Discrepancies in grade point averages across different majors have led the Yale College Council to propose a new method of awarding Latin Honors.
In reviewing the results of an academic survey that the YCC distributed to students last semester, representatives noted that students in certain majors — specifically in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines — tended to have lower GPAs than students in other majors, YCC representative Austin Long ’15 said. To combat perceived unfairness in the distribution of Latin Honors, which are currently awarded to students whose GPAs fall in the highest 30 percent of undergraduates, the YCC is proposing to expand Latin Honors to the highest achieving students within each major as well.
“We don’t want a system where the ability to get Latin Honors is determined more so by majors than by ability,” Long said.
Under the proposed hybrid system, the top 30 percent of students with the highest overall GPAs would still receive Latin Honors: Five percent summa cum laude, 10 percent magna cum laude and 15 percent cum laude. However, Latin Honors would also be awarded to the students within each major whose GPAs fell within the highest 20 percent.
Such a system would account for variations in grading and evaluation across departments, Long said.
YCC representative Adam Gerard ’17 said this type of system already exists at many peer institutions. He added that, compared to schools such as Harvard — which awards Latin Honors to about half of its students — Yale’s system is considerably more competitive, and would remain so even under the proposed reforms.
The goal, Long said, is not to diminish the prestige of Latin Honors but to ensure that excellent students in every discipline are recognized — even in majors that tend to have lower average GPAs.
Long and Gerard said they have not yet presented their proposal to the administration, but they hope to do so by the end of this semester.
But Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said that in general Latin Honors are “bordering on meaningless.”
“If the complaint is that it’s less difficult to get honors at other colleges, they should go to other colleges,” Holloway said. “[Employers] are not losing sleep over magna, summa or cum laude.”
He added that while he would not be surprised to hear that students may choose classes or majors based on how easy they think it would be to do well, he would still find this choice to be very misguided.
But while Gerard said the survey reported that over 90 percent of students believe it is easier to earn honors in certain majors on campus, students interviewed said that Latin Honors are not a major concern for them. Of six students interviewed, only one — a senior — said she worries about whether or not she will be able to earn honors. The rest said that they either do not care or are too early in their Yale careers to think about it.
Still, Rachel Prince ’17 said she personally does not worry about Latin Honors, but she does believe certain majors — including her own, computer science — make it more difficult to earn high grades. Michael Koelle, director of undergraduate studies for molecular biophysics and biochemistry, echoed this sentiment.
“There is a concern that in some disciplines, (e.g. STEM) there is a culture of grading more severely, so that students studying these disciplines might be at a disadvantage in getting honors that are given out based primarily or solely on GPA,” Koelle wrote in an email. “I think the STEM faculty would probably be very receptive to a system that tries to take this issue into account to make sure that we succeed in honoring our best students.”
Yale’s current system of Latin Honors has been in place since 1988.