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September 09, 1976 - Image 65

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Michigan Daily, 1976-09-09

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Thursday, September 9, 1976


Page Three

Thursday, September 9, 1976 I l-IIEl MICHIGAN DAILY11111Page ThreeI





By JIM TOBIN BUT UPON first setting their Many TAs possess enthusiasm
The University of Michigan tender feet in the yawning lec- for their students as well as
heiesitsyloei the hichya ture halls of Angell Hall or the their field, but many teach only
sitsof American academia-a gigan- Chemistry Building or the Mod- to pay their way through grad-
tic state - supported institution ern Languages Building-places uate school or fulfill degree re-
wich ranks in prestige with in which most undergraduates quirements or both. Such is not
Harvard, Columbia, Stanford spend most of their first year in the ideal motivation for astute
and the other privatel-endowed Ann Arbor .- they are taken teaching; there are many fine
dP .taback, often dismayed. Three TAs here, but others who are
giants. Surveys across the nar- hundred or so of their new-found less than adequate.
tion rank the Umersity-par- colleagues trudge in with them
ticularly; its graduate schools- !Tu rsprosaecn
ith the best.raas a professor strides grandly founded by the seeming con-
in . ionto the stage before them to; tradiction between the Univer-
Perusing college catalogues in expound, usually without inter-- '
their high school counselors' of ruption or discussion, for the sity s prestigious ratings and its
fices, prospective Michigan un- better part of the next hour. apparent neglect of the under-
dergraduates encounter s u c h graduate population. They or
high endorsements as the 1973- After the monologue, the year- their parents are sending in
74 Blau-Margulies study, which lings stagger to their first dis- prodigious sums of money to
ranks the University in the top cussion sections, praying for de- attend the school, after all,
ten in the nation in thirteen out liverance in a more personal and the unfulfilled expectations
of eighteen professional fields. setting. They may be lucky and of high school often provoke
Evidence like this is impres- land a teaching assistant (TA) bitter disillusionment.
sive, and often convinces appli-j who is more interested in edu- WHERE LIES the University's
cants that Michigan is the place cation than in fulfilling credit greatness, they ask, if not in
for them. demands, or they may not. the classroom?

What justifies such a reputa- ing. He holds that a university
tion around the world if one's must encourage intellectual in-
English composition section is tvestigation for its own sake, or
taught by some semi-articulate at least for its transmission to a
half-wit, scant months out of an sector wider than the university
undergraduate program? itself. He also claims that the
Why are chunks of endow- "verve of the teaching assistant,
ment and federal appropriations the closeness to the field, the
poured into research while un- freshness of the approach" in
dergraduates lose out? the TA program compensates to
RATHER self-conscious in its a degree for the relative lack of
unique role in American higher senior faculty contact. TAs, he
education, and under the sort of says, are also able to transmit
financial pressure not borne by the wisdom of noted professors
a Harvard or a Stanford, the to the undergraduates because
University must deal with the of their availability at the grad-
question of what constitutes its uate level.
greatness quite directly; it must University President Robben
take pains to strike a balance Fleming, who admits he would
between the divergent and often someday like to return to the
directly opposing views of the , law clasroom, echoes Sussman's
University community. I emphasis of the importance of
The dichotomy between re- a blend between teaching and
search and teaching, so violatile research, while admitting that it
an issue to many who feel that is occasionally difficult to de-


I neorthe orther eceves'1V Qtoof

Gra des on
When Gerald Ford graduated from the Uni-
versity in 1935, his transcript carried four A's
(including his grade for American Govern-a
ment), eight C's (two of them in economics
classes), and B's for all his other courses. If
he were to take those classes today however,
his record would probably show many more
A's, a few P's, and a slew of plusses and min-
usses. Why? Because of grade inflation.
Just one of several new trends in the evalua-
tion of academic performance, grade inflation
has had a profound impact on students every-
where. University freshpersons with GPA's
measured on a scale of zero-to-four, now aver-
age near 3.0 (B) rather than at C, the tradi-
tional average score.
AND ADMINISTRATORS, convinced that
grade inflation overstates the academic
achievement of poorer students, have taken
steps to reverse, or at least soften, the effect of
the trend.
The LSA faculty last April narrowly approv-
ed a proposal to place course average grades
next to each grade on student transcripts, so
that the student's performance can be readily
compared to that of his or her class.
In some instances, therefore, what may at
first appear to be a very good grade could
show up as nothing more than the class aver-
age or worse. The new system may be im-
plemented this fall if factors of cost and extra
work do not prove prohibitive.
The administration had the same goal in
mind a year ago, when the University's gov-
erning Board of Regents approved a slate of
proposals which included the introduction of a
plus and minus grading system.
Instructors now have the option of assign-
ing, for example, an A- (3.7 honor points) or a
B+ (3.3) for final course grades in LSA and
the engineering school, whereas an A, B, C, D,
E system was used before.
THE PLUS-MINUS system may have hurt
some students. Obviously, a B- is less impres-
sive than a B, and professors may find it eas-
ier to give students the lower grade in "bor-
derline" cases.
But it also may boost the morale of other
students who slip by a course with a C+ in-
stead of a C.
However, the straight A student has nothing
to gain. LSA faculty members recently turned
down a proposal which would have awarded 4.3
honor points for A+ grades.
The grading changes may heighten the al-
ready highly-competitive effects of grading, but
students still have options to reduce the pres-
sure. LSA students may now elect up to one-
fourth of their total credit hours on a pass-fail

