Graduate grade committee must take into account student concerns

Today the graduate school faculty will vote on a proposal to restructure the course grading system for the entire Graduate School. The proposal, written by the Graduate School Executive Committee, calls for changing the current Honors, High Pass, Pass, Fail grading scale to a scale of A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D- and F, beginning in the 2007-2008 academic year. Although five students serve on the Executive Committee, the members of the Graduate Student Assembly felt that input from more students should be expressed to the faculty before their vote. To this end, the Graduate Student Assembly asked all graduate students to complete a short survey on the proposed grading scale.

In a little over a week, the GSA collected more than 900 responses from graduate students in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. That is, a remarkable 36 percent of all graduate students responded, many including personal comments.

It is clear that the large majority of graduate students — over 70 percent — are not in favor of changing the current grading scale. Nearly two-thirds of respondents feel that such a change would negatively affect the level of competition within departments while discouraging students from taking courses outside their own department. Opponents also believe that a new grading system would not help professors provide more effective feedback on coursework, and that it is likely to facilitate grade inflation instead of improving faculty mentoring and advising. Additionally, respondents think the new grading scale will have no effect on the consideration of Yale graduate students for competitive fellowships and for academic and nonacademic jobs.

The Graduate School Executive Committee suggested this change with the goal of improving the quality of graduate education by providing a more reliable and meaningful system of feedback and mentoring between faculty and students. The Graduate School also wishes to reduce grade inflation and make students more competitive for fellowships and jobs. However, given the results of our survey, a simple change in the grading scale seems an inadequate solution to these issues.

The GSA shares the Graduate School’s concern for improving graduate education. In order to improve graduate mentoring, the GSA believe that individual students should seek more significant interaction with their professors, that student groups must advocate for their constituents — both within and outside individual departments — while Graduate School administrators must continue to build an environment that facilitates student-faculty dialogue. Finally, the GSA asks the faculty to consider their own personal interest in mentoring as the most valuable resource available to graduate students at Yale.

Nicholas Goodbody is a third-year graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He is the spokesman for the Graduate Student Assembly.