The Unpublished Curve, Explained

In response to questions from The Record about the grading curve, Vice Dean for Academics Andrew L. Kaufman replied, in an e-mail (edited for style, pleasantries omitted):

Record: Why are there grades, as opposed to a simple pass/fail system?

Kaufman: The faculty has made a judgment that evaluating performance is a useful part of the educational process, and that pass/fail alone would not accomplish the same goals.

Record: Is [the reason grades exist] because potential employers need a way to distinguish between Harvard Law School candidates?

Kaufman: No.

Record: Are courses graded on a curve? If so, which courses?

Kaufman: There is a suggested curve for courses with over 30 students.

Record: Why is there a curve?

Kaufman: To help ensure fairness across curricular offerings and faculty.

Record: What is the curve? Is it the same as it was in 2009, when it was published, with 37 percent of students in large lecture courses receiving Honors, 55 percent receiving Passes, and eight percent receiving Low Passes or Fails?

Kaufman: After 2009, a decision was made to revert to the historical practice of not publishing the curve, including any adjustments made over time.

Record: Why is the curve unpublished?

Kaufman: The curve has historically not been published because of a belief that publishing it would overemphasize it and create an unintended focus on it.

Record: Are all professors bound by the curve or is it merely suggested? Are only 1L professors bound by the curve? Are only lecture class professors bound by the curve?

Kaufman: The curve is suggested in all classes with over 30 students.

Record: Do all professors have to give a certain number of LPs? Do only 1L professors have to give a certain number of LPs? Do only lecture class professors have to give a certain number of LPs?

Kaufman: No professor is required to give an LP. The LP grade is to be given only when a student’s performance is substandard.

Record: For a class that is bound to follow a curve, are L.L.M.s included in the same curve distribution as JD students?

Kaufman: The suggested curve includes J.D. and L.L.M. students on an undifferentiated basis.