Faculty will vote on Credit/D/Fail

Yale faculty members will vote today on changes to the University’s Credit/D/Fail policy and a timetable for implementing new distributional requirements that will go into effect beginning with the Class of 2009.

The faculty plans to meet at 4 p.m. today in Connecticut Hall to vote on two Course of Study Committee recommendations that came out of the 2003 undergraduate curricular review. The vote comes a year after professors passed handily three of the report’s most sweeping recommendations regarding new distributional group and foreign language requirements.

The proposed changes to Yale’s Credit/D/Fail policy would allow students to take any four classes Credit/D/Fail during their undergraduate careers, but these classes would not count toward meeting distributional requirements.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said although it is difficult to predict how professors will vote, he hopes the faculty will approve the motions.

“The proposal we’re bringing to the meeting was reviewed by faculty and students for almost three years,” Salovey said. “We’re hoping that because there’s been so much input people will find it acceptable.”

But some professors predicted the proposal likely will provoke strong reactions from the faculty. Even if the new policy is passed, departments will maintain discretion over the number of courses they offer that can be taken Credit/D/Fail to satisfy major requirements. Still, many department chairs are opposed to broadening Credit/D/Fail options for undergraduates, said Charles Bailyn, chair of the Science Council and the Astronomy Department.

Credit/D/Fail, which Salovey said is utilized by less than 10 percent of students, is intended to enable students to enroll in courses they might otherwise be deterred from taking due to their perceived difficulty.

The proposed policy is designed to encourage students to take distributional requirement courses more seriously, Salovey said.

“We’re trying to make Credit/D/Fail sensible on pedagogical grounds,” he said. “Part of the idea behind it is we want students to take classes seriously, but still have enough flexibility to explore.”

Bailyn, who served on the academic review committee that recommended the policy shift, said the Credit/D/Fail proposal is of particular concern to the sciences, where introductory classes each year are flooded with students who enroll to meet distributional requirements and opt out of earning letter grades. He said about half the students in his introductory astronomy course typically take it Credit/D/Fail.

“In some cases that’s fine, but it makes the atmosphere for the course less serious for people who are taking it seriously,” Bailyn said.

The Yale College Council issued a set of recommendations affirming its support for the proposed Credit/D/Fail changes in mid-October. YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 said he thinks the changes would help students branch out more.

“I think the initial intent for Credit/D/Fail was that people should be able to expand their intellectual curiosity, but the problem is that so many [professors] have decided not to offer it,” Cedar said.

YCC members are currently working with Salovey to possibly push back the deadline for students to switch from Credit/D/Fail to a letter grade by two or three weeks, Cedar said. Although professors will not consider the YCC’s proposal at today’s meeting, Cedar said he hopes the administration will soon consider moving the deadline, which is Nov. 5 this semester.

The faculty will also vote on the milestones, a timing sequence for implementing the new distributional requirements, said Course of Study Committee chair Lawrence Manley, an English professor. Under the new distributional requirements, undergraduates beginning with the Class of 2009 will be required to take two courses each in the humanities and arts, social sciences, and natural sciences, in addition to two courses focusing on writing skills and two on quantitative reasoning.

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