Law School Removes GPA Scale from Transcripts, Cites Student Complaints

BY SEVERIN RANDALL

Harvard Law School has shifted its grade publication policy again, according to Student Government representatives who met with Dean Martha Minow last week. The new 5.0 GPA scale that the Law School will use to calculate Latin Honors will no longer appear on the reverse side of current students’ official transcripts.

This latest alteration comes only a few weeks after the administration acknowledged publicly that it had made material changes to the grading system, including moving to a new GPA scale to calculate Latin Honors.

The new system, put in place after faculty recommendations, closely resembles a traditional 4.0 GPA scale. It awards a student five points for each Dean’s Scholar Prize credit, four for each Honors credit, three per Pass credit, two for a Low Pass credit, and zero for a Failing grade.

Student Government President Jennifer Dein said Minow told her the faculty, including among them “McKinsey types,” worked to recommend a method of calculating Latin Honors that would be less arbitrary than the system employed last year. That system assigned no direct point value to each credit, but calculated honors based on the difference between the number of Low Pass and Honors credits a student received divided by her total number of graded credits in a year. Dean’s Scholar Prizes then only factored in as rare tie breakers.

“[Last year’s system] was a little less objective,” Dein said. “We can’t eyeball who deserves an honors.”

After the changes and subsequent student complaints were reported in the Harvard Law Record and Above the Law, an online legal tabloid, the administration responded by changing the language and prominence of the new GPA scale – while leaving the mechanics of the scale completely intact.

Dein said administration officials told her they had initially decided to change just the wording on the back of transcripts. Rather than stating Dean’s Scholar prizes were worth five points, transcripts would say, “Dean’s Scholar will carry an additional point.”

The idea was to deemphasize the GPA scale without altering it substantively, Dein said. However, the administration then decided on the current policy: removing the GPA scale from the transcripts entirely.Minow relayed this information to the Student Government at an Oct. 8 meeting.

An administration representative noted that the purpose of the numerical system was originally simply to determine Latin Honors.

“Because the numerical equivalents are really for that one internal use only, the administration was considering whether to discontinue putting the numerical equivalents on transcripts,” Law School spokesman Robb London said. “When student leaders expressed concerns about including the numerical equivalents on transcripts, Dean Minow agreed with them and decided that the numerical equivalents would no longer appear on the transcripts.”

This small change raised new questions, however, about what, if any, further changes would be made to the grading policy.

Dein’s impression after the most recent meeting is that she doesn’t think the administration is planning to make any more changes in the near future. 

“Such a big investment of time and thought and resources, in terms of calculating honors, this is how it’s going to be for now,” Dein said.

Students who graduated in 2010 and earlier should expect the traditional scale to be on their transcripts. Current students, however, will not see the scale on the back of current students’ transcripts, Dein said.

Dein said Minow told her the administration would not send an e-mail regarding the transcript change. Student Government sent out an e-mail announcing the change on Friday.

Some parties have voiced concern that the public back-and-forth over grading and repeated coverage on Above the Law diminishes HLS’ standing in the public eye. Other students worry more about the administration’s lack of official communication regarding the changes.

“I’ve heard amongst a lot of 1Ls some dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of this,” William Payne ’13 said. “While I’m personally sympathetic to the administration on this given the rumored damage that the original grading change had on graduates’ prospects last year, it certainly doesn’t portray HLS as very interested in student input.” 

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