Committee rejects YCC proposal to extend Credit/D/Fail deadline

Posted Monday Dec. 24 After the death of a Yale College Council proposal that would have added greater flexibility to the Credit/D/Fail system, students wishing they had not changed that Constitutional Law credit to a letter grade before the final exam will have to console themselves – as before – with the promise of three weeks’ vacation and a fresh set of classes to tackle in the spring.

A proposal to extend the Credit/D/Fail deadline did not win approval at a Dec. 10 meeting of the Committee for Honors and Academic Standing, YCC officials told the News over the weekend. If the change had been endorsed by the Committee and then passed by a vote of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, students would have been able to look at their final grade in a course before deciding whether to keep it Credit/D/Fail or switch to a letter grade.

In the Committee’s official response, Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker wrote to YCC representatives Jasper Wang ’10 and Audrey Pak ’09 that, “Members felt strongly that such a system [with a post-final deadline] gives excessive weight to the course grade and runs counter to the primary goal of the option, which is to ‘encourage academic exploration and to promote diversity in students’ programs.'”

Wang and other YCC members, who said they had received positive feedback on the proposed reforms from administrators — including Shenker and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey — in recent months, expressed disappointment at the final decision.

“Dean Salovey was in our corner — in some shape or form he was in support of changing the Credit/D policy,” Wang said. “Schenker did say that Credit/D policies needed improvement and that he would look favorably upon extending the deadline.”

Salovey could not be reached for comment Sunday or Monday.

Current Yale College regulations allow students to take up to four Credit/D/Fail courses over their four years at Yale, with no more than two in any given term. Students can switch Credit/D/Fail grades to letter grades by informing their residential-college deans of their intention to do so by the 10th week of the course.

Schenker said no Committee members had been convinced of the value of changing the current system, which he said the Committee thought “strikes the right mean between having the option exist only for the protection of a student’s GPA and permitting a student to experience enough of the course to make an informed decision.”

Chatter had been building on the issue since February, when the YCC passed a resolution asking the University to reformulate its Credit/D/Fail policy.

Council President Rebecca Taber ’08 worked on the issue last year and said that last spring Salovey told YCC members to raise it with him again in the fall. Salovey told the News in February that this year the University would re-evaluate the policy, which was last modified in November 2004 when the faculty increased the number of courses that students could take Credit/D/Fail to four.

The Committee’s unfavorable decision comes as a setback and a surprise for YCC members who viewed the proposed change as a “win-win.” A disappointed Wang said up to now administrators had seemed receptive to change — although perhaps not the post-final deadline – since the YCC began discussing the matter seriously in September.

This type of miscue has been a subject of much frustration for the YCC this semester. Taber said that while the Council has enjoyed success putting together and executing in-house proposals such as Eli Days, a college-admissions conference for low-income students from around New Haven, and the New Haven Nights discount program at local restaurants, YCC-driven student-policy reform has been “confronted with a lot of bureaucracy.”

Members said they hope in the future, administrators will be more realistic in their appraisals of YCC proposals during the planning stages rather than delivering unexpected, unfavorable decisions months into a project.

“One of our goals is to develop a better channel to enact student-policy change,” Taber said. “It would be sad for students to give up and say that students can only enact changes that administrators provide.”

In the official YCC proposal drafted by Wang and Pak in October, the YCC cited added flexibility for professors’ schedules, decreased uncertainty about final course grades and added student incentive to put forth greater effort in Credit/D/Fail courses as reasons to push the deadline for such a switch past the final exam.

“As the situation currently stands, professors often find a sharp decrease in the quality of their students’ work after the Credit/D/Fail deadline,” the YCC proposal reads. “These students are doing themselves a disservice and insulting the professors’ commitment to undergraduate learning, but the students cannot shoulder the blame when the current Credit/D/Fail policy does not offer any incentive whatsoever to continue working hard after the deadline.”

The Committee’s response to that argument was simple: Students at Yale have other incentives to work hard in their classes.

Anticipating the Committee might view a post-finals deadline as too lax, the YCC also informally suggested that if the Committee declined to act favorably on that proposal, the YCC would be amenable to moving the deadline to coincide with the final date to drop a course — the day before the final exam. The Committee chose not to act on that suggestion, either.

Wang said although the YCC would continue to work on changing Credit/D/Fail policies, he doubts the Committee will reverse its decision.

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