Nancy Malkiel To Step Down As Dean

IMG_3601lg-1Princeton Dean of the College Nancy Weiss Malkiel will step down from her administrative role at the end of this academic year, the school announced in a Wednesday press release.

In recent years, Dean Malkiel has become a lightning rod for debate over Princeton’s future due to her role in implementing the school’s grade deflation and four year college projects.

But as the official press release notes, Malkiel’s 24-year tenure as Dean of the College — the second-longest among those holding her job — has also included the introduction of many other recognizable policies and programs.  These undertakings include the Princeton Writing Program, the P-D-F grading option, current course distribution requirements, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and Princeton’s no-loan financial aid policy.

Malkiel will soon return to the History Department, which she joined as a faculty member in 1969 (her husband Burton Malkiel is also a professor at the University, in the Economics Department).   In her post-administrative career she’ll begin work on “a book about the history of coeducation at Princeton” and eventually teach a freshman seminar on coeducation.

Regardless of the endeavors that lie in Malkiel’s future, among current students she’ll likely be remembered, not always fondly, for her strong support of the grade deflation policy that seeks to limit limit the number of A’s academic departments give out each semester.

Under the policy, the number of A’s has indeed fallen — along with Princetonians’ average GPA.  Last December Dean Malkiel appeared at a Whig-Clio debate on the grading policy to address concerns that Princeton students were being disadvantaged by the policy in the absence of similar measures by other leading schools.

Her behavior at the debate hewed closely to what students had come to expect from their Dean: she was cool, calm, deliberate and not at all apologetic about policies she believed were essential to ensuring academic fairness at Princeton.

“Students in one department should expect to be graded similarly to students in any other department,”  Malkiel said.  ”There should be clear distinctions between students’ good work and their really outstanding work. And grades should be a vehicle for communicating those differences.”

The supposedly damaging impact of grade deflation on students’ future prospects was largely fictional, she maintained.

“Nobody in this faculty, nobody in the administration, had any interest in putting Princeton students in jeopardy, or in compromising their fortunes. Why would the faculty want to do that, and disadvantage our students?” she said, citing statistics that she said showed virtually unchanged rates of graduates’ employment and admission to law and medical schools.

At the end of the debate, however, Whig-Clio members voted 61 to 9 to oppose the grading policy, and among the wider student population Malkiel’s work to implement grade deflation was similarly unappreciated.

In the latter years of her term as Dean, Malkiel, who arrived at Princeton in the first year of coeducation and was the History Department’s first female faculty member, had become so controversial that this very website began to solicit opinions on her as part of its regular 21 Questions feature.  To close, a sampling of student opinions on this pioneering, polarizing figure:

“Misunderstood.”

She’s a fine scapegoat.

“I’m not really in a position to be affected by grade deflation…”

“She doesn’t say hi to me when we pass each other.”

“The Anscombe Society takes no position on Dean Malkiel.”

Her last name sounds like a medieval lord’s. Whose hobby is falconry.

“I have seen her walking around campus with her little dog that wears a sweater!”

    By David Walter on September 8th 2010, 5:57pm
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