YCC Senators urge Lewis to amend Credit/D/Fail process
Senators presented administrators with proposals on Yale College’s signature pass/fail option. Immediate changes appear unlikely.
Tim Tai, Photography Editor
A C- on a history paper, a 35 percent on a chemistry test, an incomplete assignment in a class that accepts nothing late.
College students are no strangers to these circumstances. To remedy some of the stress that comes with these situations, Yale allows students to designate a small handful of courses graded on a Credit/D/Fail system if they anticipate doing poorly in a class.
While this seems like an ideal system, many students find it insufficient. As the Credit/D/Fail system stands now, students have a total of six Credit/D/Fail options, two of which can only be used during their first year. Any course designated Credit/D/Fail cannot be used toward distributional requirements and also cannot apply to most major requirements. The deadline to Credit/D/Fail any class is the last day of the semester prior to the start of the reading period.
“You have the freedom to take a class and not worry as much about your grade,” Eli White ’25 explained. “But in the last week or so of classes, before you take finals, you have to just vibe check your grade.”
White is far from alone in finding these regulations inconvenient. As a result of student complaints, the Yale College Council has advocated for an expansion of the Credit/D/Fail program since its inception.
This year, the YCC presented Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis and the faculty senate with two proposals to alter the Credit/D/Fail system. One proposal requests that Credit/D/Failed courses count toward distributional requirements if the student so chooses. The second suggests that students be able to choose whether or not to Credit/D/Fail a class after viewing their grade.
The impetus for these proposals is a mixture of student feedback, seeming contradictions within Yale’s policies and precedent at peer institutions.
The University advertises that distributional requirements are meant to ensure students expand their horizons beyond the limits of their majors and take academic risks. However, not allowing students to take Credit/D/Fail courses meant for distributional requirements and placing the deadline before the reading period only limits students’ willingness to take such risks.
Ezana Tedla ’25 works on the YCC academic policy team and has been an integral part of writing both proposals. He agrees that the limits on the Credit/D/Fail process are antagonistic to Yale’s stated missions.
“The point of distributional requirements is to expand the scope of knowledge we are exposed to here,” Tesla wrote to the News. “Students right now do not feel that they are able to fully explore the options, which is sad, as that prevents us from reaching the full spirit of Yale’s educational philosophy.”
This is not the first time that the YCC has attempted to reform the Credit/D/Fail process. Since its creation, the YCC has advocated for expansion of the options.
At the first introduction of Credit/D/Fail, students had to declare the designation at the start of the semester, but that was eventually amended to a midterm deadline.
Ben Cnrovrsanin ’25, another member of the YCC Academic Policy team who has also worked extensively on these proposals, explained that YCC advocacy resulted in the recent deadline extension from the midterm to the end of the semester, prior to reading period. Furthermore, the YCC successfully advocated for adding two additional Credit/D/Fail options for first-year students, which expire at the end of freshman year. These changes were implemented in 2021 and began within the YCC Senate.
“As with any potential reform brought before the administration, our efforts require support from all levels to make change possible,” Cnrovrsanin stated in an email to the News. “The work towards tangible change only begins when the YCC passes policy proposals.”
Ted Shepherd ’25, head of the Council’s academic policy team, feels optimistic that the administrators they met with are in favor of these proposals.
Rebeca Toseland, who chairs the faculty senate’s committee on academic policy, told Shepherd and other Council members that professors are generally sympathetic to the suggested reforms.
“A faculty committee is already working on a report on the application of CDF to distributional requirements, which we think will endorse the change that we are pushing for,” Shepherd said. “The main obstacle towards effecting this important change at this point is Yale’s bureaucracy. We are encouraged, though, by the fact that all of the administrators and faculty representatives we have already spoken to seem to support our project.”
While Shepherd has a positive outlook on the chance of change, Lewis does not think it too likely.
The dean shared in a recent interview that the Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising had informed him to wait and observe the 2021 Credit/D/Fail system’s outcomes before making any more major changes.
“I got a very intelligent and informative report from the Yale College Council about Credit/D/Fail,” Lewis said. “But I also got a report from the Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising saying that we implemented the current system last year and we should give it a little time to see how it works out before making any big changes.”
While Yale’s current Credit/D/Fail system may be relatively new, significant precedent for the current system and the YCC’s proposed changes exist in other universities across the country.
According to Cnrovrsanin, other institutions in fact have instituted the exact policy for applying Credit/D/Failed classes to distributional requirements that the YCC is proposing, and it has helped the universities fulfill the same goals that Yale states its requirements are intended to accomplish.
“Princeton and Harvard both have academic policies that allow Credit/D/Failed classes to satisfy distributional requirements and language classes. Doing so has encouraged academic exploration among students and promoted diversity in their programs as students take courses they have an inherent interest in,” shared Cnrovrsanin.
Even though this institutional precedent exists, Lewis said he still feels hesitant that the Credit/D/Fail system will change within the next few years.
In fact, Lewis explained to the News that he and some faculty members feel that students may be utilizing the Credit/D/Fail system to put minimal effort into their coursework.
“Faculty often feel that students are trying to figure out what their grade is going to be and that sort of affects the pedagogy,” Lewis said. “Some faculty have a theory that students are taking Credit/D/Fail to put in a different level of effort from people taking it for a grade.”
However, many students continually complain that they cannot Credit/D/Fail a class after seeing whether or not they got an acceptable grade as a result of the effort they put in that semester.
According to White, not knowing your grade before changing a course to Credit/D/Fail results in a guessing game that does not always yield success.
“If you know you’re going to pass, but it’s not going to be pretty, you just go for it. But for a lot of cases it seems to be hazier,” White wrote in an email to the News. As a result, “GPA and honors and whatnot end up (at least in part) based on who’s the best at squinting at a grade and telling if it’s going to come out a C or B or an A? I think we should get to know our final grades before we have to make that decision.”
Shepherd encourages students who share White’s opinion to do what they can to make their voices heard in the administration.
The student body holds a powerful voice in the University, and the best way to speed up University actions, according to Shepherd, is to utilize that power and voice.
“The most potent weapon we have is broad student body support,” Shepherd said. “Please talk to your professors, to your deans and to administrators demanding that they act on this. If you make your voices heard, that will speed up the rusty bureaucratic gears and they will have no choice but to accept student demands.”
This semester, the deadline to change a grade for a course to Credit/D/Fail is Friday, Dec. 9 at 5:00 p.m.