The following is a summary of responses to last week’s survey. A total of 122 students responded to the following question: “All other things being equal, should historical grade distributions for courses be available to students?”
As shown by the pie chart below, a significant majority favor making the information available.
A substantial majority of respondents offered thoughtful explanations for their choices. The major themes for both the “Yes” and “No” camps are summarized below.
Yes — Grade distributions should be available
On the yes side, student’s were concerned with fairness, paternalism, and academically rewarding un-academic effort.
On fairness, a 2L summarized the general feeling of the group:
It’s absolutely ridiculous that this isn’t just public knowledge, because certain groups on campus compile this information and keep it internally for its members (thus furthering the divide). Ironically, one of those groups is the SBA. By turning a blind eye to this issue, the administration is essentially condoning this inequity and this action. It’s just plain ridiculous.
While the SBA does not compile this information, there are at least four documents floating around that do attempt to do so. None are any way near complete, but they provide significant amounts of non-public information to those in the know.
Another student, a 1L, offered that the current system favored students on journal and from common “feeder schools” to Georgetown Law.
The lack of published information merely means that specific groups and privileged persons get an advantage; the students in journals that track information for each o[f] the students from top feeder schools that will know multiple upperclassmen can box out the students who don’t have access to these resources by choice or by unfortunate circumstance.
Student’s were also uncomfortable with perceived paternalistic impulses behind hiding the information. A passionate 3L argued:
A legal education—looking at total cost of attendance—is now over SEVENTY THOUSAND dollars a year. Some professors grade tough curves, some grade easy ones. And students should be respected enough to trust them to decide whether their grade matters enough that they will take a course with a lower curve… . [T]his law school should not be so paternalist that it thinks hiding information is the best way to deal with it.
We are a Jesuit institution. We should resolve “students use stupid metrics to determine what classes they should take” by using guilt and argument, not by hiding information.
Another student, a 2L assumed that faculty were concerned that student’s would choose courses for the “wrong” reasons. Based upon discussions with faculty members, this assumption is correct. The 2L then went on to criticize this way of thinking as paternalistic and divorced from reality.
I assume that those who oppose making grade distributions available do so because they don’t believe students should be choosing their courses based on the likelihood of getting a good grade, but rather on the material they will learn. However, such a rationale is sheer paternalism and overlooks the fact that students do choose courses on that basis (they just do so poorly under the current regime). Professors should stand behind the grades their students earn, and students should be allowed full information in making course selection decisions.
The final concern expressed by students related to rewarding students—and by implication punishing others—academically for non-academic factors. A 3L made the point very clearly.
This information is already out there in the form of previous students. However currently there is lot of time and effort made in getting this information. It seems odd to reward students academically for making non-academic effort.
No — Grade distributions should not be available
Students against the proposal were primarily concerned with pedagogy; they feared that students would choose courses solely on grades. This concern mirrors the distaste for paternalism among the yes group. A small proportion made the argument that releasing the information was unfair to those students that already have access because it would eliminate their advantage.
On pedagogical concerns, a 2L wrote:
I don’t like the idea that students should base their course selection on what the grade curve is. It undermines the educational mission of the university.
Another student expanded upon this observation and argued for a different alternative: a mandatory curve for all courses.
Students should be motivated to enroll in classes because of their interest in the course material, not because of the grade they are likely to receive. With perfect information regarding historical grading information there will simply be a higher proportion of students attempting to enroll in courses in which the professors inflate grades… . Instead, the curve should be more standardized and enforced to a greater degree in seminar courses, so every class has the same curve.
The argument that releasing the information would be unfair to those that already have access is a bit more difficult to parse, but seems to rest on the assumption that the world works by connections and thus it is just for law school grading to also rest—at least partially—on connections. This group, which was small, contrasts with those concerned for pedagogical goals in that they admit that students attempt to enroll in courses with easier grading.
A 2L wrote:
Everything works this way: those “in the know” are just those who make extra effort to become aware of grading policies, etc. and they should not be penalized.
Last night, the SBA passed a resolution that “[s]upports making historical grade curve information available to all students at Georgetown Law.” It asks that faculty, who ultimately control the issue, act to release the information and invites “Law Center administration to publicly support” the release of the data.
The resolution passed without opposition. The full-text is below.