Illinois Gov. George Ryan in April personally asked President Bush to reject the waiver request. All in all, it was an embarrassingly high return on the $735,200 that ADM donated to politicians and parties for the 2000 election cycle -- including $100,000 for Bush's inauguration.

The Natural Resources Defense Council supports giving refiners the freedom to choose how to blend gas to meet tough emissions standards. At certain times -- such as California winters -- refiners might choose to use ethanol; more often, experts say, the refiners can get better results with less expensive blends.

Such an approach would restore the true intent of the Clean Air Act -- which, last time anyone checked, was to make the air cleaner, not to subsidize political patrons.




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