In my search for an article talking about the Harvard honors inflation, I found this NY Times article from May 2002. It seems they have changed their grading system--the accompanying explanations are completely outrageous:
Bowing to criticism that too many students were receiving A's, the Harvard University faculty voted yesterday to overturn at least a generation of tradition by adopting a marking system more like that of most American colleges.Make a B "more palatable"? Guaranteed honors just for undertaking and finishing a senior thesis? For crying out loud, what are they doing up there? Does the Harvard faculty rock and burp their students before they put the students to sleep every night?
At a closed meeting, the faculty voted in favor of two sweeping changes. First, Harvard will switch from an idiosyncratic 15-point grading scale to the more conventional scale in which a 4.0 is an A and a zero is an F. The change will narrow the difference between an A-minus and a B-plus, which the faculty hopes will make a B more palatable. Second, Harvard will limit the number of students allowed to graduate with honors to 60 percent of a class. Nearly 90 percent of the students in Harvard's class of 2001 graduated with some form of honors.
But in a 10-page report recommending the changes, Ms. Pedersen and two other deans openly agonized that the changes could backfire. In putting a cap on the number of students permitted to earn honors, they fretted, they might discourage students from taking intellectual risks like writing a senior thesis or taking a challenging course.
For at least a generation, the report said, students who decided to write a senior thesis entered into an implied contract with the faculty in their department that they would receive at least a cum laude degree.
Under the new system, writing a thesis will no longer hold out the promise of honors, and students may decide not to try an experience that has enriched senior year: staying up late researching and writing; developing an argument to defend in an oral examination by a faculty committee; and developing a deep relationship with a professor who has agreed to serve as a thesis adviser.