Students getting smarter and presidents of the...


May 03, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ARE COLLEGE students getting smarter and presidents of the United States getting dumber?

That's what some might make of two articles that appeared in the out-of-town papers last week.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 80 percent of all Princeton graduates get nothing but As and Bs. At Stanford, only 8 percent get Cs and Ds. At Harvard, the "mean grade equivalent" is just above B+. A generation ago, it was B-.

Donald Fleming, a professor of history at Harvard, said that today "a B- is considered an insulting grade around here."

I am told that all this is true at many, probably most, universities. I haven't seen a study of Johns Hopkins or any of the other local campi (just because I'm a working stiff without an advanced degree don't mean I ain't scholarly), but I would bet it's true around here, too. I recently gave a Hopkins Writing Seminars student a B- on a paper, and he set fire to my car.

Just kidding. But he did make it clear to me that he regarded that as an insulting grade.

* * *

USA Today gave President Clinton a "first quarter" report card that looked like this:

Race Relations -- B+, Environment -- B, Education -- B-, Honesty in Government -- B-, Foreign Affairs -- C+, Health Care -- C, Defense -- C, the Economy -- D+, Deficit -- D+, Gay Rights -- D+, Bosnia -- D+, Taxes -- D-.

Overall grade -- C+.

Here's how Clinton's overall grade compares to first-year

first-quarter grades of ex-presidents, according to USA Today.:

Bush -- B-, Reagan -- B, Carter -- A-, Ford -- B-, Nixon -- B, Johnson -- A+, Kennedy -- A, and Eisenhower -- A-

The grades for Clinton and his predecessors are based on

Gallup Poll approval ratings taken at this stage of each presidency. They are meaningless.

The grades that count for a president are not those on his freshman year first-quarter report card, but those on his senior year third-quarter report card. That's the card that comes out FTC just before a re-election bid.

Here is what previous presidents got on those Gallup cards:

Ike was an A- president just before he was re-elected in a landslide in 1956; JFK didn't live that long, but he was at B- when he was assassinated; LBJ was an A president in the last poll before he was elected to a full term in 1964 -- but he was a C-/D+ student when he decided to forgo a re-election bid in the winter of 1968; Tricky Dick Nixon was only a B- president in 1972, and he was re-elected in a landslide; Gerald Ford was getting a C- when he was narrowly defeated in 1976; Jimmy Carter was a D- when he was swamped in 1980; and George Bush was a D- when he was defeated last year.

I saved the best for last, to give Bill Clinton hope: Ronald Reagan was a C+ in the third quarter of 1984, and he carried 49 states.

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