Friday, May 29, 2009

The Summa of All Fears

Fred Barnes and Bill Bennett talk about Sotomayor's academic credentials:
BARNES: I think you can make the case that she's one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

BENNETT: Summa Cum Laude, I don't think you get on affirmative action. I don't know what her major was, but Summa Cum Laude's a pretty big deal.

BARNES: I guess it is, but you know, there's some schools and maybe Princeton's not one of them, where if you don't get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you're a D+ student.

Ta-Nehisi Coates promises to stop being amazed soon. I'm just curious what Latin honors, if any, appear after their respective degrees.

Look, Carleton was one of those places where cum laude wasn't that hard to attain. It wasn't D+ work (3.25 average, so B/B+), but it wasn't difficult. Magna (what I got) required a 3.5 average, which still was quite doable for a hard worker. But Summa sat at a lofty 3.9 average, and it was quite an accomplishment -- I'd say that about 10 people in our class of over 450 reached it.

Chicago's equivalent honors (honors, high honors, and highest honors) are given at 179 (B+), 180.5 (A-), and 182 (A) respectively -- but thanks to a curve where the median is set at 177, any and all honors require serious chops. Only a bare handful achieve high honors, and highest honors, in fact, only pops up once every several years.

In sum, I'd be very surprised if at Princeton, or any other college in the country, Summa can be taken for granted. But if a Latina woman can get it, I guess it must come cheap.


Burt Likko said...

Well, if the question is whether she has the intellectual chops to be on the Supreme Court, the best place to look would be her District Court and Second Circuit opinions rather than her college transcripts. I've read a few of them since her nomination and I'm more than satisfied that she can run with the Supremes.

Sarah said...

Cum laude might not have been that hard at Carleton, but it still wasn't something that most people got. (Wish I had my commencement program to do ratios right now.)

A reference on variety of schools (though Princeton's by department only doesn't simplify anything).

Brian said...

Perhaps the most obvious thing to look at would be the standards for Justice Alito, since he was the most recently appointed justice and because he went to the same undergrad and law schools as Sotomayor. Alito, unlike Sotomayor, didn't get Summa Cum Laude, so that would suggest that Sotomayor's academic history definitely meets the minimum standards for being a Supreme Court Justice.

As Transplanted Lawyer said, the important thing is her history as a judge, but the point remains that there's no way Sotomayor's schooling should count against her.