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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Changes to Latin honors announced

Published: April 1, 2011
Section: Front Page

The awarding of Latin honors like cum laude could be based on a percentage system instead of grade point average starting wtih the class of 2016 if the faculty approves the proposal at their April 14 meeting.

The change has already passed through the University Curriculum Committee (UCC).

“For the last several months, the committee has been having a general discussion about grade inflation,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe said. The Latin honors system is one tool the university can use to combat it.

Currently, 59 percent of Brandeis students graduate with some form of Latin honors, Jaffe said, with any student who achieves a 3.5 GPA awarded cum laude. Students who achieve a 3.7 GPA are awarded magna cum laude, with summa cum laude being reserved for students who both achieve a 3.8 GPA and win departmental honors through a senior thesis or similar major project.

The large number of students receiving these awards defeats their purpose, Jaffe said.

“Latin honors are supposed to be an acknowledgement of only outstanding students,” Jaffe said. “The change will better reflect that.”

Under the new UCC recommendation, only the top 30 percent of each class will receive Latin awards. The top 15 percent will be eligible for magna cum laude, while the top 5 will receive summa cum laude if they meet the unchanging requirement that they also receive departmental honors.

“Last time the system was changed,” Jaffe said, “it was in 1999-2000, and that year the total number of students receiving Latin honors was also a jump from 59 percent” to much lower. Jaffe said the change was thus not revolutionary.

Similar steps are not unheard of at other schools. The dean said the committee examined practices at other universities, and not only was their action typical at some but “30 percent was a common cutoff point.”

The change would not affect any current student or incoming class of 2015 member, per standard procedure.

Only Brandeis students of the future would face the future requirements, as is usual with all major graduation changes.