much favor, is seen by Univer-
sity leaders as a blend of mu-
tually , beneficial entities, not a
confrontation between opposing
h lu ll forces. While many students feel
that a professor preoccupied
with research or publishing can-
basis, excepting courses required for concen- not devote himself or herself to
bation edetialud unes- the classroom, administrators
trtn Ri t Clfind the two inseperable.
At the College (RC), which "The conception that research'
a pass-fail system supplemented by written diminishes the quality of teach-
evaluations, Assistant to the Director for Coun- ing represents a misunderstand-
seling Carole LaMantia says 'some students ing of the inextricable link be-
fund they often learn and retain more in classes tween the two," declares Alfred
graded pass-fail than they would have under Sussman, dean of the graduate
he traditional letter-graded method, school and professor of biology.
"The rimnaltrgradaaed ethatyd. are"In the classroom the person at'
"The primary advantages are that you are ~,the top of the field will give the
not trying to learn under a competitive situa- students the excitement and the
tion, and memorizing material to take tests frontier of the field.
with," LaMantia says. "The whole competitive,
aspect is out." "M OSsT PROFESSORS aare
hams," Sussman continues. "I'
AND WHIE some graduate schools, she went into research and teaching'
adds "would prefer not to deal with r like to teach well. The most
evaluations," the acceptance rate of RC stu- devastating thing that can hap-
dents into those schools is an impressive 70 pen to a teacher is to feel that
per cent. the edge is off, that you're not
But at the Pilot Program in Alice Lloyd, stu- on the frontier. Most research-
dent dissatisfaction with the exclusive pass-fail ers I know love to teach. The
system led administrators to experiment with ? best minds are the most exposi-
optional letter grading for three of the Pro- nite a class."
gram's 15 seminars. Ninety per cent of the 'But Sussman does not defend
students enrolled picked the letter-grade op- research purely because, in his
tion, and a Pilot Program poll showed that last view, it makes for better teach-
year's freshpersons preferred the pass-fail with---
letter - grade option system over strict pass-
fail by a margin of five to one.
"Students have an apprehension - which is
overdrawn, I think - about the way graduate
schools, especially law schools, and even busi-

fend research to demanding
health 'sciences or engineering
-those fields where people see
tangible results," he says. "It's
I harder in the humanities. For,
instance, if you have a history
professor working on a history
of the Napoleonic era, people3
say, 'Well, we've got a thousand!
histories of Napoleon.'"
It is difficult for students to
recognize benefits from works
they never read and research.
projects which leave them un-
touched. Still, Sussman and
Fleming strike an important
chord in their belief in the Uni-
versity as fertile ground for the
quest for knowledge. Whether
that knowledge will be distri-
buted to the undergraduates

How good is the education these University students are receiving?

more effectly in the future is a
question that will nag adminis-
trators and faculty for years, if
not for the duration of the uni-
versity system as we know it
Fleming says "it's going to be
difficult" to close the gap be-
tween profesor and student.
Budget restrictions, the time
consumed by research, and the
resistance to change of many
professors will probably render
it impossible.

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nessmen. regard pass-fail," says Pilot Program
Director Margot Morrow. "Some of them fear
pass-fail will hinder them."
MORROW SAYS success with a pass-fail sys-
tem is difficult if it is used only in isolation,
as it is at the University. Some students simply
do not work as hard as they would otherwise,
which may demoralize instructors or other stu-
An exclusive pass-fail system, Morrow be-
lieves, would make students more adventurous
in their course selections.
"The ultimate problem is . . . if the Univer-
sity doesn't say what quality of student it is
producing, this puts a burden on other agen-
cies," Morrow says, and there will be heavier
reliance on the standardized Graduate Record
Examination (GRE) tests.
As long as there are grades, however, stu-
dents - and employers - will probably pay at-
tention to them. Some comfort comes from a
recent scholarly study of the subject:
"Researchers have in fact had great diffi-
culty in demonstrating that grades in school
are related to any other behavior of import-
ance. It seems so evident to educators that
those who do well in their classes must go on
to do better in life that they systemically have
disregarded evidence to the contrary that has
been accumulating for some time."

E--- _ --


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