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Discovering an easy A: students consider course difficulty

Discovering an easy A: students consider course difficulty

By Regan Hewitt

An institution that prides itself on academia and athletics, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is currently at the scandal center of the collegiate world. A report released on Oct. 25, accused the institution of padding grades and creating “easy A” classes for athletes. According to CNN, “thousands of students” at UNC were “funneled through” the academic system in order to keep them eligible for playing time.

Kenyon Director of Athletics, Fitness and Recreation Peter Smith described the controversy as “unfortunate.” Smith asserted that such a scandal could never occur at Kenyon. “We’ve almost got the reverse of a UNC situation,” he said.

Kenyon’s position as a Division III school does make it more difficult to ignore athletics for academics. “[The athletes] are students first … and they came to Kenyon to get an education,” Smith said. According to Smith, student-athletes are not awarded any special extra tutoring or educational opportunities. “The policies we have in place are the same for athletes and nonathletes, in terms of enrollment,” he said.

As Chair of the Committee on Academic Standards (CAS), Professor of Biology Chris Gillen explained that any student can be reviewed at the end of the semester and placed on “conditional enrollment” if academic standards are not being met. According to Gillen, “one possible requirement of a conditional enrollment is that a varsity athlete not be allowed to participate in a sport.” Kenyon does not appear to have a specific history of banning athletes from sports based on academic reasons.

Student-athletes say they maintain equally difficult class schedules as non-athletes. “We don’t take easier classes during season,” Jack Marooney ’18, a member of the baseball team, said. “I take classes I’m interested in.” Student-athletes are required to maintain a 1.75 credit enrollment in the College to maintain playing eligibility.

Often, athletes are more organized, proactive students because, as Professor of English Theodore Mason puts it, “they know they have to get to their work … because one of the things that’s important to [student-athletes] depends on their grades.” Coaches are actively involved in students’ academic lives and, according to Smith, encourage students to put athletics on hold if they are overworked. “Our coaches get academic progress reports all the time,” Marooney said.

In fact, Kenyon has a committee devoted to ensuring that every class lives up to the College’s rigorous academic reputation. “The Curricular Policy Committee is charged with reviewing new classes … and so [the CPC] makes a judgement about whether or not the class meets the standards that Kenyon sets forth,” Gillen said.

Most students denied that there were “easy A” classes at Kenyon. Although students can and do receive As in their classes, they do not believe those classes to be easy. “When I get an A, it’s because I worked for it,” Kyla Spencer ’18 said.

“The students realize that the skills they are learning are going to provide a foundation for further work,” Mason said. Although he says that he does not frequently give As in his own classes, Mason believes that students work very hard for the grades they do receive. “I don’t see an absence of rigor,” he said. However, despite the purported academic rigor of Kenyon overall, some classes do develop a reputation for being an “easy A.”

“I think grade inflation is a problem everywhere and Kenyon is not immune to it,” President Sean Decatur said. Decatur explained that Kenyon is not exempt from pressure to give grades to students that will put them on the same footing when applying to jobs and graduate school alongside students from other institutions.

Some students feel the current foreign language program at Kenyon offers a potential “easy A” class. By not testing out of the introductory-level courses, students who have previously taken a language can receive a GPA boost by taking a class beneath their level of education in that particular subject. “People are taking levels that they’ve tested out of,” Paige Ballard ’18 said.

Another class that has developed an “easy A” reputation is Introduction to Anglo-Saxon, taught by Professor Emeritus of English Bill Klein. The grades depend on attendance and participation as well as the completion of five opinionated 500-word papers throughout the semester. “It’s an easy class … [but] you can’t miss class or turn in a 200-word paper — that’s not going to cut it,” Nick Leibowitz ’18, an avid fan of the course, said. “[But] if you do your work, getting an A isn’t hard.” As of press time, Klein could not be reached for comment.

Dance classes are sometimes considered an “easy A.” “They are physically strenuous, and there are readings and reflection papers, but if you show up, it’s a fairly easy class,” Emma Conover-Crockett ’17 said.

Overall, most students seem to feel Kenyon is providing them with exactly what they came here for: a professional, academic environment with a faculty that is equally invested in their education. “There’s no ‘easy A’ class at Kenyon; there’s just easier As,” Muhammad Hansrod ’17 said.


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