YCC proposes academic changes

While many Yale students spent winter break resting and preparing for the new semester, members of the Yale College Council worked to finalize several recommendations to the administration on academic changes.

The three reports — which were released in a Jan. 13 email to the undergraduate student body — recommended that Yale College administrators implement a standardized course preregistration system, a cap on how much final exams can be worth relative to overall class grades and a “department ambassadors” program for upperclassmen to advise freshmen on prospective majors. These proposals were formulated from the findings of a fall 2013 survey that collected 1,600 responses, though not all participants answered every question.

Though the survey contained questions pertaining to eight separate YCC initiatives on academic affairs, YCC Academics Chair David Lawrence ’15 said that the other five initiatives — including a report on secondary concentrations — have not yet been publicized, because they are either still being debated within the YCC or incomplete.

“We have a lot of respect for the administrators who have set things as they are, so we want to we understand why things are the way they are before we pose the small changes that we have,” Lawrence said. “We want to make sure they’re things that actually have a purpose.”

YCC member Kevin Kory ’15, who managed the report on preregistration, said students have expressed dissatisfaction at having to deal with too many class preregistration deadlines, some of which are very early in the year or underpublicized. The report found that 48 percent of students surveyed have missed a preregistration deadline in the past, and 36 percent of these students said the experience negatively affected their academic careers.

In other words, Lawrence said, nearly one-fifth of all Yale undergraduates felt that their Yale experiences had been adversely impacted by a missing a preregistration deadline.

According to Kory, potential options for reforming the preregistration process include creating a centralized website — which is already in the works, though it currently only links to other departments’ pages and does not provide details beyond that — or standardizing preregistration deadlines.

“The vast majority of students … believe that we can make [the preregistration process] more efficient for everybody and more equitable,” Kory said.

The second YCC report, helmed by YCC member Michael Leopold ’16, proposed to create a program in which select upperclassmen in various majors are made available to freshmen to answer questions on major requirements, prerequisites and differences between majors. Leopold said he came up with the project after noticing during his freshman year that many students expressed frustration with their randomly assigned faculty advisers. He was approached to establish a program in which students are present at the academic fair to answer questions, he said, but decided to take the project one step further.

The YCC’s academic survey showed support for Leopold’s idea, with 83 percent of respondents stating that they would find such a program useful.

The third recommendation, which began under the YCC in the 2012-’13 academic year according to YCC member Mason Ji ’16, proposed to create a provision in the Yale Faculty Handbook stipulating that no final exam can be worth more than 50 percent of a student’s overall grade in the course, unless it will improve the student’s grade. The report found that many students have been subject to such grading policies — 55 percent of seniors who responded to the survey said they have had a final exam that was worth more than 50 percent of their grade before — and also that 79 percent of respondents believe courses with heavily weighed finals are more stressful than others.

“[A course with a heavily weighted final exam] adds a lot of stress, so in that sense, it’s a health concern,” Lawrence said. “One really bad day shouldn’t cost as much as it does in some of these courses.”

Lawrence, Kory, Leopold and Ji all said they do not expect any immediate changes to be made for the spring 2014 semester, but are optimistic that progress can be made before fall 2014. Lawrence said the department ambassadors program could be immediately actionable, provided that it gains support from directors of undergraduate studies across multiple majors. Kory said the short-term goal for his preregistration reform project is to update the website so that all deadlines and information can be posted in one centralized location before the fall semester.

Although these projects took inspiration from peer universities that have implemented similar policy changes or programs, Ji and Lawrence said Yale could be the first university in the Ivy League to implement a percentage cap on the worth of final exams.

“It would be good for Yale to be a leader on academic reform,” Lawrence said.

The three reports total 23 pages, including data from the survey results and the YCC’s written recommendations.

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