The Happy Bottom Quarter

by PATRICK MATTIMORE | 3/1/04 6:00am

To the Editors:

I received my Dartmouth Alumni Magazine yesterday. It is a fine magazine, though I confess I rarely read much of it. The stories are usually about wildly successful people and the class notes similarly highlight fellows and gals who have become doctors somewhere or made law partner at one firm or another. I have done neither. After a severe bout of alcoholism initiated in Hanover's portals, I slipped through a variety of jobs and have come to rest gratefully sober for 24 years, as a columnist for an online media watchdog.

This particular alumni issue caught my eye because the cover story was about grade inflation. According to the story the average grade at Dartmouth is now nearly an A-. The average GPA is 3.32. Wow and wow! I graduated with a 3.3. Of course, that was on a 5 point scale so I think it works out to around a 2.6 or 2.7, which even in those uninflated days squarely popped me into the bottom half of the class -- with well, half the class.

You don't really get a lot of news stories about us -- the bottom-feeders -- unless you can get President Bush talking about his college days. We used to joke that Dartmouth Admissions ought to let in a group of clearly unqualified candidates, since they would be real happy just to be there. The happy bottom quarter could then get on with the serious business of drinking and taking assorted drugs and leave academics to everyone else. On second thought, judging by my actions and those of my cohorts, maybe that was College policy.

I'm a little concerned upon reading the article about today's students. According to at least one professor, the grades have gone steadily up because there are now so many talented men and women at Dartmouth. I suppose. But unless Big D has figured out a new mathematics, you've still got that bottom quarter with which to deal. I'm pretty cynical and I'm guessing that group is still managing to find opportunities to play beer pong on Wednesday night instead of reading Greek tragedies.

I did want to offer some encouragement to the lower echelon. Life after Dartmouth can be great -- even if you only graduate with a 3.2.