Given the press (see here and here for starters) about the work of our committee on how to fix the problems causing grade inflation, I have been hearing a lot from faculty at Dartmouth and at other universities and from Dartmouth alumni (hopefully, the Dartmouth administration will post our full analysis and proposal to the web soon). They’re running about 95% strongly supportive, in my estimation. Obviously, not everyone agrees, and some question particular points of our analysis (and see here). All of this is natural and an important part of the process of probing, questioning and making sure we get this absolutely right.
In my presentation to the faculty of our committee’s work, I used medical school admissions of all Dartmouth graduates since 2002 as an example of what GPA actually shows about application success to professional and graduate schools. The data were supplied to us by Dr. Lee Witters, Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biological Sciences (the guy has appoints in two Dartmouth Medical School departments, my department in the College, and teaches a full load of undergraduate courses and medical school courses every year!), former Director of Pre-Health Advising at Dartmouth (he just stepped down a couple of weeks ago after more than a decade of service), faculty advisor to the Nathan Smith Society, and the author of many, many scores of peer-reviewed scientific papers from a long and distinguished research career studying metabolic regulation. The data that Lee accumulated shows that at least one Dartmouth graduate with a GPA of 2.5-3.0 (on a 4-point scale) was admitted to 1-2 medical schools each and every year since 2002 (as far back as his data go), and that every year some students with GPAs of 3.8 or higher are admitted to no medical schools. Lee also likes to tout the fact that the average GPA of Dartmouth graduates who are admitted to medical school each year are 0.1-0.2 lower (on a 4-point scale) than the national average.
Some are clearly uncomfortable in accepting the implications of REAL DATA in addressing a question, but there it is. Certainly, having a higher GPA is one contributing factor that will aid in getting into Medical School. However, these data clearly show that it is far from the determining factor. Moreover, if the Dartmouth Administration accepts and implements our proposal fully, the only consequence to grades will be that lower-performing students in classes will receive lower grades.
Only one Dartmouth alumnus has been rude and belligerent in all this. This guy is a Medical Doctor (M.D.), and seems to want the Dartmouth faculty to give everybody all A’s so that every Dartmouth graduate has a 4.0 GPA when they apply to medical school. He has also accused me of “cherry picking” the data to support the lies he thinks we have told the Dartmouth faculty to support our committee’s proposal. So I guess his argument is that we should instead lie to all Medical School Admissions Committees.
My most recent (and final) response to him was the following:
You seem to be operating under the misguided assumption that this is a one-man crusade – that I’m somehow some Mesmerist coercing everybody else to follow along. I am simply the guy the Administration asked to be in charge of this. 95% of the faculty, the Nathan Smith Society, most student leaders on campus right now, and most Alumni that we’ve heard from also strongly support what we’re doing. Moreover, we are also enlisting faculty at Harvard, Yale, etc., as I type, to join us If you had any concern for the education that Dartmouth students, and students nationwide, received, you might understand what we’re trying to accomplish.
Besides, you seem to be fixated on grades and assuming that we want all Dartmouth students to get lower grades. I can assure you – we are not fixated on any such thing. Our proposal is for every student who deserves an A in a course to get the A they deserve – full stop. Our focus is on academic rigor – pure and simple – and the grades will go wherever the grades go. However, Dartmouth will be known as the school where grades actually mean something again, and Dartmouth will be known as the school where students with both low GPAs and high GPAs worked their tails off for the best education they can take.
And the [redacted] student who got a C in my Bio 11 Intro Biology course 6 years ago, who asked me to be her major advisor throughout her career at Dartmouth even though she was majoring outside my expertise, who asked me to write her composite Med School admissions letter last fall, who worked her butt off for her 3.0 GPA from Dartmouth when she graduated, and who was admitted to two Medical Schools this spring, will have plenty of her peers in Med School with her in the coming years. There’s a whole lot of students at Dartmouth like her who care about their education and want the best education they can get. Those are the students we work for.
Good day to you,
The student to whom I referred in my response wants to be a doctor for absolutely all the right reasons, and I’m extremely proud of what she’s accomplished. She’ll also be a 100X better doctor than this guy ever dreamed of being.