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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The broke-woke-stroke convergence: Why professors lower standards

John Houseman played a demanding law professor in "The Paper Chase."

College professors are "inflating grades and watering down their courses," write Mark Horowitz, Anthony L. Haynor and Kenneth Kickham in Inside Higher Ed. The “broke-woke-stroke” convergence has pressured faculty to lower standards, they write.

The three professors conducted a national survey of tenured professors in English, math and sociology at public universities of average quality.

  • Forty-eight percent of tenured faculty agree that grade inflation is a serious problem, versus 21 percent who disagree.

  • Forty-seven percent agree that academic standards have declined in recent years, versus 27 percent who disagree.

  • Thirty-seven percent admit to routinely inflating grades.

  • Thirty-three percent admit to reducing the rigor of their courses over the years.

  • Twenty-three percent admit to sometimes feeling the four-year liberal arts degree is a “grift.”

“Broke” colleges and universities "scramble to attract and retain students, whatever their intellectual readiness," they write. Faculty are under pressure to please the customers. If too many switch to an easier major, the professor could lose his or her job. “Woke” sensibilities have politicized student performance disparities, especially by race, they write. A Boston University teaching guide on the “hidden curriculum” suggests it “may not be fair or even valid” to hold marginalized students to such expectations as doing the readings, arriving to class on time, participating in class discussions or using “standard English.”

"Stroke" refers to the need to stroke the egos of "students viewed as increasingly likely to push back for higher grades or others perceived as too vulnerable to receive stringent appraisals of their work."

Horowitz and Haynor are associate professors of sociology at Seton Hall, while Kickham is a professor of political science at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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