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Faculty to vote on P/F on Wednesday

By Annabelle Boyd

On Wednesday, the faculty will hold a special meeting to conclude voting on the Committee on the Undergraduate Program's motion concerning freshman pass/no-credit grading. In the wake of discussion generated at the April 19 faculty meeting, two more amendments have been proposed to the CUP motion.

Professor of Architecture Leon B. Groisser '48 has proposed an amendment which calls for the retention of the current two-semester pass/no-credit system, with the exception that pass would denote a grade of C or better. Under the Groisser amendment, a freshman who obtained the equivalent of a D grade in a subject could have the grade and the associated credit made part of his permanent record through petition at the end of the semester.

Harold Abelson PhD '73, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, submitted an amendment which states: "Each undergraduate [after the first-term freshman year] has the option to ... alter his/her permanent record as follows: For any designated grade recorded as A, B, or C, the record shall be changed so that the grade will subsequently appear as P; or, for any designated grade recorded as D or F, the subject and the grade shall be deleted from the student's record. Each student may exercise this option at most seven times during his/her undergraduate career." The Abelson amendment would allow students to use this option for at most one departmental requirement, two Humanities, Arts, and Social Science requirements, and two Science core requirements.

According to Abelson, when the faculty at its April 19 meeting struck down a move to reduce the number of pass/no-credit options available to students after the first term under the CUP plan from seven to two, it was indicating that it favored partial grade recording, as opposed to maintaining a complete transcript of student performance.

"Given the choice, I believe in partial grade reporting. It helps students make a smooth transition to MIT, and it encourages exploration," Abelson said. However, Abelson said he does not believe in "the game-playing afforded by the CUP proposal" as it currently stands.

By letting the student decide after taking a class whether it should be pass/no-credit, the Institute would be showing a greater respect to the individual student and his academic needs, according to Abelson.

Most of the faculty members to whom Abelson has talked have told him they thought his amendment "was a good idea," but that it would probably "have difficulty passing" a faculty vote, he said. Abelson said he is interested in student opinion on his amendment, and hopes to hear from students before the faculty meeting.

Groisser explained his amendment as "an attempt to try to deal with the problems that faculty members believe exist with the pass/fail system, within the pass/fail system, rather than to deal with those problems by stopping pass/fail in the freshman second term and extending it through to later in a student's career."

Groisser said he believes that the basic idea behind pass/no-credit remains true and necessary. "We [the faculty] should fix the flaws in the pass/fail system without dismantling it," he said. Groisser proposed his amendment on his own, and has not "spoken to the faculty or students."

"I have no understanding of the reaction of the faculty. I won't campaign or make calls for my amendment. But, it seems that retaining the pass/fail system in tact is the right answer," he said.

In addition to the Abelson and Groisser amendments, the faculty will also vote on an amendment by Professors Marc A. Kastner and Robert J. Birgeneau which was on the April 19 agenda, but got pushed back because the meeting ran over time. The Kastner/Birgeneau amendment gives students two options on when to switch to grades. One option is the one proposed by the CUP. Under the second option, second-term freshman would be allowed to take four subjects on a pass/no-credit basis; but, in subsequent years, these students could take at most three pass/no-credit subjects, with some restrictions.

The CUP plan as it now stands calls for the elimination of both pass/no-credit grading for second-term freshmen and the two-subject pass/fail option available to juniors and seniors. Instead, the CUP motion would allow students after the first term to take one subject on pass/no-credit per term up to a maximum of seven. Subjects taken on this basis may include at most two Science core classes, two HASS requirement classes, and one departmental requirement class. A grade of C or better would be required for credit in all pass/no-credit subjects, including those taken first-term freshman year. Furthermore, after the first term, a student who has received a grade of D in a pass/no-credit subject may petition to have the grade and the associated credit made a part of his permanent record.