7 October 2004
A gentleman's SEE
Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., enforces an academic policy that defies belief. Say I'm a freshman taking your class in biology. I learn little from your lectures, assigned readings and homework. I do attend class every day, take notes and manage to average 40 percent on the graded work for the semester. What grade might you give me? I'm betting that all but the academic elite would say, "Sorry, Williams, but no cigar," and Iíd earn an F for the course. But if you're a professor at Benedict College and gave me that F, you'd be fired....
SEE [Success Equals Effort] is a policy where 60 percent of a freshman's grade is based on effort and the rest on academic performance. In a student's sophomore year, the formula drops to 50-50, and it isn't used at all for junior and senior years. In defense of his policy, Benedict's president, Dr. David H. Swinton, said that the students "have to get an A in effort [?!] to guarantee that if they fail the subject matter, they can get the minimum passing grade. I donít think that's a bad thing."
I understand the rationale for this sort of thing: should a student not flunk out as a freshman, there's a chance he'll be back as a sophomore. If that were the only objective, though, it would be easier just to pass every freshman routinely and be done with it. But apparently Dr Swinton takes this stuff seriously: Williams quotes a report in The State to the effect that two instructors were sacked for not adjusting their grades by Swinton's fudge factor.
I grew up in South Carolina, a state which is not renowned for its academic brilliance, but a state which, at least when I was there, was willing to hammer on its students to get them to learn this stuff already. It is disheartening to see Benedict, an historically black college with a 130-year track record, shifting its emphasis away from academics and toward the politics of self-esteem; it's hard to see how SEE is going to contribute positively to the task of turning out graduates who are "powers for good in society".