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Faculty May Limit Pass/No Record Grading to First Term Freshmen Year

By David A. Mellis

The Committee on the Undergraduate Program is considering the elimination of the freshman year pass/no record system.

An A/B/C/no record system has been suggested by Professor of Literature Travis R. Merritt and Professor of Anthropology Arthur Steinberg as a replacement for the current system. Their proposal calls for the second semester of freshman year to become A/B/C/no record, leaving first semester under the current system of pass/no record.

Under the proposal, upperclassmen may designate one class per term to be graded pass/no record, up to a maximum of five. This alternative would replace the current Junior-Senior P/D/F option.

Only one subject satisfying a General Institute Requirement or one subject satisfying a departmental requirement could be taken under this upperclass pass/no record option.

Steinberg said he has “real concern about freshman,” and said he feels that the current pass/no record system “interferes with learning” and “does a poor job of preparing students for sophomore year.”

He feels that pass/no record grading encourages students to put forth less effort because “it’s only pass/fail.” The system also encourages freshmen to take sophomore classes such Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001) or Thermodynamics and Kinetics (5.60) on pass/no record.

The pair supports pass/no record for the first term. “We’re not trying to trash it,” Merritt said. The proposal keeps the “disaster insurance policy” by preventing D’s or F’s from appearing on a freshman’s second semester external transcripts.

UA gathers student input

The Undergraduate Association’s Student Committee on Educational Policy held a forum Wednesday to gather student input regarding pass/no record.

The forum drew approximately ten students to Talbot Lounge in East Campus. The discussion covered a range of issues related to the freshman year, but focused mainly on the current proposal before CUP. Most students at the forum agreed that the current system was preferable to any of the alternatives that were suggested.

Earliest decision in spring

Professor of Political Science Charles Stewart III, who is scheduled to chair the CUP sub-committee that will examine pass/no record, stressed the slow, careful nature of the decision-making process. “If anything were to change, it would be a big deal,” he said.

Stewart plans to hold forums early next semester to gather student and faculty input. He said the earliest a vote would be taken is sometime this spring. The CUP could institute a new system on an experimental basis; a vote of the faculty is required to make any change permanent.

The current proposal needs to be taken seriously for a few reasons, Stewart said. There is a long history of faculty dissatisfaction with the current pass/no record system. In addition, Merritt and Steinberg are well respected members of the faculty, directors of the Experimental Study Group and the Integrated Studies Program, two alternative freshmen year programs.

The freshman year became pass/fail in 1968 as a four year experiment. In 1972, a pass/no record system was instituted as an experiment, becoming permanent in 1974. The minimum passing grade was raised to a C in 1989, and the current freshman year credit limits (54 units first term, 57 the second) were put into place the same year.