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14.03 Grades Upped

Department Overrules Visiting Professor

By Helana Kadyszewski

All 70 students who were enrolled in Applied Intermediate Microeconomics (14.03) last spring will receive a third-of-a-point boost in their final term grades.

The decision to adjust the final grades, which was made by Course XIV (Economics) Department Head and Professor Olivier Blanchard, came after three students enrolled in 14.03 filed complaints alleging that visiting professor Wallace Mullin PhD ’92, an associate professor of economics from Michigan State University, had graded them unfairly. Blanchard received the complaints via e-mail from students over the summer and early this fall.

After reviewing the individual cases with Mullin, the two agreed that, indeed, Mullin had graded based on a distribution with a lower mean than was normally seen in 14.03. In concert, Mullin and Blanchard decided that the swiftest way to remedy the situation was to raise each student’s grade by a third of a point. The decision was made entirely within the Economics Department.

On September 17, Blanchard notified students of the grade adjustment in an e-mail 14.03 students. He said that the adjustment will raise grades from a B to a B+ and a B+ to an A-, and so forth. Blanchard called the change “a rough adjustment, but the only feasible and fair way of doing something at this late stage.”

The adjustment should be reflected in student records on WebSIS in the near future. However, plus/minus grading is still only an internal MIT system; only the prefix letter grade is counted toward one’s grade point average or reported on external transcripts.

Elie Krevat ’02, whose complaint to Professor Mullin went unanswered, wrote to Blanchard early this term. “I commend Professor Blanchard for his prompt investigation into this matter and am grateful for his decision,” she said. “I gather that many of the students in the class who did not register complaints felt as I did and also welcome the adjustment.”

Grade adjustment unprecedented

Both Blanchard and Course XIV Undergraduate Administrator Gary J. King remarked that the decision was unprecedented. “These were special circumstances,” King said. “Mullin was a visiting professor who had an apparently different grading distribution in mind. We don’t expect to face similar situations in the future.”

Mullin, a faculty research fellow in the Program in Industrial Organization, National Bureau of Economic Research, was unavailable for comment. He is currently serving as a senior economist with the Council of Economic Advisers in Washington, D.C.

In their end-of-term evaluations of the class, 27 of his students gave Mullin an above average overall rating. However, Mullin’s marks in the area of grading were unsatisfactory, registering 3.4 on a seven point scale.

14.03 is a required 12-unit subject for undergraduates majoring in economics. It is also a HASS Elective.