Grading system still under scrutiny
Last April when the Faculty voted to change Bowdoin's grading system, many students objected. Six months later, dispute with the new arrangement has increased. Only a month and a half into the school year, a vocal campus has been voicing its concern over a transformation in academic atmosphere.
The change from a five-point grading system to one with pluses and minuses was supported by 61 percent of the Faculty in last year's vote. Of the 70 voting professors, 45 were in favor while 29 dissented. Many of those in favor backed the proposition only if it was passed by a large margin; one professor attempted to initiate a new vote because he did not feel the system should be changed by such a slight majority in opinion.
Professors in favor of the adjustment stated in an April 5, 2001 Orient issue that it will add greater accuracy and distinction among student work. One faculty member maintained that most students had not known of the five-point system before coming to Bowdoin. It is incorrect to assume this and would be difficult to believe that during the junior/senior year of high school even a third of our student body overlooked this fact. The decision to attend school here was made partially because of the less stringent grading system and the academic tone this sets.
However, the main argument for the grading change is that previously a distinction between an 89 and an 80 could not be made. Many students gave just enough effort to hold onto a B rather than work harder for the A. With the new system, extra effort will be rewarded by a better grade. Yet it inevitably changes the atmosphere Bowdoin has been known for.
An increase in attention to details and focus of specific grades is beneficial to the work ethic of each individual. However, the desire of 1600 students who expect close attention from professors can easily cause conflict. Office hours have become increasingly hard to schedule and will worsen as the number of papers and tests increase. Towards the end of each semester each plus and minus will be accounted for, with students lining up to get an extra.
The decision to change the grading system without waiting for at least the Class of '03 to graduate is evidence of a self-interested choice. While the Faculty does and should dictate all curriculum and teaching frameworks, including major/minor requirements, the ability to alter a student's experience even one year into Bowdoin is unwarranted. Will every graduate have to explain the reasons he or she never received a plus prior to the 2002-03 school term?
Professors voted for the plus-minus system because they would like to accurately assess work and effort. Others value a comfortable academic atmosphere more than the extra .3 on the GPA scale. Both should consider a revision of the system in favor of a more democratic policy. During the selection of majors/minors sophomore year, students should also be given the freedom to decide how their transcript will appear. The present system would be used throughout the four years at Bowdoin, but the final record would show plus and minus at each individual's discretion. This would not alter a professor's ability to evaluate students and could alleviate what will become an ever-increasing concentration on GPA.