Chao: Policies must be uniform


In Thursday’s News, Harrison Marks called for revisions to Yale policy to allow late schedules to employ the Credit/D/Fail option (“Change Credit/D policy,” Feb. 26). Contrary to what was claimed, petitioning the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing to waive the regulation is not the only course of action indicated by the Yale College Programs of Study. Instead, for a student who is allowed by the registrar and residential college dean to submit a schedule late “for some valid and extraordinary reason,” the dean may permit the student to employ the Credit/D/Fail option.

Despite its inaccuracies, Marks’ column did raise an important point. Regulations must be written so as to be equitable to those affected. Marks defines equity as a principle that rests on logical consistency. That is insufficient. Regulations must be more than logically consistent; they must ensure fairness and consistency not only in principle but, more importantly, in application.

I begin with the reasonable claim that academic policies are generally fair and are put forth with the intent to ensure fairness. Consistent with that claim, the Academic Regulations, aside from a few regulations that depend on class year, treat all students equally. Despite the presence of equality, the Academic Regulations fail to ensure equity because of vague and poorly conceived regulations.

In certain areas of the Academic Regulations, measures are written in a way that implies students can pay for certain privileges. A student whose circumstances permit postponement of an exam can choose to do so for $35 (or for free in certain cases). A student who wishes to withdraw from a course can do so for $20. While recognizing possible administrative barriers to doing so, a student who does not wish to employ the Credit/D/Fail option and would like extra time to shop their classes can pay up to $120 to turn in his or her schedule up to two weeks late. These measures promote equality but not necessarily equity between students of different financial circumstances. Because they are levied to cover administrative costs, fees and fines may have no viable alternative and this example of inequity may persist.

More important than the aforementioned inequities are the inequities that exist in regulations that affect one’s academic performance more directly. Despite its role in regulating academics, the Academic Regulations fails to actually do so by giving wide discretion to professors and administrators.

Take, for example, the issue of rescheduling a missed final exam. Marks noted that several of his friends were permitted by their professors and/or deans to take a missed final exam. While I believe that professors and deans who show the compassion to keep a student from failing a course should be lauded, practices that allow professors and deans such great authority must be curbed. If professors and deans have different criteria for judging what is worthy of their lenience, how can this practice be equitable to their students?

I strongly believe that faculty and instructors must retain freedom in administering and assessing their classes. However, this need not conflict with the goals of equality and equity. Faculty and instructors require only the freedom to ensure the academic and intellectual integrity of their classes, not necessarily the academic well-being of their students.

At minimum, faculty and instructors must clearly state their course policies and, contrary to what is often seen presently, adhere to them. Yale, through the relevant bodies, may also wish to promulgate more detailed and consistent regulations as minimum guidance for faculty and instructors. For unaccounted circumstances, the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, being a more diverse and consistent body than independent individuals, should be given many of the responsibilities now given to professors and deans.

To be clear, the reform I propose will not alter the privileges that can be allowed students, only the manner in which they are granted. If this means that certain privileges will not be granted as frequently, I am willing to accept that for a more equitable system.

Michael Chao is a rising junior in Pierson College currently on a leave of absence.