Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that both Arizona State University and the University of Kansas recently rescinded honorary degrees they had awarded to noted television journalist Charlie Rose, in the wake of accusations that Rose had engaged in sexual harassment.

The Chronicle dubbed these reversals “clawbacks,” surely one of the less pleasant words in the English language.  In any event, clawbacks are gaining momentum, and not just in the realm of dealing with sexual mischief.  Exhibit A: Amherst College, one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the United States, announced yesterday that it will be revoking the degrees of graduates who benefited from grade inflation at the school dating back to 2000.  According to Amherst President Carolyn Martin, “during a faculty retreat in late May there was a spontaneous outpouring of guilt and shame over grade inflation that was all-consuming.  Many professors were flogging themselves with leather bookmarks dipped in vinegar, while others engaged in rampant, intentional paper-cutting.  It was a remarkable display of existential angst.  I had never seen anything like it.”

It all began when a sociology professor rushed the stage during the retreat’s opening session, grabbed the microphone from the facilitator, and wailed, “I have never given a student a grade that he or she truly deserved.  I am a coward and an insect!”  The session turned into an AA-type meeting, with one person after another standing up and proclaiming, “My name is _______, and I inflate.”  It wasn’t long before a Catholic priest was summoned from the College’s Spirituality and Sushi Center to hear confessions. 

According to President Martin, “the whole day ended up being a journey to hell, with lots of uncontrolled sobbing and remorse over selling one’s soul in order to satisfy, as one professor put it, ‘demands of the relentless demon spawn of wealthy parents’.”

As the retreat came to a close, faculty vowed to take action that would go beyond the five Hail Mary’s that Father O’Shaughnessy instructed each offender to recite as penance.  They committed themselves to reviewing every grade they had awarded since the Spring 2000 semester, making adjustments when necessary.  This task took all summer.  The result: nearly 40% of all Amherst graduates since 2000 will have their bachelor’s degree rescinded.  On January 15th, 2018, these individuals will receive registered letters informing them of the College’s action.  The newly minted non-graduates will be afforded an opportunity to take the re-graded courses at a discounted tuition rate.  “It’s the least we can do,” says Martin. 

President Martin realizes that Amherst’s clawback will generate controversy, but she stands by the decision.  “I had a professor come up to me a week after the faculty had voted to take back the degrees.  She said that she’s sleeping better than she has in a decade.  Her recurrent, cold-sweat nightmares of living in a dystopian universe where the only letter in the alphabet was ‘A’, and the only number was 4.0, had ceased.  She hugged me, cried, and then fell asleep in my arms.”

For the record, pharmacies in Amherst, Massachusetts report that sales of Ambien have decreased 73% in the past two months.