Yale faculty members passed major changes to the University’s undergraduate Credit/D/Fail policy at a meeting in Connecticut Hall Thursday afternoon.
Under the modified policy, students beginning with the Class of 2009 will be able to take any four courses Credit/D/Fail during their undergraduate careers but may not use the option to fulfill their distributional requirements. The change will extend the Credit/D/Fail option to all undergraduate courses, but departments will maintain the authority to limit Credit/D/Fail use towards satisfying major requirements. Despite provoking debate among some 70 professors who attended Thursday’s 90-minute, closed-door meeting, the proposal passed with a majority of the faculty’s approval.
The faculty passed a separate proposal setting a timetable to implement new distributional requirements, which met with little opposition at the meeting.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he hopes the new Credit/D/Fail policy will be an improvement over the University’s current system, which some professors contend is misused by students to pass through their distributional requirements with minimal effort.
“It’s my hope that the new system will be better than what we currently do for most students in most kinds of courses at all levels,” Salovey said.
While faculty members who attended the meeting said some professors, especially those in foreign language departments, expressed concerns about the new proposal, Salovey assured the policy’s critics that the administration will be monitoring its progress carefully over the next three years.
“We must be vigilant to be sure it doesn’t have unintended consequences,” Salovey said. “We’re going to review patterns of grading from year to year, with a formal review in three years.”
But some professors at the meeting were opposed to the policy change. Economics professor Timothy Guinnane said while he approves of the motion to prevent students from fulfilling distributional requirements without earning letter grades, he strongly disapproves of extending the Credit/D/Fail option to all courses.
“Students who take courses Credit/D/Fail don’t do a lot of work,” Guinnane said. “This change is bad for students.”
Course of Study Committee chair Lawrence Manley, an English professor, said he thinks some faculty members’ reservations about the new proposal are due to their relative inexperience with Credit/D/Fail. Only about 20 percent of courses at Yale currently offer Credit/D/Fail, he said.
“Everyone has questions about this,” Manley said. “We’ll just have to see how it works.”
Astronomy professor William Van Altena said his experiences teaching introductory-level classes dominated by students who elected to enroll Credit/D/Fail led him to support changes to the policy.
“All the sciences were seriously compromised by the old Credit/D/Fail system,” Altena said. “The problem has usually been with the 100-level classes. It poisons the atmosphere.”
Environmental Studies Program chair Jeffrey Park said he thinks students and faculty alike will benefit from the new policy’s provision preventing students from fulfilling distributional requirements with courses taken Credit/D/Fail.
“It will improve teaching and learning in intro science courses,” Park said.
Although students in the Class of 2009 will have a broader array of Credit/D/Fail courses to choose from, Manley said he does not think the number of students taking advantage of the option — which currently is less than 10 percent — will rise significantly. The restriction on the number of courses students can take Credit/D/Fail during their undergraduate careers will remain the same, Manley said, and departments still may decide to limit Credit/D/Fail use within majors.
The professors also passed a set of milestones for the new distributional requirements to go into effect beginning with the Class of 2009. By the end of their freshman year, students will be required to complete at least one course in two of three skill areas: foreign language, quantitative reasoning and writing. By the end of their sophomore year, they will be required to complete at least one course in each of the three interdisciplinary areas, which include the sciences, social sciences and humanities and arts. By the end of their junior year, students will need to complete their foreign language requirement and taken at least two courses each in quantitative reasoning and writing.