Citations comprise 2.4 percent of total grades

by Anthony Robles | 11/3/17 2:10am

The academic citation, given for excellence in a class, remains an enigmatic goal in the typical Dartmouth student’s academic career. Only 2.4 percent of total grades recorded are citation grades, with 92 percent of those citations accompanying a grade of either A or A minus, according to an email statement from registrar Meredith Braz.

Although the first citation was recorded in 1963, the term “citation” was first defined in the ORC/Catalog in 1973, Braz wrote. The current description of the citation in the ORC/Catalog reads that citations are designed to “procure an official record of information about undergraduates who have made particularly favorable impressions on members of the faculty.” If a student receives a citation, “the actual statement of citation,” which is a description of why a student deserves a citation, is included in their transcript unless otherwise indicated. The Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning website notes that citations may be issued as a means of “adding luster” to an A or in “appreciation of special efforts.”

Adding to the mystery surrounding citations is the fact that many of the College’s departments do not keep centralized information about their use. Braz wrote in her email that while the college’s faculty has had numerous discussions regarding grade inflation, the subject of citations is rarely mentioned.

In an email, John Thorstensen, chair of the physics and astronomy department, wrote that the use of citations is “entirely up to the discretion of the instructor.” Many other department chairs echoed these feelings, including Hany Farid of the computer science department and David Bucci of the psychological and brain sciences department.

However, the economics department keeps detailed statistics on citations. According to James Feyrer, vice-chair of the department, about 2 percent of students taking an economics course receive a citation.

Feyrer noted there is some variation within the economics department as some classes that gave out more citations than others. For example, although Economics 26, “The Economics of Financial Intermediaries and Markets” has a reputation for being one of the tougher classes offered by the department, the course awards more citations than any other class in the department, according Feyrer.

Regarding his own use of citations, Feyrer said that if there are one or two students who are clearly at the top of his Economics 22, “Macroeconomics” course, they will always receive a citation. However, he added that it gets “tricky” when multiple students are at the top of the class, leading to a situation in which he would not give out a citation, citing the difficulty in distinguishing one top student from another.

Feyrer said that at the end-of-the-year economics department meeting, he encourages fellow economics professors to award citations. He noted their importance in helping students stand out when deciding departmental awards at the end of the year.

“In the last few years, we’ve had around six people a year who have 4.0 [GPAs] in the major, and if you’re trying to decide amongst them, citations stand out,” Feyrer said. “You’ll see there are some [students] who will have 4.0s in the major but no citations and others who will have two or three citations in the major, and that just pops because not only were they able to get As in a lot of the classes, but to see that citation just means that a student was really exceptional. You have done a great job at Dartmouth if you come out with any citations.”

Occasionally, even if a student’s test scores were not the highest in the class, a professor might still award them a citation if they feel like they went “above and beyond,” Feyrer said. He added that while his classes heavily weigh test performance to determine citations, seminar classes end up being a lot more subjective, as the professor might reward a student for being a strong participant in class or writing an extremely thorough essay.

“One thing that’s nice about citations is that they’re really in the eye of the beholder,” Feyrer said. “Professors can kind of use whatever criteria they want for them, and the thing that’s nice about that is that [the citations] are a surprise to the students.”

Feyrer noted that it was not unusual for students with a citation in an economics class to also have a citation in a class from another department.

“Frankly, what impresses me a lot is when you see people who get citations across divisions,” Feyrer said. “Somebody who’s being pegged as being really exceptional by a humanities professor, by a science professor and by an economics professor — that’s pretty impressive.”