Robbie Short

The Yale College Council has made significant strides in its efforts to advocate seminar accessibility to sophomores and reforms in the Credit/D/Fail policy. Though the council has completed its reports for both projects in the spring, it has struggled to convince the administration to accept and implement its proposals.

The two reports were completed during the 2015–16 year under the presidency of Joe English ’17. However, because these projects call for long-lasting, significant academic changes — including postponing the deadline for converting a course to letter grade and instituting seminars geared toward sophomores — little has changed. Still, the current YCC believes the two projects are of such importance that it will continue to press for reforms in their respective areas.

“It’s not uncommon for multiple councils to work on particular issues in order to show their importance to students no matter the administration that’s in place,” said current YCC Vice President Christopher Bowman ’18. “It’s in everyone’s best interest, too, not to rush a new program into reality, as people across the University want to ensure that students receive the best possible product that they can.”

A YCC project typically undergoes six phases: research, data analysis, formulation of recommendations, presentation and approval by council, presentation to administration and implementation. However, projects targeting issues that continue to affect students will often be re-examined by later councils, such as the current project on seminar accessibility for sophomores, which dates back to 2004.

Because of the broad scope of the proposed changes, Bowman said the council must keep in mind different constituencies as they continue to advocate for change.

Noting that since all Yalies are sophomores at some point in their academic career, Bowman said the issue of seminar accessibility affects all students, giving the council more motivation to continue to address it.

Bowman, who led the sophomore seminar project last year, added that opening of the new colleges next fall — which will add 200 more students to its freshman class — makes the reform even more urgent. Bowman said the council wants to make sure that sophomores don’t “get even more left behind” when the surge of new students arrives.

Former YCC Academics Director Josh Hochman ’18, who also worked on the project, added that although each class year often has classes tailored to its specific needs, sophomore year generally does not. Though sophomores have class-specific resources such as a specific academic adviser, they aren’t substitutes for seminars.

“Our aim was to put the creation of seminars designed for sophomores on the agenda of faculty and administrators,” Hochman said. “A few have been taught in the past, and student reviews of these courses were glowing.”

Bowman added that seminar accessibility was particularly important because seminars are a “key gateway” to research opportunities or faculty advising, both of which influence students’ choice of major in sophomore year. Because many undergraduates gain exposure to different departments through seminars, students might end up not majoring in a certain field because they lack access to small classes in that area, Bowman said.

Benjamin Held ’17, a former YCC representative who oversaw the project on Credit/D/Fail reform during the previous council’s tenure, said past proposals were rejected by the administration because they were “too sweeping,” in addition to the criticism that many students would use an extended Credit/D/Fail policy as “GPA insurance.” Held added that one of his goals when he oversaw the project was to make the administration more transparent about why the Credit/D/Fail policy is the way it is.

“Even if there is no change to the policy, I would like to have some sort of explanation to the two-week deadline,” Held said. “One thing that’s still in consideration is putting the deadline to sign up for Credit/D/Fail four weeks into term, two weeks after shopping period ends. I would like to see it changed to that.”

In addition to proposing the option to change a letter grade to the Credit/D/Fail mode, the council has also discussed extending the letter grade to Credit/D/Fail deadline to reading period.

What has propelled the Credit/D/Fail project forward is the difference between Yale’s own policy and similar ones at other institutions, Hochman said, adding that Yale’s policy seems to fall short.

“We compared Yale’s Credit/D/Fail policies to pass/fail procedures at peer institutions, and we noticed that Yale has a comparatively tighter window for students to decide which classes to take Credit/D or determine whether to switch a class back from Credit/D to a letter grade,” Hochman said. “This is a sentiment echoed in past surveys and in our own council deliberations.”

Currently, the council is working with the Yale College Dean’s Office to discuss how to get changes implemented. Held mentioned that the academic reforms, especially Credit/D/Fail, have been continuously proposed, yet “perpetually thrown out.” He is optimistic that the council will get approval from the administration this year, since it has carefully considered counter arguments and potential concerns.

However, Held acknowledged that academic reform takes multiple years to actualize.

Hochman echoed his sentiment, adding that the council’s most enduring impact usually comes from multiyear advocacy campaigns.

“In the short term, I would like to see the council gradually make some changes and build in future councils,” Held said. “I know there will be future reps handling this. At least if something changes, we’ll be one step up from before.”