Episode #42: From Myanmar with Love

With guest Craig Klafter

Peter Wood

Craig Klafter joins Peter to discuss his Academic Questions article, “Good Grieve! America’s Grade Inflation Culture.” (If you’re not a member, join here to subscribe to AQ!)

Along the way, they reminisce about John Silber (Peter and Craig served together in his administration at Boston University) and the American University of Myanmar, where Craig was the founding rector and Peter served as a board member.

Show Notes

0:00 Peter introduces Craig Klafter. They go back to Peter’s Boston University days, where they served together in John Silber’s administration.

2:10 Why “Good Grieve” instead of “good grief?”

4:26 Peter and Craig reminisce on John Silber, president of Boston University, who turned a mediocre, financially troubled institution into a top research university. Craig says Silber was “brilliant, visionary, and one of the great micro-managers of American higher education.”

9:09 Craig has served as founding rector of the American University of Myanmar, which would have been the first private nonprofit nonreligious university in Myanmar.

17:43 Myanmar strictly limits higher education: no market economics and no geology, for instance.

21:22 But the university failed to get off the ground. Why?

24:50 Craig and Peter discuss the Rohingya, who suffered ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

  1. Many countries have an “American University of ­­­­­­­­­­___________.” Craig notes that they exemplify the “stop the clock” feature of cultural shifts: they brought to other countries traditional ideas of American culture, academic freedom, and the liberal arts, and have not radicalized the way American universities have.

38:00 Forty-three percent of grades awarded in 2008 were “A” compared to only 15 percent in 1940. Craig says the “Varsity Blues” scandal would never have happened absent grade inflation guaranteeing that even ill-prepared students will graduate with good GPAs.

41:12 The “self-esteem” movement helped drive grade inflation. Craig tells the story of California state legislator John Vasconcellos, who proposed self-esteem as a “social vaccine” that would cure social ills and help balance the state budget.

47:25 Do other countries suffer from the same grade inflation?

53:15 Craig and Peter discuss what merit means—and whether ESL students should be held to the same standards as native English speakers.

57:40 Craig has studied, taught, and lived around the world. Where would he recommend American students go to college?


  1. Evan Klafter, “Good Grieve! America’s Grade Inflation Culture,” Academic Questions, Fall 2019.
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