From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Citing a grade-distribution report that filtered from BSU deans to faculty members, [Boise State Prof.] Wollheim recommends “enrolling in courses that grant the highest percentages of A’s, such as American Sign Language (53.4%)” or “early childhood studies (56.3%)?.?.?. ;.But your overall best bets, by far, are ensemble music (89.8%), radiology (61.3%) and military science (59.7%).” While some teachers are upset by what they call grade inflation, BSU Provost Sona Andrews is not so sure. “If we do our jobs, correctly, more students actually should get A’s,” Mr. Wollheim quotes her saying. “This is really about making the students as successful as they can be.”

I share Prof. Wollheim’s suspicion. I don’t think preponderance of A’s alone is proof that a professor is “doing his job correctly” ? not when the professor himself is also in charge of the output measure. For one thing, to argue a strict relationship between students’ grades and a professor’s job performance would mean that the rest of the professors on campus (those not teaching ensemble music, radiology, and military science) are not doing their job as well as the professors of those courses. (This fallacy is very similar to judging professors’ effectiveness according to student evaluations, a practice exposed by “Peter Sacks” in 1996 in Generation X Goes to College.)

Along similar lines, I wrote of my skepticism last week of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser’s resolution “to push the university’s [graduation] rate to at least 92 percent.” Naturally, we all hope that everyone is doing their jobs correctly, but edicts to push output numbers arbitrarily give reason to be suspicious.