Bowie: Redistribute Credit/D/F

The opening pages of the Blue Book offer many undergraduates a reminder of their impending doom: the science requirement. Recently, the News has hosted a debate over how to resolve the dilemma: most students want to graduate, yet graduating often involves hesitantly poking scientific calculators while grades are on the line. But the problem is not that Yale requires poets to study planets. The real problem is that these poets are then graded for their contributions to astronomy.

As Dara Lind wrote last week, the fact that students cannot fulfill distributional credits with the Credit/D/Fail option has either led to a proliferation of unscientific “gut” courses, or, as Professor Charles Bailyn suggests, an abundance of unscientific “gut” students. Neither author proposes eliminating distributional requirements entirely, and for good reason: Yale prides itself on its ability to provide a liberal-arts education, and the more liberal the number of arts its students explore, the better.

So why shouldn’t students be able to take science courses Credit/D/Fail? Perhaps not coincidentally, the philosophical reasoning behind the Credit/D/Fail option is the same as that of distributional requirements. Yale believes students should be able to explore their fledgling interests without being lacerated by the punishment of a bad grade. True, maybe one or two students have been known to abuse their Credit/D/Fail privileges by not showing up to class, saving their course packet money and only briefly attending the final. But even these students will graduate knowing that some subjects just weren’t for them.

Last year, the University renewed its commitment to Credit/D/Fail by saving it from the YCC proposal that would have rendered it meaningless. An aside to bring freshmen up to speed: When students petitioned the university, in essence, to allow undergraduates taking classes Credit/D/Fail to receive their final grades before determining whether to keep them, the university countered that such a policy would turn the “Cr” on future students’ transcripts into, by definition, “something awful.” As is, the university believes that some students who earn credit from a Credit/D/Fail course could do the necessary work to earn anything from an A to a C-, but they are taking advantage of an option to turn a taxing class into a tenable one.

If Yale wants to encourage students to leave their comfort zones and actually learn something they came to college knowing very little about, it might consider reverting to past systems. Now that the class of 2008 has graduated, few undergraduates regard the words “group IV” as anything more than just another example of Yale’s cryptic history. But at least the guiding philosophy behind the group divisions was clear: Undergraduates should be compelled to explore subjects beyond their high-school interests, and the university should actively encourage students to branch out.

To this end, Yale allowed students to fulfill a single distributional credit with the Credit/D/Fail option. Unfortunately, last year’s seniors composed the final undergraduate class who could take advantage of this privilege. Yet the rationales behind Credit/D/Fail and distributional requirements remain the same, and students should still be able to take science classes they are interested in without risk to their GPAs. Yale should bring this rule back. YCC should get on making it happen.

And soon. I’m still looking for that final science credit to graduate.