The dean of Harvard's undergraduate college says that the most common grade awarded at the school is a straight A, a point of non-pride that has sparked the cushiest online nerd fight in history, with bullies from the University of Chicago and MIT coming in to pick on these soft Harvard kids.
Jay Harris, Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard, revealed this dirty little secret during a Tuesday afternoon faculty meeting, according to The Harvard Crimson reported. Harris was responding to the question of grade inflation, when he reportedly told members that "The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A." Though that meeting was primarily for Harvard faculty, it didn't take long for the story of Harvard's lax grading policy to hit the school paper and then the Internet.
Perhaps the most entertaining reaction has been from other students from "smart" schools who are parlaying the opportunity to tell these Harvard kids that they don't actually go to a real school.
"Feel free to come study abroad in Hyde Park ... see what the big leagues are like," a student claiming to be from University of Chicago wrote in the comments section at The Crimson, which actually might be the most civil and proofread comments section on the entire Internet. A commenter who said he was a Princeton student also chimed in, "I go to Princeton and we have grade deflation. No more than 35% can have an A in any given class. Harvard kids have it easy and they can't complain."
And it keeps going. An MIT-affiliated commenter also piled on, claiming that MIT kids use Harvard to duck bad grades. "All I know is that MIT students cross register at Harvard to keep their GPA's up, and MIT had to change their policy on cross-registering with Harvard," he or she wrote. Another added, "Current MIT student, planning on taking math/physics classes at Harvard for easier shot at an A."
Ouch. So today isn't exactly the most fun day to be a Harvard grad.
But grade inflation also has big picture complications that extend beyond smart-person ribbing. Those good grades mean good GPAs. And good GPAs get you into good graduate programs and could possibly snag you a good job. (A 4.0 GPA at Harvard sure sounds impressive on paper.) And yes, it could mean that these people who aren't necessarily earning their good grades are getting benefits that they shouldn't be.
Grade inflation cuts the other way too, as it eventually cheapens the good grades of people who really earned them, and that Harvard 4.0 begins to lose its luster. The Boston Globe reported in 2001 that 91 percent of Harvard graduates graduated with honors.