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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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5 Comments


Guest
Sep 01, 2023

I am recently retired, but I never lowered my standards. I did cut some of my professional stuff and spend more time trying to bring my weaker (nut intelligent) students up to speed. It worked for some of them. Word got around. I was told by one whole Black frat that I was "highly recommended" as "that mean old prof who will work you hard and help you learn." I was happy to accept that title.

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Guest
Sep 01, 2023

According to the BU teaching guide (under The Hidden Curriculum In Writing Classes), it "may not be fair or even valid" to expect kids not to plagiarize!

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

Not much of a surprise from the campus of Professor Ibram X. Kendi!


The lack of standard qualifications for students stems from the influence of public school districts taking their disciplinary advice from psychiatrists (I don't tell Dr Ablon of Massachusetts General Hospital how he should perform psychiatry).

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Guest
Sep 01, 2023

www.gradeinflation.com provides some definitive proof that grades are rising.

GRE/MCAT/LAST etc, provide proof that outcomes are not.

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Guest
Aug 31, 2023

I saw an official statement from the University of Chicago declaring that they never had professors who treated students in the manner professor Kingsfield did. Such a professor would draw a small group of students dedicated to intellectual development, but colleges and universities can't survive off so small a pool of students.

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