A's are no longer pearls of great price

Staff WriterMay 16, 2004 

A recent UNC-CH report on grade inflation includes the troubling news that at some universities, half the grades given these days are A's! This must be the smartest generation in history.

We really don't know what role kindhearted profs play in the preponderance of A's. But undoubtedly the widespread practice of cheating -- surveys show that more than 75 percent of college students admit to cheating -- has some bearing on these stellar performances.

Perhaps we need more discriminating profs who regard the A as a pearl of great price in academia. I had such a teacher in Tom Lassiter at Chapel Hill. In his community journalism course, I labored long and hard, getting high marks on all my projects, excellent scores on the tests, etc. Imagine my chagrin when I received a B on the course.

Did I confront him in the hall, engage him in verbal fisticuffs? Ha! Back then, you didn't dare question a professor's judgment in grade-giving.

However, it's only honest to add that I did accost him many years later when we were on a program at a meeting of the Eastern North Carolina Press Association.

When I teasingly brought up the matter, he said, "A.C., if anybody in the class deserved an A, you did. But I just didn't give A's. I never had a perfect student."

The late Vermont Royster, former editor of The Wall Street Journal, once told me about contesting a grade given him by UNC's legendary Dr. Frank Porter Graham, who later became president of the university and a U.S. senator.

The impetuous young Royster charged into Graham's office and demanded, "Dr. Graham, I want to know why I got an F in economics."

"Because, son," the mild-mannered Graham replied, "it's the lowest grade I'm allowed to give."

The overdue campaign to curb grade inflation is being led by Yale University, where the faculty recently voted 2 to 1 to ration A's, limiting them to 35 percent of the class.

Good idea. If something isn't done, an A soon will have as much face value as a Confederate $5 bill.

A Raleigh man says, "Congratulations to your friend Dan Neil on his Pulitzer for criticizing. I only wish my wife had entered. She would have won, hands down!"

Until now, my little friend Caroline Keever, age 2, shied away from the surf when visiting her grandparents at the beach. But what a difference a summer makes. Now she is a veritable water sprite, dashing merrily through the waves.

After a whole day of romping on the beach, Caroline cuddled on the townhouse deck at dusk with her mother, listening to the waves breaking in the distance.

"You know why I like the beach?" she asked. "I like it because the ocean is always on."

I know of what she speaks. At the beach, you never have to or even want to change channels. And there are no commercials.

It seems I'm in a pickle. A gentleman with a touch of the good earth in his voice left a message.

"I'm here to tell you, sir, that the cucumber comes before the blossom. I don't know what the bee has to do with it, but the cucumber comes before the blossom."

I thank him. I had quoted what I thought was a reliable source. But so much of the normal sequence of life has been reversed, I'm not sure what to think these days.

The cart comes before the horse, the sex before the introductions, the baby before the marriage, etc. As my wife's grandmother used to sigh when things piled up in her life, "First a wasp, then a bee!"

It's "pun time" again, thanks to Joe Schemelzeis:

In days of yore, a knight was riding hard when his horse came up lame. They stopped at the stables in the nearest village for a replacement.

"But I have no horses, no ponies, no donkeys," the stable owner explained. "I have only a dog."

Leading the knight into the stable, he pointed to a huge dog. It was the filthiest, shaggiest dog ever. "I'll take it," the knight said, swallowing hard. "Where's the saddle?"

The stable owner started toward a saddle, then stopped, turned and said, "I can't do it. I just can't send a knight out on a dog like this."

Columnist A.C. Snow can be reached at 881-8254 or asnow@newsobserver.com.

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