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New Grading Policy Stirs Up Yale MBAs

The new home of Yale University's School of Management: Evans Hall. Photo by Chris Choi

The new home of Yale University’s School of Management: Evans Hall. Photo by Chris Choi

The Yale School of Management has unwittingly found itself in the middle of a controversy over a newly approved grading policy by the faculty.

Some MBA students at the school are in an uproar over the changes because they had little to no say in the discussion and believe the new policy will lead to a more competitive and less collegial and collaborative student culture.

At least 190 students, or one-third of the study body, has signed a petition against the changes, even though the announcement was made during finals and coincided with Spring Break when many first-year students were on their international immersions. A town hall meeting has been scheduled with students for the last week of March.


After the first review of its grading policies in 15 years, Yale announced on Feb. 27 a significant change in how it will grade SOM students. Yale’s grading system has long had four categories: Distinction, Proficient, Pass, and Fail. The main element of the new system, approved by the faculty, is the introduction of a new grade category between “Distinction” and “Proficient.” Tentatively called “Honors,” the new category would allow faculty greater opportunity to recognize high-achieving students.

The school said that the top category of “Distinction,” which may be renamed “High Honors,” will be awarded to 10% of each class, while the new category will be used for the next 25%. Yale’s SOM faculty also voted to set the proportion of the two lowest categories to be uniformly 10% for core courses and a target of 5% for electives. “We noticed that our grading system was a lot less fine grained than we would prefer,” explains Anjani Jain, senior associate dean of SOM’s MBA program. Jain said as high as 85% of the grades in a course could be “Proficient” at SOM.

While Jain told the Yale Daily News that he is open to hearing students’ opinions, he emphasized that the new grading scheme has already been distributed to newly admitted students. “That the new policy applies to students entering in fall 2014 was an explicit part of the faculty decision, and it is the administration’s institutional obligation to implement the policy,” he said. He added that the changes received nearly unanimous approval of the senior faculty in the final vote.


Many students are essentially saying, not so fast. Robert King, a second-year MBA student, is leading the fight against the grading changes. In King, SOM may have a formidable opponent. He graduated from Georgetown Law School in 2007 and then joined Kirkland & Ellis’ New York offices as an associate. In 2010, he became managing partner of an investment management firm, Baskerville Capital Management. His GMAT score was 750, while his LSAT score was 172, respectively putting him in the 98th and 99th percentile of test takers.

King says his conversations with classmates suggested widespread displeasure once the policy change was announced. “It seemed like most students were unhappy with the changes,” he says. “Nearly everyone agreed that the administration and faculty mishandled the process of soliciting input from SOM stakeholders.”

SOM students also decry assertions by the administration that student government leaders were consulted. King calls the claim a “misrepresentation” because, he says, it occurred in a “small focus group that was unaware of its purpose and had in fact suggested the exact opposite of some of the changes implemented.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.