Believe It Or Not
by Walter E. Williams

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Benedict College, Columbia, South Carolina enforces an academic policy that defies belief. Say I'm a freshman taking your class in biology. I learn little from your lectures, assigned readings and homework. I do attend class every day; take notes and manage to average 40 percent on the graded work for the semester. What grade might you give me? I'm betting that all but the academic elite would say, "Sorry, Williams, but no cigar," and I'd earn an F for the course. But, if you're a professor at Benedict College, you'd be fired.

That's exactly what happened to Professors Milwood Motley, Chairman of Benedict's Biological and Physical Sciences Department and Larry Williams of the same department, both of whom refused to go along with the college's Success Equals Effort (SEE) policy. SEE is a policy where 60 percent of a freshman's grade is based on effort and the rest on academic performance. In their sophomore year, the formula drops to 50-50 and isn't used at all for junior and senior years. In defense of his policy, Benedict's president, Dr. David H. Swinton said that the students "have to get an A in effort to guarantee that if they fail the subject matter, they can get the minimum passing grade. I don't think that's a bad thing."

According to the Associated Press story, carried in (8/20/04), Professor Motley said the policy compromises the integrity of Benedict. Students are being passed to increase student retention by falsely boosting academic performance. When Professors Motley and Williams began assigning grades based upon academic performance, Professor Motley said the administration "told us to go back and recalculate the grades, and I just refused to do it." At that point Dr. Swinton fired both for insubordination. Dr. William Gunn, a faculty member for 40 years and president of Benedict College's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, is dead set against the policy and believes most other faculty are as well. Writing in (9/22/04), Dr. Gunn says the SEE policy not only harms today's student but as well Benedict graduates who will see their degrees come under suspicion.

Dr. Winton's policy borders on lunacy. Imagine a freshman gets an A for effort in his algebra class but has virtually no grasp of the material, earning him an F grade. Under the college's SEE policy, the student would be assigned a C for the course. What can we expect when the student takes Algebra II and later takes a course where algebra is a tool? He'll fall further and further behind because he hasn't grasped the material from the earlier courses. He'll graduate only if the fraudulent grading continues and his job prospects will depend upon racial preferences.

Here's my question to you: Can you think of a more effective way to discredit and cast doubt on the degrees of all students who graduate from Benedict? How would you like people to be certified in any activity that way - your doctor, your tax accountant, your mechanic or anybody upon whom you depend for reliable proficient service?

Whatever academic handicaps Benedict's students have when they enter - their median SAT score is 803 - are disguised and exacerbated by the school's SEE policy. Harvard-educated Dr. Swinton acknowledged he would not implement such a policy at a more selective institution and does not know of a similar policy at any other college.

The blame for this academic madness cannot wholly be placed at its president's feet. Benedict's Board of Trustees bear the blame for either enacting or tolerating this policy. Also culpable are those as taxpayers and donors whose funds make it possible for this madness to continue. While I know it's probably not the case but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that the South Carolina Ku Klux Klan were Benedict's largest contributors.

Walter E. Williams
October 4, 2004
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