It’s shopping period. You’re about to hand in your schedule. Some for the first time, others for the third, the fifth or the seventh. There’s one class that makes you uneasy. Maybe the subject is new to you. Maybe you’re trying to challenge yourself more by taking a higher level course. Regardless of your situation, you have the Credit/D/Fail option at your disposal. Do you use it?
Over the course of our four years here, we are often encouraged to use our Cr/D/F. We hear it in our freshman addresses and senior advising meetings, from professors like George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89 and Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84. Amar, after all, reminds his students that he made use of Cr/D/F while he was a Yale undergraduate. We are told to broaden our academic horizons, to take risks, to challenge ourselves with diverse and rigorous courses.
Yet students often attach a stigma to the Cr/D/F option. Instead of trying out new or challenging classes as the University intends for us to do, we seem to take a twisted pride in not using Cr/D/F.
“I’ve just never felt the need to use one” is an oft-repeated remark. Another one goes along the lines of: “Why would I use it if I’m going to do all the work and get an A anyway?”
Of course, this attitude doesn’t just pertain to academics: Yalies often seem to display a certain sense of shame in seeking help and take pride in pretending we don’t need any. From tutoring to mental health services, we refuse available resources in order to give our peers the impression that we are independently thriving and separate ourselves from the pack that isn’t — not unlike our attraction to application-based majors or clubs solely because of their selectivity.
Even when students do use the Cr/D/F option, we are often afraid to admit it. We couch the admission in qualifiers and excuses. “If I had known ahead of time …” or “I thought it would be more difficult …” Some of us worry that there is no point in taking a class Cr/D/F if we know we will get a good grade anyway. But this ignores a fundamental benefit of the option: the ability to enjoy learning without the stress of trying to remember everything. Taking a class Cr/D/F and getting an A does not mean you’ve wasted a class. It means you engaged the material with a primary motivation of curiosity rather than achievement.
The University is to blame for some of the flaws in the system. Yale should allow students to use Cr/D/F for distributional requirements. Under the current system, Yale gives students the incentive to take gut courses instead of more rigorous options. Instead of taking “An Issues Approach to Biology,” some Humanities students might take actual Biology. Instead of searching for the least challenging writing credits, some STEM students might take a creative writing or poetry course. By prohibiting the use of Cr/D/F for distributional requirements, Yale is counteracting its own stated goal of academic exploration.
The University should consider making use of Cr/D/F mandatory — this provision would encourage students to go beyond their academic comfort zones and might reduce the stigma attached to the Cr/D/F option.
There are, of course, some practical concerns in making Cr/D/F mandatory, such as the views of graduate/professional schools and employers, or eligibility for academic honors and scholarships. But if Yale makes a clear change in its policy, these parties will follow suit and acknowledge Cr/D/F as a part of every Yale student’s academic experience, just as they take into account the quarter system at Stanford or Northwestern, the block plan at Colorado College, grade deflation at the University of Chicago or the sophomore summer at Dartmouth.
A Cr/D/F requirement is no different than the University’s distributional credit requirement. When we enter Yale, we are reminded time and again about the value of a liberal arts education. But academic exploration often becomes increasingly difficult after freshman year. A Cr/D/F requirement would relieve pressure on upperclassmen to choose career over curiosity, ensuring that the treasured benefits of a liberal arts education span the full four years of a Yale student’s experience.
By making Cr/D/F optional, Yale has indulged the worst tendencies of its students. And if the administration feels so strongly that this option would increase intellectual diversity and stimulation, it should make Cr/D/F use mandatory.
Cody Pomeranz is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.