Today in Princeton history, 1974: Curbing grade inflation, 30 years early

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The Feb. 6, 1974, Prince joke issue — click to enlarge. (Courtesy The Daily Princetonian Larry DuPraz Digital Archive)

The Daily Princetonian’s tradition of publishing a midyear joke issue has produced some memorable stories that fit somewhere in the span between satire and silliness. But the humorous lead item on Feb. 6, 1974, also turned out to be prophetic. The story, “Reform spells the end of ‘grade inflation,’” fancifully quoted Dean of the College Neil L. Rudenstine ’56, who noted that rising grades at Princeton had forced graduate schools to deduct a full point from applicants’ GPAs, just to level the playing field. R.W. van de Velde ’33, a Woodrow Wilson School administrator, sorrowfully wondered, “What will become of our pipeline into law schools?”

Thirty years later, students weren’t laughing when the Prince led with the headline “Grade inflation plan passes.” This time, Nancy Weiss Malkiel was dean of the college, and both the policy and the quotations were real. Guidelines set a 35 percent target for A-grades in regular courses. “We are asking faculty to enter into a social contract to bring grade inflation back under control, back to the way we graded at Princeton in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Malkiel said.

No one mentioned 1974.

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