Freshmen now need C's to get credit
By Joey Marquez
Although they may not recognize it as a change, members of the Class of 1994 face a new pass/no-record grading system. Starting this year, freshmen must attain a grade of "C" or better in order to pass their classes, and are limited to 54 units in the fall semester, and 57 in the spring.
The new policy is a revision of a policy proposed in the spring of 1989 by the Committee on the First-Year Program (CFYP), which recommended that pass/no-record grading for the second semester of the freshman year be eliminated.
The committee recommended changes based on the belief that a significant number of freshmen were unsuccessfully overloading on units, and not gaining a thorough knowledge of fundamental subject material.
Under the old system, which affected students who entered MIT before 1990, a "D" denoted a passing grade, and freshmen were limited to 60 units first term, and 63 units in the spring.
The CFYP report argued that for many freshmen, the adjustment and transition phase ended with the first semester, so that elimination of pass/no record in the second semester would reduce overloading and improve academic performance.
The faculty, however, rejected the CFYP proposal in May 1989, after several months of heated debate. Upperclassmen overwhelmingly opposed the the report, insisting second-term pass/no record was necessary for freshmen to fully adjust to MIT.
As an alternative and a compromise, the faculty approved the new credit limits and the higher "C" standard for passing. This measure, the faculty hoped, would solve the problems of overloading and underperformance.
Professor Travis R. Merritt, associate dean for student affairs in the Undergraduate Academic Support Office, felt preservation of pass/no record was also necessary to accommodate students of diverse backgrounds. In his opinion, the "more diverse" the MIT community becomes, the "more necessary" it is that the pass/no-record policy be upheld.
The UASO strongly believes that "freshmen are not ready for grading," Merritt said, and that changing the credit limits and raising the passing grade to "C" was the "sane and healthy thing to do."
The only "constraint" that will result from the new policy is that "freshmen will focus deeply on their subjects," rather than "skim" through the courses and barely pass them, he said.
Some freshmen have criticized the new credit limits as too restrictive. "Few classes are offered that coincide with the [second-term] 57-unit credit limit, and thus it limits our choices in courses," said Jeff Reback '94.
Merritt said there was little chance that a student would receive permission to take more than 57 units next term. Giving one student approval could set a "precedent," prompting other students to ask for special permission, he said.