You can reserve a seat by pre-registering! To do so, just write to Deborah Hunt at or call her at 608-835-3525.

The Wisconsin Association of Scholars

presents a conference:

"Grade Inflation and Academic Standards"

The Pyle Conference Center

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Saturday, October 11, 2003

9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

The focus of this conference is on the general issue of academic standards with specific attention given to related problems of "grade inflation." Open dialogue, rather than narrow ideological debate, is a central purpose of the conference. To this end speakers have been chosen who represent a variety of points of view and research interests.

Conference questions will include:

Is there such a thing as "grade inflation"?

What would count as evidence that grade inflation exists?

If grade inflation exists, what is its relation to academic standards?

Is grade inflation a serious problem?

Can we identify causes of grade inflation?

Are there any practical means to solve the problem?

Conference Schedule

Morning Reception: 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. (Ameritech Lounge)

Coffee, Sign-In

Welcoming Remarks : 9:00 - 9:15 a.m.

Chancellor John Wiley, U. W. Madison

Session I: 9:15 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (Lee Lounge)

Alfie Kohn: "Does 'Grade Inflation' Exist - And If So, Does It Matter? Reexamining A Central Myth of Academia"

Commentator: Richard Kamber

Valen Johnson: "Disparities in College Grading: Implications for Post Secondary Education"

Commentator: Harry Brighouse

Lunch: 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.

(On your own.)

Session II: 1:30 - 3:15 p.m. (Lee Lounge)

Richard Kamber: "The Epidemiology of Grade Inflation"

Francis Schrag: "From Here to Equality:Grading Policies for Egalitarians"

Session III: 3:15-5:00 p.m. (Lee Lounge)

Mary Biggs: "The Surrender of Professional Integrity: The Causes and Costs of Grade Inflation"

David Beito: "Merit or Mediocrity: Grade Distortion in Higher Education"

Notes on the Speakers

David T. Beito (Associate Professor of History, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa) is President of the Alabama Scholars Association (the state affiliate of the National Association of Scholars). He is the author of two books and many articles about American history. He has also written op-ed pieces on grade inflation and, with Charles W. Nuckolls, a study of grade distortion at the University of Alabama.

Mary Biggs (Professor of English, The College of New Jersey) has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and in schools of librarianship as well as, currently on an English faculty. She has published on a wide range of subjects including higher education, intellectual freedom, women studies and literature.

Harry Brighouse (Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison) is the author of two recent major reports on education for left-of-center think-tanks as well as School Choice and Social Justice (2000). He has also commented widely in the British national press on issues in education.

Lester H. Hunt (Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison) is the author of Character and Culture (1997). He is the Vice President of the Wisconsin Association of Scholars and the organizer of this conference. He will serve as moderator throughout the day.

Valen Johnson (Professor of Biostatistics, University of Michigan) has published extensively in the areas of ordinal and rank data analysis, statistical image modeling, convergence diagnostics for Markov chain Monte Carlo simulation algorithms, and educational assessment. His forthcoming book on grading practices is Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education (2003).

Richard Kamber (Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at The College of New Jersey) served for sixteen years as a college dean and vice president. His publications include articles on higher education, film, and the Holocaust, as well as books and articles on a variety of philosophical topics.

Alfie Kohn (Author and Scholar, Belmont, Massachusetts) is the author of eight books and many articles on education and human behavior including, most recently, The Case Against Standardized Testing (2000). He was recently described by Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores."

Francis K. Schrag (Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison), has published many articles and two books on diverse topics in education and social philosophy, including Back to Basics Fundamental Educational Questions Reexamined(1995).

"A grade-oriented student body is an invitation for the administration and faculty to ask hard questions: What unexamined assumptions keep traditional grading in place? What forms of assessment might be less destructive? ... And: If the artificial inducement of grades disappeared, what sort of teaching strategies might elicit authentic interest in a course? ... The real threat to excellence isn't grade inflation at all: it's grades."

-- Alfie Kohn, "The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation" (Chronicle of Higher Education, November 8, 2002).

"Opponents of change, often high-grading faculty, continue to argue that the system isn't broken and doesn't need fixing. But grade inflation and, perhaps more important, differences in grading philosophies, distort student and faculty assessments. Students tend to select courses with teachers who grade leniently, often learning less along the way ... By rewarding mediocrity, excellence is discouraged."

-- Valen E. Johnson, "An A is An A is an A ... And That's the Problem" (New York Times, April 14, 2002).

This conference is free of charge and open to the public. Limited seating is on a first come, first served basis. The Pyle Center is located at 702 Langdon Street (corner of Langdon and Lake Streets), Madison Wisconsin. Parking near the Pyle Center is limited but may be reserved by calling 608-262-1122. For detailed map and parking information visit For questions call or e-mail WAS Program Director, Deborah Katz Hunt at 608-835-3525 or

The Wisconsin Association of Scholars (WAS) is an affiliate of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and was organized to inform the academic and general public about regional trends in higher education, stimulate intelligent discussion of academic issues, and promote constructive initiatives affecting curriculum and faculty development. WAS President Professor David Mulroy, UW-Milwaukee, Department of Classics, may be reached at