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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

(Editorial) Pass ‘pass/fail plus’ proposal

Published: February 4, 2011
Section: Editorials

Each student at Brandeis comes across classes that they want to take but the same ones make them worry that if they do so, their GPA will suffer.

Since 2006 the University Curriculum Committee (UCC) has been debating changing the reigning pass/fail system. Under this system, a student who receives any grade more than a D- is able to cover the grade with a “pass.” The option is usable once a semester and up to four times throughout a Brandeis career.

The UCC should finish its lengthy work and finally decide to add to this scheme: allow one of these pass/fails to be used for one general university requirement.

Pass/fails are meant to allow students to take courses they like and are interested in. They are supposed to alleviate students’ worry about their future or employment opportunities because of their GPA. General requirements serve the opposite goal of giving students a broad-based education, beyond their major. But a singular pass in one of these courses will accomplish both aims.

We were heartened by the survey put to the Brandeis website by the student representatives to the committee shining a light on the UCC’s intensely secretive and longwinded deliberative process: the survey asked students what potential changes they could tolerate if it came with the holy grail long called “pass/fail plus,” with noticeable measures posed to allay fears by faculty that students will slack in their classes if pass/fail is expanded.

The first, raising the minimum to a scarcely more difficult “C-,” is very reasonable. Most of us do not plan on skimping a requirement so radically, and even for a humanities-averse chemist there must be a class, which they of course freely choose, that they have a mediocre interest in. A “C-“ compromises well between the need for flexibility in the requirements and maintains Brandeis’ vision for academic initiative.

The other proposal we find alarming—a professor who knows a student is electing to merely “pass” their class may worry the student is not trying. Students may be intimidated or shy about not feeling as initially comfortable in the class, and others will know about it. The professor and student owe each other a fully invested relationship—technically, grades are only the student’s worry and a professor need not and should not view a student in such terms.

Regardless, the committee should act, and act soon. Both Provost Marty Krauss and Dean Adam Jaffe will be leaving their current positions within the year, and the UCC has had long enough. A debate on these issues should extend to the greater campus beyond a hidden survey link in a weekly, multicolored announcements list.

around campus and to be involved in campus life. Members of the provost search committee lamented in this week’s issue of The Hoot that “too many people just don’t know who Provost Krauss is and what she’s done for this community.” We contend that it is the provost’s job to meet and convene with students to the extent that the student body is familiar with not only the provost’s job description, but also their name and their face.

When it comes to a university, the quality of Brandeis’ academics is our most important value. We cannot allow student ignorance or a lack of administrative involvement to come in the way of ensuring that our university remains at the top of its game.