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Faculty may amend proposal

By Annabelle Boyd

With the upcoming April 19 faculty vote on second-term freshman pass/no-credit grading, several faculty members have sponsored amendments to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program proposal.

The CUP proposal currently recommends that a student may, after the first semester, "elect to take one subject per semester, up to a total of seven subjects, on a pass/no record basis, where pass denotes a C or better performance. The subjects taken on this basis may include two subjects in the Institute Science Core Requirement, two subjects in the Institute HASS [Humanities, Arts, and Social Science] Requirement, and one Departmental Requirement."

Twenty-one MIT faculty members are co-sponsoring two amendments that propose a more rigorous definition of pass/no-credit and a reduction in the number of pass/no-credit subjects a student is allowed to take. Professors Marc A. Kastner and Robert J. Birgeneau are jointly proposing an amendment that provides freshmen with two different agendas for second-term pass/no-credit subjects.

One group of professors -- including Harold Abelson PhD '73, Richard B. Adler '43, Michael E. McGerr, and John L. Wyatt Jr. '68 -- are proposing two amendments to the CUP proposal. The first states that "Pass [should] denote C or better performance" for all subjects taken pass/no-credit. The present system and the CUP proposal allow a student to pass with a D during the first term of freshman year.

The other amendment proposed by these faculty members states that "after the first semester a student may elect to take up to a total of two subjects on a pass/no-credit basis, where Pass denotes C or better performance. Subjects taken on this basis may not include any Departmental Requirements, or more than one Institute HASS requirement."

The Kastner/Birgeneau amendment, like the first amendment, proposes that pass denote a grade of C or better for all subjects taken pass/no-credit. However, the Kastner/Birgeneau amendment also requests that second-term freshmen be able to choose between two pass/no-credit options. The first option is that which the CUP proposal presents. The second option reads, "In the second semester a student may take four subjects on a pass/no-credit basis, where Pass denotes C or better performance, with a maximum total load of 54 units. In subsequent semesters a student may elect to take one subject per semester, up to a total of three subjects, on a pass/no-credit basis, where Pass denotes a C or better. The subjects taken may include one Institute science core requirement, one subject in the Institute HASS Requirement, and one Departmental requirement."

The Kastner/Birgeneau amendment also recommends that a student who "obtained the equivalent of a D grade in a subject taken on the pass/no-credit basis may have the D grade and the associated credit made part of the permanent record through petition at the end of the semester in which the subject is taken."

There is "a lot of confusion about the CUP proposal among the faculty, and it's not clear where the whole faculty stands," according to Bernard J. Frieden MCP '57, chairman of the faculty."We will try to deal with the CUP items at the meeting. There will probably be additional amendments from the floor, but hopefully all will come clear next Wednesday," he added.

Frieden said that though there has been much discussion among faculty privately, there has been no faculty forum on the issue, except for the Committee on the Undergraduate Program.

Many faculty members "think that pass/no-credit should be reduced even further than the CUP proposal outlines," according to Professor William T. Peake '46 of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Peake, one of the supporters of the amendment that would reduce the number of pass/no-credit subjects a student could take from seven to two, said "giving students the seven terms of pass/no-credit allows them to play this game of picking subjects to put a P on a transcript instead of an A, B, C or D." Peake said that the premium on playing this game of "clever picker versus the unclever picker" -- the havoc it could wreak on a student's education -- is "too high."

Though Peake acknowledged a large range of faculty opinions on the pass/no-credit issue, he was "optimistic" about faculty passage of the amendment.

The main motivation behind the Kastner/Birgeneau amendment was to offer greater flexibility to students, according to Kastner. "Some students will still be in shock after their first semester at MIT and will need another term on pass/no-credit to complete their adjustment."

He acknowledged, however, "MIT students in general are very competitive. They want grades, and to know how they are doing with respect to the rest of the class."

There is a "general feeling among the faculty that second term pass/no-credit is not doing what it was intended to do, and that it needs to be changed," according to Kastner.

And, while Kastner agreed with "the bulk of the CUP recommendations," he felt that it was important "to curtail overloading," while still offering the option of second term pass/no-credit "to those who need it."