Students decry SOM grading changes

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Photo by Blair Seideman.

Over the past week, students and administrators at the Yale School of Management have locked horns in a debate over reforms in the school’s grading system.

In an email to SOM students last Tuesday, SOM Senior Associate Dean Anjani Jain announced that senior faculty had approved a change in the school’s grading policy. Under SOM’s current grading system, SOM students receive grades of “Distinction,” “Proficient,” “Pass” or “Fail” and only top grades are shown on students’ transcripts. The new policy will rename the grading categories, add an additional category between “Distinction” and “Proficient” and require transcripts to fully disclose students’ grades. Students will also be graded on a curve in which a set percentage of students receive certain grades. The new system will go into effect starting in fall 2014 for the MBA class of 2016 and the MAM class of 2015.

Students interviewed said there has been widespread opposition among the SOM student body toward the change in policy. After several students sent complaints to the administration, Jain responded in a school-wide email on Saturday.

While Jain said he is open to hearing students’ opinions, he emphasized in the email that the new policy has already been distributed to newly admitted students.

“That the new policy applies to students entering in fall 2014 was an explicit part of the faculty decision, and it is the administration’s institutional obligation to implement the policy,” he said. He added that the changes received nearly unanimous approval of the senior faculty in the final vote.

Robert King SOM ’14 started a petition against the changes last week, which King said has garnered signatures from approximately 25 percent of SOM students.

King said that his main concern is that students were not given sufficient opportunity to provide input before the decision was made. But now that he knows the decision was already announced to the incoming SOM class, King said he is concerned there is little students can do about it.

“It’s nice that there is a petition that people are signing, but nothing is going to change,” he said.

Frances Symes SOM ’14, a member of SOM’s student government, said students were involved in informal focus groups this fall that discussed several issues, including grading, with members of the faculty. But Symes said students were not included in the final decision, nor were they informed that a decision was being made so quickly.

According to Symes, students are particularly disappointed because they feel they have the right to participate in these decisions. Within SOM’s student-driven culture, students are used to having their voice heard, she added.

“As SOM students, we believe that these are the issues that lay the ground for our culture, and we think that we should be involved in decisions [surrounding them],” she said. “But there is a degree to which the faculty thinks that this is under their control.”

Though Jain’s initial email announcing the new policies said the student government had provided input in the decision, Symes said the organization was not consulted for the decision.

Jain said he should have been more clear in his email about the student government’s involvement. But he said the faculty made its decision based on long-term discussions that included the focus groups from the fall. Although student input is important, Jain said decisions about the grading system ultimately fall under the domain of faculty governance.

Brenen Blair SOM ’15, academic chair of the student government, said this decision brings to light larger issues of representation at SOM.

“I fear that this centrality of power is an obstacle to the kinds of full discussion that are necessary for SOM to become a truly top-ranked program,” he said.

King said many students feel that the new grading system will make the SOM environment more competitive.

Peter Grunert SOM ’15 said the full disclosure of grades on transcript worries him the most. Because employers will directly compare students’ grades, students will feel pressured to only take courses in which they think they will get top grades, he said. Discouraging students from exploring challenging classes fundamentally conflicts with SOM’s mission to create competent leaders who can step outside of their comfort zones, he added.

Still, one of the five students interviewed supported the change.

Natalia Rey de Castro SOM ’15 said the current system does not push students to prepare well for their classes because 75 to 80 percent of students in every class earn a grade of “Proficient.”

But de Castro also said she wishes the new system allowed for more flexibility at the bottom of the curve. Though the new curve will require the bottom 10 percent of each class to receive grades of either “Fail” or “Pass,” there are some classes in which every student deserves a “Proficient” grade, she said.

Jain said the new system will actually help students because it will equalize grading policies between classes.

He added that the system will not change the academic environment at SOM.

“My belief is that the culture rests upon interactions and the meaningfulness of those interactions,” he said. “[It] is not the result of a particular calibration of the grading scale.”

SOM professor Andrew Metrick said he is in favor of the changes because they will increase the academic rigor of the school. SOM students are preparing for challenging careers where they will work in collaborative teams and be rigorously evaluated, and SOM should have those same standards, he said.

Shane Frederick, another SOM professor, said he supports the changes because they will prevent students who narrowly miss earning the top grade from being put in the same category as students near the bottom of the class.

SOM students will be on spring recess until March 24.

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