Mother Yale, Say It Ain't So!

Mother Yale, Say It Ain't So!

You may have seen the shocking story that nearly 80 percent of all undergraduate scholars at Yale are getting A’s, or in some tragic cases, A minuses.

As a proud son of Eli, class of 1971, I must protest. I could’ve been an A student—instead of a “Gentlemen C” graduate! I was in the top 80 percent of my class, I think.

In fact, during my tenure Yale switched from alphanumeric (A, B, C etc.) to Pass/Fail grading for a spell. I actually received a High Pass in one course, although I always wondered if it was a typographical error.

The Blue message was: just going to Yale and surviving four years ensconced in un-ergonomic wooden desks in faux-Gothic buildings was sufficient. It was kind of smarty pants in, smarty pants out.

I am here to testify, however, that there were some dim bulbs in the mix.

Yes, there was a Halcion time when attaining a Gentlemen C rating was a lofty goal for many Yalies, primarily scions of wealthy and privileged families. George W. Bush is a classic example. He was going to do fine regardless of his grades.

There were times in college (and later) when I wished I had spent more time in the library rather than at Rudy’s Bar or battling Ivy League rivals on fields of glory (football and baseball). I wasn’t so much a scholar- athlete as an athlete-scholar.

In my day there was affirmative action not only for well-connected white applicants but also for athletes, who were and are still overwhelmingly white. Yale has always fielded dozens of varsity teams and it needs bodies to fill out the rosters. I played three sports in high school, so I would have been viewed as someone who potentially could help to meet the jock quota.

In my defense of my choice of collegiate destinations, I once got thoroughly lost in the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library. It was just me and musty old tomes for an hour or so. I encountered no other human beings. It was frightening.

As with any institution of higher education, there are “gut” courses that appeal to certain elements of the student body. I fondly remember Haiku 101. I figured if you had to study poetry, go for the short ones.

At the beginning of a semester, students had two weeks to drop a course and opt for another. On the last day for Haiku 101 a prominent student athlete showed up halfway through the class and received a standing ovation.

I understand why “grade-flation” is happening at Yale. For starters it is also happening at Harvard and other elite private colleges. Must keep up with the Pilgrims. It is also the case that education happens outside the classroom. I learned things at meals palavering with my classmates. I learned things playing sports. I learned that there were courses and professors (and teaching assistants) who were inspiring and many that were not. I’m guessing that is still the case.

I even learned a thing or two at Rudy’s Bar.