The Random Yak

Yak of the Week: The Future of Academia

Filed under: Education Yaks,Yak Rants,Yaks of the Week — Random Yak @ 4:06 pm on April 1, 2010

Apparently, the Dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has somehow convinced himself (and others) that the best way to help his students find jobs in a lousy economy already glutted with would-be lawyers is…

retroactively raising everyone’s GPA by .333, and prospectively implementing an easier grading curve.

Had the story not broken yesterday, I would have taken it for an April Fool.  Even so, it staggers the imagination and stuns the mind (mine at least) almost beyond the capacity for rational thought.

So, just when I thought society might have risen above it, I’m re-instituting the Yak of the Week Award.  This week’s victim recipient:  Loyola Law School.

Above the Law reports that the Dean justifies this brilliant maneuver by pointing out that (a) other law schools have already resorted to grade inflation to help their graduates get jobs, (b) employers pay very close attention to law school grades when hiring new employees for legal positions, and (c) over the last few years, Loyola Law’s students have “improved significantly” – though apparently without the increasing GPAs to prove it.

In other words:

1.  We know you’re doing better, even though the evidence doesn’t prove it.

2.  If we raise your grades, you’ll we’ll everyone will look better to the guys you’re trying to convince that your law degree is still worth more than the recycling value of the paper it’s printed on.

and

3.  Everyone else is doing it.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but where I come from #3 is the kind of excuse that holds about as much water as the average industrial sieve.  In The Random Parents’ Household, when I was growing up, it was the kind of excuse that not only didn’t accomplish your objective, it also got you two-to-five (days) hard labor in the flower garden and an extended lecture on “What You Should NOT Do If Your Friends Jump Off A Bridge.”  (See: The Riot Act, Articles 9-13).

Had I responded to questions about my own grades with something akin to (the aptly named) Reason #2, I would have been grounded and/or beaten to a pulp for lying, depending on the forum in which I chose to make my ill-conceived announcement.

And as for Reason #1…facts and words both defy me to explain the utter idiocy of that proposition.  But I’ll try anyway.  The whole reason for “grades” is to let a student, their professor(s), and the world at large know how the student’s work compares with some objective scale.  At least in theory, when work improves, grades also improve – particularly when the same faculty member(s) are applying the grading scale from year to year.  (We’re ignoring the occasional rogue and/or grumpy professor, as well as the literally undeserved low grade.) This isn’t a case of “same students, same grades” or even “same students, plus improvement, same grades” – in which case I could understand some adjustment.  This is a case of hundreds of students, spread across a continuum which does not change – and which, for the record, is pegged to licensing requirements. I’ve taught law school.  I’ve even been an Associate Dean.

In other words: I know how it works.  A low C (71-72%) represents “minimum passing” on the Bar exam.  Therefore, a law school grading curve should be set so that students whose work would barely pass the Bar exam (“as if by fire”) get….a C.  From there, we scale upward.  And, regrettably but necessarily, downward.   It’s not rocket science…and it’s also not subject to artificial inflation “because we think you’re a really really cool bunch of neat-o guys who should really really be awesome lawyers and we like your socks.”

No.

If your curve is right, you have no reason to change it.  Even if your curve is wrong, you have no reason to change it retroactively. Worst of all, I suspect Loyola’s curve isn’t wrong.  I suspect, if you compared the 70-72%+ students, most of them pass the Bar exam, and the ones below that number, don’t.  If that wasn’t the case, the students would have self-selected for other law schools.  That’s the way it works – if your graduates don’t pass the licensing exam, people don’t go there.

Another clue: the need for Thing 2 and Thing 3…which point quite strongly to the Cat in the Hat in the corner.  It seems to me that if this was really a grading curve problem Loyola would have issued a very different statement.  Something on the order of “oh noes, the LOLcats got into the grading system and brainwashed all the professors!!!!!11!!!”  Well, that or “we’ve discovered our grading system doesn’t appropriately track the Bar examiners’ standards and are making necessary adjustments to ensure that our students have an accurate picture of how they will perform on the Bar.”  Not “oh noes, our grads are out of work.”

And so, we proudly bestow the Yak of the Week Award for A+* Education to Loyola Law School.

For:

  • Instituting not one but two grades above a 4.0 (Yes, Virginia, there is something above an A+.  We call it A+*);
  • Teaching a whole generation of lawyer-candidates that it’s not what you do, it’s what everyone thinks you did that counts;
  • Raising the Bar (candidates) by any means necessary; and
  • Proving, once and for all, that Anything Really Is Okay If Everyone Else Is Doing It.

Congratulations, Yak of the Week.

As a parting thought: someone might want to point out to the Dean that when they said the “grads” were a problem, the solution wasn’t “I’d like to buy another vowel.”

1 Comment

  1. *The asterisk means that the student or the faculty or the President of Loyola Law School used performance enhancing drugs and therefore the record should not be taken as competitively valid. The irrefutable evidence that all except the student used drugs is the adoption of the policy itself.

    Comment by Maniyak — April 6, 2010 @ 11:42 am

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