As students crammed for finals in early December, the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing rejected a Yale College Council proposal that would have relieved some of the pressure on those students by allowing them to change from Credit/D/Fail to a letter grade after viewing their final course grade.
A proposal to extend the Credit/D/Fail deadline did not win approval at a Dec. 10 meeting of the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, YCC officials told the News in December. If the original proposal 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 and proposal authors 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 Schenker 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.”
But Schenker disputes that assertion. Calling claims that he had hinted at a successful conclusion to the YCC’s campaign “hearsay,” Schenker said no one the YCC has contacted him since he delivered the Committee’s report to Wang and Pak. Schenker also dismissed the notion that he had overtly intimated to the YCC that such changes would pass muster at the Committee.
“My contact with YCC members about this topic occurred at a reception, in the absence of any written proposal,” Schenker wrote in an e-mail to the News on Tuesday. “I was very encouraging of the YCC’s interest in the matter, expressed my views on various aspects of the issue, and explained that the written proposal would have to be made to the Committee, and that if and when the Committee approved the proposal, it would have to be brought before the Faculty for its approval.”
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 semester.
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 last 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 can take Credit/D/Fail to four. In an e-mail at the time, Salovey wrote, “I think it would be unlikely, however, that the faculty would vote in favor of a system that allowed a student to opt for Credit/Fail after receiving a final letter grade in the course.”
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 until December 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 was a source of much frustration for the YCC last 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 that 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.”
Acknowledging that “a lot of this comes down to ‘he said, she said,’” Wang said he still thinks that informal conversations with Schenker — in which Wang said Schenker advised YCC members on how to tailor their proposals to meet with CHAS approval — implied the dean would back the Council’s reforms.
“He made no promises, but he did kind of guide us in the direction of what he believed would be amenable to the Committee and to the faculty,” Wang said. “He’s the mouthpiece of the Committee, and I assume he has some kind of influence. For him saying this would be favorable to the Committee means that he wanted us to present it that way.”
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 that 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.