Art McDonald, Letter on the GPA Grading System (25 February 2012)

As sent to Jordan Morelli and Ryan Marchildon on 25 February 2012; posted by permission.

Jordan, Ryan

I agree completely with all of the points contained in your message re point 2 below.[1]  I believe that the transition to a GPA system is a very backward step for grading at Queen’s that strongly penalizes our best students. In addition to the five very valid points you make, there is a further disadvantage to the GPA system in that it is fundamentally non-linear and therefore GPA numbers cannot be combined to provide a fair comparison of a students overall accomplishment. Percentages do that in a very simple and transparent way. I have recently served on a scholarship awards committee for the university and our committee struggled with an appropriate way to use GPA information in a fair way for comparison of students, particularly those of scholarship calibre.

Whereas my strong preference would have been to stay with the percentage system alone, I feel that the only alternative now is the proposal that you have put forward.[2] Percentages are a much fairer way to represent accomplishment by our students and should be retained on transcripts to enable appropriate assessment of the results of their hard work.

I am unable to attend the meeting [of Senate] on Feb. 28 and attempt to speak in person on this topic. However, please feel free to distribute this letter of mine to as many of the people who will be considering your motion as possible. I urge them to adopt your proposal to reinstate fairness in the grading system at Queen’s.


Art McDonald
Professor of Physics
Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics
Director, Sudbury Neutrino Observatory


[1]  Refers to an earlier version of QueensYOU: Our Platform.

[2] “Proposal” (and “motion,” below) refer to the proposal outlined in “QueensYOU: Our Platform,” noted above, which was emailed to Senators.  No motion concerning the GPA grading system was made in Senate on 28 February.

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