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Good News for Middling English Majors

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Why Grades Don’t Matter

While Steven E. Landsburg’s “Grade Expectations” gives interesting insight into the psychology of grade inflation, his economic angle is warped at best. As someone two years out of Dartmouth College, I can tell you that never have my college grades or those of any friend with whom I’ve spoken had the slightest effect on salary. Even those friends of mine who interviewed with large financial firms while still in college were never accepted or rejected on the basis of their grades. Anderson Consulting and Smith Barney seem much more interested in hiring middle-of-the-pack English majors who happen to have good interpersonal skills and dedication than math whizzes with 4.0 GPAs. Interviewing talent and “well-roundedness” (that bugbear of American universities) make the difference.

This is not to say that academic achievement isn’t important to employers. But it is ludicrous to suggest, as Landsburg does in his Mary and Jane example, that employers assign tasks and corresponding salaries based on grades. Although employers often do, for better or worse, give respect to which college an employee graduated from, grades simply do not enter the picture. Moreover, employees themselves in their late 20s–those who were in the graduate’s very position a few years ago–do most of the interviewing and hiring, especially in these larger companies. Wise to what really makes a good employee at that age, they’re much more likely to hem and haw about that summer you spent watching the tube instead of taking a good internship than they are to have doubts about your D in organic chemistry.

Even if grades did have the link to salaries, which Landsburg suggests they do, no professor with integrity would let this enter his mind. Speaking of the role of the teacher in his book What Is Called Thinking? Martin Heidegger tells us what any good teacher from kindergarten on up knows: “The real teacher lets nothing else be learned than learning.” No, not knowledge for its own sake, but knowledge for the sake of the individual’s intellectual, moral, spiritual, even physical growth. The doctor, lawyer, or business woman is always more professional for continuing to pursue these issues outside of his or her profession. This seed can be sown by good professors regardless of what kind of grades they give. To follow Landsburg’s reasoning would not only be to turn America’s best universities into technical schools, it would be to ignore this fundamental purpose of higher education.

Peter Campion

Cambridge, Mass.

Is the Pope a Heretic?

I have just read Michael McGough’s “Pope John Paul II.” It seems to me to really miss the point. The real point is that his papacy dramatically diverges from that of the past 1,650 years, and his theology is anathema to a great deal of theology that has been considered Catholic for 1,650 years. It is this divergence from traditional theology’s most basic teachings that offends traditional Catholics so much. The insistence on Mass in the vernacular is by far the least objectionable to me: It is the new Mass itself that offends deeply against the age-old traditional teachings, not the vernacular languages. There are many too many divergences to mention here. They range from theological importance of the first magnitude to common practices that traditionally supported the theology being taught.

This pope often violates what was taught for many centuries as holy tradition without any kind of respect for those of us who lived under the old church. It was a mortal sin to worship with non-Catholics before Vatican II. Mind you, not just something wrong, but something that would separate you from God and send you to hell if death came before confession. Now, the pope himself attends Lutheran and Jewish services as a participant! You can see why many of us do not see this as progress!

If traditionalists sometimes sound bitter, it should not be something at which to wonder: From being called all sorts of unpleasant names, to overt discrimination, public humiliation, and ostracism, traditional Catholics have every reason to distrust and dislike the Vatican II apparatus. And count me among those who do.

Rev. Fr. Andrew R. L. Jeffers, O.S.B.

Priest and director, St. Athanasius the Great International English School

Terre Haute, Ind.

Rating Nixon

In “Richard Nixon Is Still Dead,” David Greenberg writes: “In the latest ranking of presidents by professional historians, conducted by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (admittedly no Nixon fan), RN finished in the bottom tier, alongside Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Warren Harding, and Herbert Hoover. Twenty of 32 historians surveyed judged Nixon’s presidency a ‘failure’; none called it ‘great.’ ” This seems to say more about the historians than about the presidents. I suspect that someday historians who were not Nixon’s contemporaries and didn’t feel the emotions of that era will be able to give a more objective ranking–perhaps higher, perhaps lower.

C.W. Bergman

South Windsor, Conn.

Back When Everything Was Black and White …

Just read the “Moneybox” columnBlair Witch’s Lessons for Hollywood” that says the reason the movie was so big was because of the word-of-mouth theory and the slow, gradual opening. I do not deny that this was the perfect way to sell the movie, considering the scary witch story behind it; however, I think James Surowiecki is missing the whole point. Please remember what is going on in the movies today. I go to the movies and see a bunch of blood, guts, and sex. I love black-and-white movies because back then, people were required to write a story that had meaning and hire actors who could act. The writing was so good that there was no need to shock the audience with eye-catching filth and stupidity. This movie was good because it was believable and because it was psychological instead of eye candy. Think about that for a change.

Jennifer Vaslik