David R. Henderson  

W. Lee Hansen on University of Wisconsin Grading Quotas

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UW-Madison has been moving toward egalitarian grading since 2008 when the university began reporting to departments and instructors the rates of D, F, and drop grades by gender, first-generation college status, and targeted minority status.

That sent a message to the faculty that they'd better pay close attention to low grades for students in certain groups.

The 2009 UW System's "Inclusive Excellence Framework" insisted upon "proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution . . . and in the distribution of grades."


This is from W. Lee Hansen, "Wisconsin won't admit it, but its new egalitarian policy leads to grading quotas," December 17, 2014.

This is not a criticism by just anyone. W. Lee Hansen is one of the most accomplished economists who has taught at the the University of Wisconsin in the last half century. One of his critics on the site that published his article casually referred to him as a "conservative." I'm guessing that Professor Hansen got a good laugh out of that one.

Aside:
Although I have never met Professor Hansen, I have a soft spot in my heart for him. He, along with University of Wisconsin co-author Burton A. Weisbrod, wrote one of the early papers laying out the economic inefficiency of the military draft. It is Hansen and Weisbrod, "Economics of the Military Draft," Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 1967, Volume 81, Number 3, pp. 395-421. In it the authors also estimated the implicit income tax rate that draftees were "paying" by being forced to work for artificially low wages. They found that the average tax rate (not the marginal) was on the order of 40 to 50 percent.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Tom West writes:

UW-Madison has been moving toward egalitarian grading since 2008 when the university began reporting to departments and instructors the rates of D, F, and drop grades by gender, first-generation college status, and targeted minority status.

Actually, I think this can be useful information. Obviously academic challenges are greater for certain groups, and understanding those challenges is useful in trying to craft ways to better serve those communities with such challenges.

and in the distribution of grades.

And then it falls apart.

*sigh*

I have no problem believing that there are cultural/social assumptions that affect grades that have no relevance to the academic discipline.

Assuming that academically irrelevant cultural/social assumptions are behind *all* grading differences seems to me beyond silly and well into tragic.

Ray Lopez writes:

I am for "Pass/Fail", which Berkeley does, as I was sick and tired of having to suck up to and appease some tenured tyrant who held my future career prospects in their calloused hands.

He, along with University of Wisconsin co-author Burton A. Weisbrod, wrote one of the early papers laying out the economic inefficiency of the military draft ...from 1967. I recall Larry Flynn, the pornographer, also had this as a pet peeve, not sure of how original he was.

john hare writes:

Stories of this nature make me think of a new information business. Prospective employers pay a very small fee to access a database on the integrity of the schools their prospective employees attended.

Graduates of a school known to lack integrity in their grading and probably elsewhere would have more trouble getting jobs in any competitive situation. A second information business sells comprehensive ratings to prospective students.

It seems possible that a simple profit based business could affect the quality of school integrity far out of proportion to its' cost.

Bostonian writes:

Since it is not respectable to talk about racial differences in IQ, it's not easy to explain why racial differences in academic achievement exist. The Open Borders advocates should recognize that importing hundreds of millions of people from low-IQ groups will increase the clamor for racial quotas in all walks of life.

John hare writes:

It's not that difficult. How one was raised has a lot to do with scholastic ability. Financial matters have a lot to do with how one was raised. Finances have a hereditary component.

Jeff writes:
I have no problem believing that there are cultural/social assumptions that affect grades that have no relevance to the academic discipline.

International students typically pick technical majors like engineering precisely because of these cultural factors. For native-born Americans, though...how big an effect can this really be? Maybe in the 19th Century, this was a legitimate issue, but in the days of the smart phone?

Floccina writes:

OK so as long as Government licenses are required for MDs and other professions, and license requirement are pretty arbitrary, and human nature and race relations in the USA being what they are there being a need for more black MDs and professionals, could it be that on net such quotes are needed for efficacy. That is until we can beat back the license requirements to a level needed to prove minimal competency.

Tom West writes:

Jeff, when I was a Computer Science undergrad, we had a large proportion of foreign or very new Canadian Asian students, many whom struggled with a new society and new language.

Whether on purpose or by design, the final exam inthe first CS course was extremely wordy, and in a few cases depended upon knowledge that was unfamiliar to many of the non-Canadians.

None of it was necessary to the computer-science part of the exam. (The exam was not supposed to be a "what is this question asking" type of exam.) I have no doubt that this exam was partially responsible for a vastly smaller proportion of foreign students in the second year Computer Science major (especially since the grade in the course depended heavily on the final exam because of troubles with student collusion on assignments).

So no, it's quite possible for a STEM course to have plenty of academically irrelevant bias.

However, as a student adviser at the time, I'm also aware that English language and cultural difficulties also led to academically relevant differences in grades.

Tom West writes:

Oops. "on purpose or by design" was obviously supposed to be "on purpose or by accident"

I blame the slip on my suppressed outrage as an 18-year old :-)

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