The Vietnam War was a disaster for America in countless ways. One of the uncounted ways was high grading--the lowering of academic standards in higher education and eventually all education.
In the early years of the War, only young men, who were not enrolled in college, were drafted. Perhaps the policy was meant to keep the lid on the anti-war protests Civil rights leaders claimed the initial draft policy was discriminatory. Because they were less likely to attend college, draftees came disproportionately from poor families, especially Black families.
A male college student in good standing was given a student deferment. Almost all college professors felt that the Vietnam War was an immoral waste of life; ultimately 58,000 Americans and 1-2 million Vietnamese were killed. Thus, professors thought twice about giving a young man a failing grade-it might be a death sentence carried out in the jungles of Vietnam.
As the War dragged on, Uncle Sam ran out of poor Black young men. Student deferments were phased out and a lottery based on birthdays was instituted. As Uncle Sam drafted college students, campus anti-war protests intensified and sometimes lead to violence and arrests.
Campus protests finally brought the War to a humiliating end for the country but gave activist students a sense of power. Students were also emboldened by their success in other grand social movements of the 1960s and the 1970s: Civil Rights, Environmental Protection and Woman's Rights. The soldiers, that returned after a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam to finish their college degrees, combined mature self-confidence with bitterness for having to waste a year of their lives and not be thanked when they got home. Some joined the Vietnam Vets Against the War.
Anger at the Establishment took many forms. Even professors, who had usually supported the student movements, lost much of their authority in the classroom. Thirty was the magic age-people under 30 didn't trust those over 30. In China, young Red Guards went on a rampage (Cultural War) that destroyed much of the country's cultural heritage, sent professors out to work in the rice paddies, and closed the universities for a decade.
Students demanded that they be able to evaluate professors. In response to "student power" administrators encouraged professors to hand out evaluation forms on the last day of class and have a student turn them in to the Dean's office. No one had access to the evaluations which were given to the professor after he turned in the grades. It all seemed like a logical self-improvement process.
However, the students wanted more. They wanted the numerical scores made public so students considering taking a class would know how former students liked the class. Under pressure, university administrators broke their pledge to professors that no one else would see the student evaluations. The scores were published. Student evaluations, which had been voluntary on the professor's part, became mandatory. The evaluations had already become mandatory by default. Once student evaluations became public, every professor had to provide ratings data; no data was perceived as worse that a poor rating. Such a professor was clearly trying to hide bad vibes from his students.
Administrators have always been uncomfortable evaluating their faculty for tenure, promotions and salary increases. On many campuses administrators come out of and rotate back into the faculty. Eventually, administrators could not resist the temptation to use quantitative student evaluation scores rather than their subjective judgments--which might be challenged. They broke the second pledge to their faculty; the pledge that student evaluations would not be used in personnel decisions.
Professors are smart people-probably a bit above average. They understood that, in order for them to get good evaluations, the students had to feel good about the class and about them personally on the last day of class. As rational educators, they taught and tested to ensure that the students would feel good about the class. The profile of humor and jokes rose. Reading assignments declined. Tests got easier. Grading became more lenient. This behavior by educators became so widespread it developed two labels: grade inflation and high grading.
Studies confirmed that the best predictor of giving a positive evaluation of the professor was the grade the student expected on the last day of the course-when the evaluation was conducted.
A large study of American college students (Arum and Roska, 2011) found students studying only 13 hours a week or half as much as students in the 1960s. (The norm at the University of Wisconsin which I attended in the 1960s was three hours of study for every hour in class. Fifteen credits generally meant 15 hours in class and 45 hours of studying.)
With 40-60 hours dedicated to academics in the 1960s plus roughly another 60 hours for daily maintenance activities (sleeping, eating, etc.), less than 60 hours were left for working, volunteering, student organizations/protesting, and socializing/recreation. In 2011, students spend a majority of their time (~85 hours) socializing/recreating. Undoubtedly, during most of that time they are digitally tethered for social networking and video games. Academics now have to compete with sleeping, eating, working, volunteering, and student organizations for a piece of the other half of a 168 hour week.
The Arun and Roska study also found that students, who studied alone, performed better than students who studied in groups.
Students raised in the affluence of the 1980-2000 could not be expected to be as serious about college as their parents-who were in most cases, the first generation to have the opportunity to go to college. The children of Boomers perceived a college education as a birthright that their parents were obligated to provide--money for tuition, room, board, a vehicle and an electronic wardrobe. Baby Boomer parents re-enforced those expectations.
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